August 28, 2019 - From the August, 2019 issue

Janet Marie Smith on Dodger Stadium as Civic Space with a New Front Door

Following the recent announcement by Guggenheim Baseball Management of their $100 million investment to renovate and upgrade Dodger Stadium, all-star stadium veteran Janet Marie Smith joined TPR to talk about the planned renovations and opine on the role of sports stadiums in urban place making. Dodger Stadium's 'new front door' will optimize transit and pedestrian access to the park while preserving the field's historic character and sweeping 'postcard views.' Smith discusses her experience working on notable ballparks and stadiums across the country, including the famed Oriole Park at Camden Yards.


“The new front door for Dodger Stadium… gives us an opportunity to invite all fans to enter in the most convenient manner, and into a special place that really feels very communal… We are in awe of this beautiful urban oasis overlooking Elysian Park and the San Gabriel mountains and the chance to take Dodger Stadium forward for another generation to enjoy.” —Janet Marie Smith

Janet Marie, we do this interview shortly after both the public announcement of the logo for the 2020 MLB All Star game in Los Angeles, and the announcement by ownership, Guggenheim Partners, of another $100 million investment into Dodger Stadium.   With the Ballpark being the third oldest in baseball and perhaps the most beautiful, please speak to the priorities and the work scope of this new capital investment.

When Guggenheim Baseball Management bought the club in 2012, they immediately made both a commitment and a significant $100 million investment into things that would modernize the building without changing its postcard view. 

The Dodgers expanded the clubhouse and invested in scoreboard upgrades. More than 30 restrooms were completely rebuilt to meet current standards —more than doubling the fixture count in the building. We added new concessions and new team stores; and as a way of expanding concourses, we added a plaza at each entry.   We have expanded every entrance in the traditional body of the stadium but saved the best for last. 

That’s really where Stan Kasten is taking us this year by building a new ‘front door to Dodger Stadium:’ a large plaza in center field that will connect the other entrance plazas at the Top of the Park, Reserve, Loge and Field levels,  giving fans the ability to move freely up, around, and through the park in a dynamic way.  For Dodger Stadium, carved into the hillside of Chavez Ravine—this additional vertical circulation means a major shift in the way fans can use the venue. 

The expansion and renovations for this coming off-season have been designed by Boston-based architects D’Agostino Izzo Quirk, who designed our expanded clubhouses prior to the 2013 season.  They are leading the charge on the seismic, ADA, and other upgrades to the 1962 pavilions.   While that may sound dry, I think fans will be delighted by the energy that will come from connecting these areas to the main body of Dodger Stadium.   Levin & Associates, led by Brenda Levin, whose 40+ years of experience working on iconic civic buildings in Southern CA have burnished her place in the history of Los Angeles architecture, is designing the plaza structures for retail and food.  And Studio-MLA, led by Mia Lehrer, serves as the project’s landscape architects.   Themespace and Younts Design bring a level of creativity to the project that will really make the fan areas sparkle.   Though each of these firms have a specific specialization, they collaborate seamlessly in a way that one managing a project of this scale could only dream!    I’d be remiss not to mention how important our engineers are too:  Nabih Youssef and Associates Structural Engineers, ME Engineers, Mollenhauer Group and Jensen Hughes.    

Janet, to give context to Stan Kasten comments, any reader of Paul Goldberger’s new book, Ball Park, might be interested in your view of what a baseball park means to a city and how It might best be integrated today into the latters’ culture and economy. Could you speak to the work which for you began with Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and the happy accident of the politics, ownership, and design coming together there to create Camden Yards, and its influence on urban planning and urban design across the country in the years since?

I’m delighted to talk about Baltimore and the impact that baseball has had on its downtown renaissance—I appreciate you focusing on that urban note. I think that ballpark and the ones that immediately followed were one of the hallmarks of Bud Selig’s tenure as Commissioner. Once the Orioles moved into downtown Baltimore in 1992, they became a part of that city’s collection of attractions bringing people from the suburbs to downtown: the aquarium, the science center, the inner harbor, the festival marketplace, and the ballpark at Camden Yards. Those things caught the attention of not just the baseball world but of all of America. I’ve been asked many times what was most special about that project, and I think I’m most proud of how it brought professional baseball back to the city. 

Cities from Pittsburgh to San Diego to San Francisco followed this model to use baseball as a tool for urban redevelopment. Baseball has always been an urban sport, and it’s nice to see it return to its roots. As it applies to Dodger Stadium, our feeling here is the same: it makes an extraordinary urban setting here on the edge of Elysian Park and overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains that is much more special and more unique, but still very urban.

Dodger Stadium’s new front door that we’re looking to create in 2020 recognizes some changing transportation patterns, from fans using Metro busses and rideshares to the walkability of the Echo Park and Chinatown neighborhoods around us. It gives us an opportunity to invite all fans to enter in the most convenient manner, and into a special place that really feels very communal. That’s what we love about baseball; it is such a civic sport; it is so much a part of what brings us together as a community. At Dodger Stadium, we draw millions of fans every year, and we love the idea of our baseball park being just what it sounds like: one of Los Angeles’s parks.

Well, Janet, in Goldberger’s book he references Camden Yard as the park that would be the most influential ballpark since Yankee Stadium and set the urban paradigm for decades to come. Elaborate on the parks that you’ve worked on and the owners that you’ve aligned with since Camden Yards, and the impact those parks have made on the urban landscape of their metropolises?

Well, I’d like to start with Baltimore because that is such a great story, and you alluded to it a moment ago with your reference to the politics. Mayor William Donald Schaefer had been the steward of Baltimore’s redevelopment and went on to become Governor. When the Orioles refused to sign a long-term lease at Memorial Stadium, there was concern they might leave just as the NFL Colts had a few years earlier.

Governor Schaefer was not going to lose a second professional sports team on his watch. He famously commissioned an economic analysis to look at possible sites and told the consultants - and anyone within earshot- that he didn’t care about the study, he just cared that its recommendation was that the location be in downtown Baltimore.  

His intuition proved right in that building downtown was less expensive than any other site because the infrastructure was already in place. All of the trains, busses, light rail, and the parking that accommodated hundreds of thousands of office workers every day were already within walking distance of the Camden Yards site, whereas many cities were spending just as much money on the transportation and parking as they were the venue itself.

Baltimore and the State of Maryland funded Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but only the ballpark itself; all the infrastructure was already in place. Larry Lucchino, who was president of the Baltimore Orioles, wanted the new ballpark to be just that— a ball park. He famously fined anyone on staff who used what he called the “s-word:” stadium. He wanted the new ballpark to harken back to the days of Ebbets Field, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Forbes Field. 

The confluence of energy and collective vision of Governor Schaefer and Larry Lucchino resulted in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a ballpark that it is very urban. Much of my work there with HOK Sport, the architectural firm that designed the ballpark, and RTKL, the master planners, involved finding ways to make Oriole Park feel like it belonged in the city.  The idea behind Eutaw Street was to continue the street grid into the park, to make the park accessible to anyone, any day of the week.  On a non-game day, fans walk down Eutaw Street, enjoying the site of the outfield grass growing, but on a game day, turnstiles on either end of the street transform the walkway into a concourse contained within the park.  Keeping Eutaw Street a public thoroughfare allowed us to minimize the physical footprint and open the ballpark to all of downtown, not just the baseball fans. 

Since that time, many other parks have emulated this approach, and all in a distinct way.

Baseball is unique in that its outfield dimensions vary from park to park; only the dimensions of the infield need remain the same.  You don’t find that in other sports.

The steps to Dodger Stadium would include the time I worked in Atlanta, when I worked for our Dodger president, Stan Kasten to transform the 1996 Olympic Stadium for the Atlanta Braves. Stan was president of the Braves at the time and was the leader of a well-organized team.   Now, to have the chance to work with him again on this project is amazing because he’s so experienced with this genre.  In addition to Turner Field and Philips Arena in Atlanta, he built the Washington Nationals’ park, which opened just over decade ago in 2008. He knows baseball well.  And I don’t think he ever looks over this beautiful Chavez Ravine and Elysian Park landscape without saying ‘wow.’ We are in awe of this beautiful urban oasis overlooking Elysian Park and the San Gabriel mountains and the chance to take Dodger Stadium forward for another generation to enjoy.”

I think what Mark Walter and the Guggenheim Baseball Management partners have brought to Los Angeles is an understanding and appreciation of the architectural significance of Dodger Stadium, one of the only sports buildings from the mid-century modern era that is still here for us to appreciate. And, as baseball fans, they know the basics. They know that fans don’t come here to stand in line at the restrooms, as Mark Walter once said.  They know we need to give fans the amenities they need to enjoy the game, make the experience memorable, and celebrate baseball.

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Janet: Is there a historical nexus between what was architecturally designed for Camden Yards in the late 80s/early 90s and the announcement this week of new reinvestment in Dodger Stadium.

I think buildings have a long ancestry, just as people do. So, to really answer that question you have to look back at the generation of stadiums that preceded Camden Yards, the multipurpose era of sports venues. A condensed version of baseball history would call out Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, built in the early 1900s as a reference point for when baseball really grew up in urban communities and the way that those parks represent a stately presentation of the sport. If you think of ballparks like the former Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, or even the way that Fenway Park presents itself to the neighborhood in Boston today, you would have looked at those ballparks and thought of them architecturally as very civic buildings. They were all very urban and they presented themselves, as a library or city hall would, as a very public building. 

When cities began using stadiums as tools for urban renewal in the 1950’s and 60’s, they were used to justify clearing hundreds of acres of former industrial land and communities in exchange for a very modern approach.  And it wasn’t just stadiums that pursued this purist approach of a round building to house baseball and football. All of architecture was looking at modern, massive geometric structures. Sports really suffered as much as housing did in in trying to fit uses into these modern geometric forms.   As for stadia, these multipurpose structures were too big for baseball, too small for football, and the field orientation didn’t work for either sport. That lasted about a generation until Kansas City built two stadiums and proved that the essentially the same amount of dollars could finance two separate sporting venues. Kansas City was in the suburbs, so we do not think of it as a progenitor of Camden Yards, but it did allow those in Maryland to point to something and say, ‘that could work.’ Bringing baseball back into the city though, I think, represented a total shift in planning you might think of as part of the New Urbanism movement. 

The architectural style is often called “retro.” That’s not a term that I embrace for Camden Yards, but it’s been applied and I can understand it because we all like a soundbite. It is a way to think about the building as being a part of the civic spaces that rejuvenate cities. I think what’s interesting about the leadership of Eli Jacobs, Larry Lucchino, and William Donald Schaefer is that it shows how it takes a village to shape a city. It takes both the vision of private owners to make things happen and government to facilitate it happening.   Here at Dodger Stadium where our investment is all private money, the City of Los Angeles has been an amazing partner in helping us think about transportation improvements, including the rationale of our front door being right where Metro busses have dedicated lanes for pick-up and drop-off.

Even with mundane acts like planning reviews and permitting —as permitting consultant, Kimberlina Whettam, and  DAIQ Architects and Levin & Associates can attest -- there is an acknowledgement by the city that we are doing something more than just hosting sports; we are investing in a historic building, a very civic space and source of city pride.    We are working on a building that is hosting 81 – 100 events a year, and we have a very short window of time during the off season to do a lot of work. We really must have our dominoes lined up, and ready to fall in order so our projects will be successful from a construction perspective. So, in that regard, the City of LA has been a wonderful partner in rebuilding Dodger Stadium.  

Among other ballpark projects, you’re involved now with a new stadium being built in Worcester, Massachusetts. Elaborate on the urban design challenges of incorporating ideas that have evolved since Camden Yards into the building of a new downtown stadium from the ground up?

The Triple A baseball building in Worcester is a show piece for the trickle-down theory of urban development. Larry Lucchino, who was my boss in Baltimore and again in Boston when I worked with him on the renovation of Fenway Park, has long been a friend and colleague of my current boss Stan Kasten.   Larry is currently working to move the Triple A Red Sox team to Worcester, Massachusetts.   Their new home is a former industrial site where baseball will be the anchor for a huge redevelopment downtown. Larry asked Stan if I might be able to assist on the design and planning of that project.  

What I have enjoyed about thinking through that project is that it is very much born of the same kind of appreciation of how baseball and cities fit together: the city of Worcester, about 45 minutes west of Boston, has a wonderful historical district, a beautiful downtown that has undergone a decade of growth, and, as Boston’s economy is bursting at the seams, a lot of new development. The Polar Park project, which is the minor league home of what will be the Worcester Red Sox in 2021, is very much part of the strategy of bringing sports and entertainment to this area and using the development around it to benefit the property itself. They will build hotels, office buildings, and residential apartments. The City of Worcester, being the park advocates that they are, are building several public parks at the same time in this area. In almost one fell swoop, you’ll have acres of land in the heart of the community transform from the former industry of the last generation into a lively downtown community. 

I know you’ve been working also in the Dominican Republic on a ballpark (Campos Las Palmas); what is the urban paradigm for that sports facility?

Well, that project is in many ways an opportunity to burnish the cultural reputation of the Dodgers, which we are very proud of. We never forget that we are the caretakers of the team that brought Jackie Robinson into the major leagues and broke the color barrier, brought baseball to the West Coast, and introduced the world to Fernando-mania.   We’ve just celebrated Fernando Valenzuela’s legacy in Los Angeles with his 2019 induction into the Legends of Dodger Baseball. The Dominican facility, Campo Las Palmas, is another project that gave the Dodgers a star for their cultural contributions to baseball.  

About 40 years ago, Peter O’Malley set out to create a presence in the Dominican Republic that would include a training camp, an academy, and an opportunity to engage the local community. It was a chance to bring together players who would ultimately find their way to the major leagues in America and offer them opportunities to learn English, finance, etc. that would help them as they made the transition— whether they made it to the major leagues as baseball players or moved back to their communities with new skill sets.   The renovation of Campos Las Palmas in the Dominican, directed by Stan Kasten and Dodger ownership, was very much about our international presence, and how we use our academy to make a commitment to those young men as they enter Major League Baseball. 

Is the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park—which anchors a sizable sports district and is a colossus— a sign that the baseball urban paradigm which you helped launch at Camden Yards and that now includes Dodger Stadium, has been supplanted? How does one compare Dodger Stadium’s architecture with what’s coming out of the ground in Inglewood? 

I don’t know if you can put those two buildings in the same category in that question and come up with the same answer. I will speak to Dodger Stadium because it’s the one I know best. I think Dodger Stadium certainly has risen in the public’s mind as significant piece of architecture, not just a significant baseball park. Much of the reason we reached out to Brenda Levin, Mia Lehrer, and Tommy Quirk as the architects, is that we did not need a traditional sports makeover at Dodger Stadium. We have everything we need and more in our beautiful playing field; what we needed was to upgrade the things that are behind the scenes.

I’ll always remember when I first called Brenda and asked her to work on this project. She said to me, “wow, I love Dodger Stadium. There’s nothing I like more than an old building in Los Angeles— a city not known for its old buildings—but I don’t think baseball and sports are my thing.” I told her I was calling because I knew she designs additions to buildings that are sympathetic to their original architecture. What we need are team stores; we need restrooms; we need public entrances; we need to address vertical circulation. And I feel like our team of architects has delivered that in a very thoughtful manner. When I walk around with fans today and point out the work that we did five or six years ago, I often need to explain where we started, before the first set of renovations. Seeing the additions today, they seem like such natural, beautiful appendages that they do not feel like appendages at all.

When you see the work that these three firms did, you appreciate the artfulness of an architect who can read a building as unique as Dodger Stadium and think about making changes without destroying the uniqueness of the original design.   I credit Mia Lehrer’s office and design team for being able to think about the grade change of this crazy park that rises 120 feet from its lowest entry point to its top level and managing that in a way that meets ADA! How do you do that in a way that addresses the physical challenges that just the average person has in hiking up 120 feet? Brenda Levin’s artful depictions of the team stores, the restrooms and the food service—How do you add these things so that they feel like they’re a part of the original vocabulary, not pretending to be old, but a new compliment?    And of course, DAIQ— who I had the pleasure of working with on the Fenway Park renovations. I am in awe of their ability to look at a building and reimagine what it could be while respecting its original bones.

The team of architects has approached the 2020 renovations with respect for the original architecture; details like diamond plate stairs in the Pavilions and the placement of palm trees beyond the folded roofs mimic the 1962 design. We’re looking to do upgrades, but we’re looking to maintain the material and the look that make Dodger Stadium one of the most revered parks in the major leagues.  I was so honored when Commissioner Rob Manfred was here from MLB, and noted in one breath Wrigley, Fenway, and Dodger Stadium, even though it was born 50 years after those two parks. I don’t know that anyone ever thought that Dodger Stadium would be given that kind of respect and reverence, and I think we’re all honored to be a part of the history that is being made here today.  

Let’s close with a quote from the Goldberger book about your professional contributions to baseball and your hiring decades ago by Baltimore’s Camden Yards ownership.  The author quotes Eli Jacobs as saying that (you, Janet, are:) “the real heroine; and, Larry Lucchino describes Smith as the best free agent acquisition he had made that year.”

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.