casa grande's crown jewel
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Casa Grande's Crown Jewel
By Laurie Davies
March, 2009, Page 52
The San Francisco Giants warm up for batting practice during spring training.
Stoneham had moved the Giants’ spring home from Florida to Phoenix in 1946 and moved the franchise from New York to San Francisco in 1958. By 1959, Stoneham broke ground on the Francisco Grande.
Former longtime mayor Jimmie Kerr says landing the baseball complex was quite a coup for small-town Casa Grande. “The community got together and in one day raised $100,000 as earnest money to secure the land,” Kerr says.
It was a tremendous amount of money for a farming community whose merchants sold everything on credit, sometimes accepting a chicken and a bag of potatoes to settle the bill. “Horace Stoneham paid the balance of the land price,” Kerr says. “He built the hotel and paid for the development.”
That was before baseball franchises parlayed their money-making presence into taxpayer-funded facilities and before the price of spring training tickets soared to $90 each – the face value for exclusive Dodgers and White Sox “home plate club” tickets this spring at Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
Still, Francisco Grande assistant general manager Tim Alai says the $2 million price tag was worth it to Stoneham. “He wanted the Giants to play baseball and not get into trouble,” Alai says.
And should they forget baseball for a minute, the national pastime was – and still is – stamped on the hotel’s architectural features. A ninth-floor concrete patio overhang resembles the bill of a cap. A 100,000-gallon pool looks like a baseball bat, and the parking lot fans out like a baseball diamond.
Kerr says “the Grande,” as locals call it, gave the city a shot in the arm. It offered a fancy place for weddings and proms, and it landed “Casa Grande” in box scores in newspapers nationwide. “It really was our first move as a community into economic development. It was like luring a manufacturing plant with 100 jobs,” Kerr says.
Sylvia Ross, who played piano weekly at the hotel’s Sky Lounge, went from making 50 cents an hour at the movie theater to making $25 an hour playing piano. “The players always wanted to hear ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,’” she recalls, adding that ballplayers weren’t the only stars at the Grande. “John Wayne stayed here often. At first it created a stir, but the celebrity wore off. We got used to seeing him.”
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