Graham Hotel (Plaza Hotel)
Built on the ashes of the Bowels Hotel in 1929, the Graham Plaza Hotel was considered to be the finest hotel between Louisville and Chicago. Standing at eight stories tall, this brick and limestone pillar towered over much of downtown Bloomington and served as the hub of the city’s social elite through the 1950’s. Today the building is home to offices and retail shops but in the early 40’s the Graham Plaza held its own barber, dining, drugstore, and dance hall. Nextdoor to the AME church and across the street from one of the only movie theaters in Bloomington, the players were provided a perfect location to enjoy the downtown Bloomington nightlife. The passenger train station, which both teams had to come through to get to the city since state roads were prone to flooding from the quarries, remained only two blocks away. On March 10th, 1943 the Cincinnati’s groundskeepers, Matty and Leonard Schwab, arrived before the team to whip Jordan Field and the Fieldhouse into Major League shape. Cincinnati’s players checked into the historic hotel by March 12th, 1943 along with Tom Swope of the Cincinnati Post, Lou Smith of the Enquierer, Frank Grayson of the Times-Star, Pete Koch, Rodger Baker, and Waite Hoyt as radio commentators for the team. By March 19th, 1943, the full roster for Indianapolis had arrived at the Graham. Wives of players on both teams were not permitted to attend spring training as the majority of rooms of the hotel were devoted to servicemen waiting the next train to basic training. However, some players were permitted to have their families visit during the five week stay.
Backstory and Context
The Graham Plaza Hotel not only hosted the two professional teams training at Indiana University but also their opponents, management, executives, and media personale. This was especially true for the Reds as they brought along radio commentators, three reporters, and the Crosleys (owners). Powell Crosely Jr. brought his two children to Bloomington to watch the exhibition game in 1943 in place of their normal migration to Seagate, a mansion in Sarasota. Lewis Crosley, the owner’s brother, gave a speech to Indiana University students on the importance of media and radio. This emphasis may explain why the Reds brought along so many of their own reporters and why their public relations and media head created a banquet at Alumni Hall upon the team’s arrival.
The Bloomington Baseball Banquet, sponsored by the Indiana Junior chamber of Commerce, was held on March 18th, 1943 and began with a procession from the Graham hotel to Alumni Hall. Each table held multiple Reds players and a few locals who bought tickets at the union desk. The guests of note included Paul Harrel (IU coach), Warren Giles (Reds GM), Deacon Bill McKechnie (Reds manager), Al Schlensker (Indianapolis team Secretary), Z.G. Clevenger (Athletic Director), and Herman B Wells (IU president). Estel Crabtree, a player and coach for the Reds, introduced every player on the roster for Cincinnati. The banquet was staffed by members of the sororities on campus and the funds generated by ticket sales went to war bond stamps.
There were many people who spoke at the banquet, including Herman B. Wells, president of Indiana University, and Warren C. Giles, the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The members of the public also had the opportunity to walk away with a baseball signed by the Reds as they auctioned off 18 autographed baseballs at the banquet. Another benefit and opportunity that these fans had at the banquet was that they could get to know a player on the Reds at their table, and hear stories about their experiences as a major league baseball player. This banquet was a good opportunity for the members of the public to have the chance to meet the professional baseball players that they loved to watch play the game, and to contribute to the purchase of bond stamps in their attendance.
The Reds and Indians teams both stayed at the Graham Plaza Hotel for their six weeks of spring training, and used the hotel as their headquarters or home base. They would walk from the hotel to the fieldhouse every day for practice, with the Reds occupying the North clubhouse and the Indians using the South clubhouse. The two teams very much enjoyed the hospitality they received at the hotel, and had an overall pleasant experience training in Bloomington. They were even invited to return the next year and accepted the invitation, showing their appreciation for IU letting them stay in Bloomington and use their facilities to train for the baseball season. After training on the IU campus and gaining a good reputation, the Reds became “IU’s team” and the strong relationship built between the school and the team lasted beyond the time that they spent training in Bloomington.
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