LOS ANGELES — The $300 million or so that Guggenheim Baseball has poured into improving Dodger Stadium – including around $100 million for the plan announced Tuesday to turn the pavilions and the area behind center field into a welcoming plaza for fans – basically has straddled two objectives.
First, modernize the place, creating a welcoming environment for fans to eat, drink, mingle, take selfies and, oh, yes, watch baseball.
Second? Maintain the character of a ballpark built in 1962 that has as panoramic a vista as exists in sports, neatly captures the character of its city and is considered a beloved space to Dodgers fans – an oasis, even, in a teeming metropolis.
The Dodgers have the perfect person to pull off this balancing act. Janet Marie Smith joined the organization in 2013 as senior vice president of planning and development, shortly after Guggenheim’s purchase from Frank McCourt was final, with the idea that she would direct the modernization of the park.
She was the brains behind the concept of Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the early 1990s retro/modern project that essentially changed the way ballparks were built. She also oversaw the conversion of Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium into Turner Field in the mid-90s, was involved with renovations at New York’s Battery Park and the Rose Bowl, and – not incidentally – oversaw the preservation and renovation of Boston’s Fenway Park in the first decade of this century, including the introduction of the Green Monster seats.
She knows her stuff, in other words. And she understands, especially from her Boston experience, how those seemingly at-odds objectives can, should and have to mesh.
“Our commitment to preserving the historic look of Dodger Stadium is very top of mind,” Smith said Tuesday. “So the seat colors, the wooden benches, the folded roofs, the corrugated metal are all things that we feel passionate about keeping. But we realize our fans don’t want to be living in 1962 when it comes to their restrooms, the concessions, the tight concourses and the type of food offerings.
“So our goal has been to try and create those amenities on the outfield of the playing field. Essentially, we grow the footprint of Dodger Stadium, and those plazas we’ve now built – one at every level except here in center field – really give us room for queueing, room for milling around, ways of doing kitchens with real hoods so you have these culinary delights, big restrooms, places for nursing mothers, first aid stations, all the things that we expect out of a ballpark in 2020.”
The renovations announced Tuesday, scheduled to be ready by Opening Day in April albeit with a tight time frame, are part of the sprucing up process for next year’s All-Star Game, which will be only the second in Dodger Stadium’s history and the first in 40 years.
If that seems a ridiculously long time between Midsummer Classics … well, it is.
When the game was last here in 1980, it coincided with the introduction of Dodger Stadium’s Diamond Vision, the first full-color stadium video board of its kind on this continent. Then, Dodger Stadium was ahead of its time. Now, it’s playing catch-up.
The centerpiece of the upcoming renovations is a two-acre plaza beyond center field, which will incorporate places to eat, places to congregate, places for kids to play and places to be entertained, with bands playing before and after games. There will be a beer garden, sports bars overlooking both bullpens and a rail for fans to congregate that will run above the pavilions and over a new center field structure, from left field to right.
It is envisioned as an area that will tempt fans to arrive early and stay late, and just maybe ease what can be the grueling process of getting out of The Ravine after a game. (It also will become the new rideshare pickup and dropoff point.)
But it has another purpose. It will, after all these years, finally give Dodger Stadium a main entrance. And with the addition of extra elevators, escalators and bridges, it will presumably make it easier for fans to get to their seats regardless of where they park. Smith said fans spend an average of 20 minutes getting to their seats; this should trim that time and also will enable fans to access all areas of the park.
That was, she said, the biggest design challenge, as well as conforming to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and “not muck up this beautiful-mid century modern look.”
It is worth noting that Smith and Los Angeles architect Brenda Levin, who has been involved in other L.A. historic preservation projects, spent a good amount of time at the office of former owner Peter O’Malley, looking through the original stadium drawings commissioned by his father, Walter.
“As recently as last Friday, Brenda Levin and I were in his office looking at seat colors, and making certain that our match is correct to what (original project engineer) Emil Praeger and Walter O’Malley had intended,” Smith said.
“So we do take this very, very seriously. I think we feel that it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of this beautiful place.”
With such devotion to the original, this renovation is in good hands.
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