Decades before Shea Stadium brought baseball to Flushing, a patch of land along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven hosted the greats of the game— and set soccer attendance records, too. Today, it’s the site of a C Town grocery store.
I had never heard of the stadium until I started reading a book about Ebbets Field, (The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field and the Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers), which featured a bit about the rival field in Queens. It’s a really cool piece of New York City sports history.
Dexter Park opened in Woodhaven in 1911 — two years before Ebbets — and lasted until 1955, the same year the Dodgers won the World Series.
The old ballpark was home to the Bushwicks, an integrated semipro club that played Negro League teams and barnstorming exhibitions. A sign in the C Town parking lot commemorates the club and the legendary players who took the field there, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Joe DiMaggio and Richmond Hill High School graduate Phil Rizzuto.
Dexter Park featured one of the first permanent lighting systems for night baseball and also hosted big-time soccer matches. The stadium set an attendance record for a U.S. Open Cup soccer final when New York Hakoah, a club made up of Central European Jews, beat St. Louis Madison Kennell to win the 1929 national championship.
More than 21,500 spectators watched the match, a record that stood for more than 80 years until more than 30,000 fans visited CenturyLink Field in Seattle for the 2010 final.
Hungary’s most popular club, Ferencváros, visited Dexter Park in 1947, according to the New York Times:
The New York Hungarian Sport Club of the National Soccer League, which will meet the tourists tonight in their only New York appearance at Dexter Park, Woodhaven, Queens, entertained the visitors last night at dinner in the Hungarian Garden Restaurant on Second Avenue
The stadium also hosted other big-time domestic matches, including the Eastern semifinal in the 1924 national championship. From the Times again:
The Eastern final of the National Cup Competition will be played today at Dexter Park, Brooklyn, with the Bethlehem Steel Football Club facing the Fall River Football Club in the match to decide who will meet the Western champions for the biggest of soccer trophies in this country.
I’m going to dig up some more information about the park and find out what other teams came to play next to the J and Z train tracks.