Bits & Pieces

August 7, 2009

Signs For The Balboa Stadium

Around 1945, Mr. Floyd H. Baldwin, who was married to my aunt Leita, became the manager, or president, of the baseball league of the Canal Zone, or some such title. The point is that being in that position he was able to select the person, or persons, who would build and paint the advertising panels that surrounded the Balboa baseball stadium. My father was awarded the job. I don't know what the monetary award was, but I do know that we had a big job to do and we all had a part in it. We began by having to make all the wooden frames. Either they had never made these types of panels before, or the old ones were beyond usage.

These panels were 6 feet tall by 18 feet long so we made the frames of wood which I think was 2" x 1" strips. I know we cut them with 45 degree angles using some wiggle shaped steel things to nail the corners together. We reinforced the corners with bracing and it seems as if every three feet we would nail another strip. The object was to make these frames as light and strong as possible.

Next came the canvas. I can remember how difficult it was to handle that heavy white canvas. My mother and I would tug and my father would nail so we could get it nice and taut. If we messed up, my father had to pull out the nails (he used roofing nails) and we would have to start all over again. Once we had the canvass stretched out on the frames, we would give it a coat or two of white paint. Next would be the painting of the advertisement it self.

This really took work and talent. My father was given the instructions as to what to paint on each panel. Chesterfield cigarettes, for example, wanted the copy to be in a specific type of lettering and they wanted a picture of a pack of cigarettes with the cigarettes sticking out in a special way. They would give my father a picture from a magazine ad and it was up to my father to enlarge that 3 inch picture to 5 feet and make it look identical. To do this he used several different processes depending on the item he had to enlarge. One was to just guess and copy, if the item was simple enough. The other was to draw a grid of, say, 1/4 inch squares all over the item, then drawing the equivalent amount of squares on the canvass in a size that would represent the amount of enlargement required. So, if he was enlarging something from 3 inches to 60 inches, he was enlarging it 20 times thus the squares on the canvas had to be 5 inches each. Then he would draw the item following the squares as guides.

On other occasions, he could borrow a projector at the Gorgas Laboratory near the Panama Hospital and he and I would go there at night to project the enlarged item on brown wrapping paper so he could trace it. At home he would punch little holes along the lines and with color powder he could trace the item on the canvas.

After he made the drawings and the lettering, he would paint the borders and I would help fill in the rest. In the meanwhile, my mother and a helper called Zoylo, might be working on another frame and cutting canvas.

I was fascinated by all this art. The different styles of letters were of a great interest and I would spend hours practicing making letters copying a book of styles which he had. Also it was very interesting to watch him paint the Chesterfield, Camel, Lucky Strike, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Casa Fastlich, BVD, Metro Golding Meyer lion, and so many others. I don't know how manypanels we made; could have been 20 or 25, enough to enclose the open field of the stadium.

The canvas backfield advertising signs my father made in 1945-46 for the Balboa Stadium
as seen when the Yankees came to the Canal Zone

As we finished a batch, a truck would come and haul them off and it was up to someone else to hang them up. After the season started, I used to go with my father to the stadium to repair damage by baseballs or the weather. He had a box with paints and brushes as well as pieces of canvass and strong string and thick needles and would go to Balboa in a little bus called a Chiva. We would sew tears, he on one side and me on the other, he would patch using the same paint as glue and he would retouch anything in needed. I thought is was great fun to ride to the stadium to do this. Going to the Canal Zone, so neat and trim, was always a treat to me.

I think my father got the job again in 1946, but it was much easier as it did not require so much work as starting from scratch. We repaired, repainted and made some new ones. But it was definitely a lot easier the second time around. With Mr. Baldwin leaving the position of manager, the 1947 contract went to someone else. I remember being in Junior High, or the Freshman year at Balboa High School, and thinking that the signs did not look as pretty and nice as when my Father made them.

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas