Saturday, May 20, 2023

You CAN Go Home Again

It's a pretty well know fact, at least among collectors of 1953 Topps Baseball cards, that three cards feature background ads for the company that produced the set.  There's a couple of dozen "generic" ad representations as well, plus a handful that feature parts of actual ballpark billboard ads (Camel cigarettes for one) but the Topps ones are the most fun:

Yes, the Dodgers relief ace Clem Labine gets the first Topps ad on card #14, which seems appropriate, although that background in no way resembles Ebbets Field.  We have to wait for the high numbers (#252) to find the next one:

Well, that ain't Fenway! Willie Miranda, card # 278, gives us our final Topps ad, somewhat reminiscent of Labine's I think:

However, I believe there may be another Topps homage and it leads off the set.  Take a look at the background of Jackie Robinson's card:

At first glance it seems like it could be a ballpark superstructure looming behind Jackie but it's not Ebbets Field and there's no way the Brooklyn based Topps Chewing Gum would allow an image of the Polo Grounds - which I guess it vaguely resembles - appear on a Dodgers card.  If you look closely, it doesn't really look like a ballpark at all as there are no stands visible. In fact, the image used to create this card, a photograph by Brooklyn's team photographer Barney Stein, has no background, except for some clouds:

So what is it?  Well, my money is on a slightly cleaned up view of the elevated Gowanus Expressway superstructure and, behind it, Topps HQ at Bush Terminal.  Here's a couple shots of the Gowanus from the wonderful Newtown Pentacle:

This is about 16 blocks south of Topps HQ - note the cars parked underneath (and random tire-yikes!).  Sy Berger and Woody Gelman, who car pooled with some other Topps employees from their homes on Long Island, would park under the viaduct near the Topps office in Bush Terminal.  

Here's another shot of the underbelly:

Now here's a shot of their Bush Terminal building in 1940, courtesy of Brownstoner (their offices were in the second building down along the viaduct from the larger one sporting the ad):

Well, take a look at this cropped close up of the Robinson card:

I'm pretty sure that's the roofline of their Bush Terminal building behind the viaduct! It's all slightly altered by the artist but I have to think Woody Gelman could have been behind this little in-joke.

It's not the only card to feature the environs of their Brooklyn headquarters.  In 1955 the Rails & Sails set had a card that prominently featured not only Bazooka bubble gum, but what looks to be a small sliver of the same Gowanus Expressway viaduct, off to the right of the boxcar; quite appropriate given the extensive railroad tracks in the facility:

Fun stuff!


Bo said...

Fantastic bit of detective work. Makes an already iconic card even more terrific.

John Bateman said...

Never Knew that about the 1953 Topps Set.

Did they shoot part of the French Connection under that Viaduct.

Non Topps note- when I lived in North Philly 2007-2009, I took the train and heading back home every night - I could see the Fleer name whitewashed on a building -

I went on Wikimapia and it said the Fleer building was by North 10th Street. I went on google maps and a picture from March 2023 shows the building was still standing - if you come around the corner at 1023 W Susquehanna - you can barely see the word Fleer on the top left slightly obscured by a telephone wire.