June 5, 2005


That home-field edge: Dodger Stadium, a rarity amid retro cookie-cutters, stands as a venue that uniquely reflects its time and place. It's a model, in its way, for a bold next wave. (Christopher Hawthorne, June 5, 2005, LA Times)

There were two kinds of projects that modern architecture proved particularly ill-suited to take on during the height of its American influence in the decades after World War II. The first was design at the scale of the city: Modernism and urban planning turned out to be a terrible match, producing towers-in-the-park schemes, hulking expressways and other architectural disasters.

The second was the design of baseball stadiums. From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, 17 major-league teams moved into new ballparks. With their strict symmetry and stripped concrete exteriors, the stadiums were full of disdain for the history of architecture — and of baseball. By the end of the 1980s most of them had become unloved white elephants, sitting forlornly in the middle of lake-sized parking lots.

They fell flat, in part, because they tried to impose Modernism's utopian formulas on the least utopian of American sports — a game whose biggest stars have usually been flawed eccentrics and in which failure at the plate two-thirds of the time, extended over the course of a career, will win you a place in the Hall of Fame.

The great exception was Dodger Stadium, which somehow managed to suggest that baseball and postwar architecture were made for each another. When it opened in spring 1962, it demonstrated — like all of the best midcentury architecture in Los Angeles — how much could be gained by treating the rigid rules of Modernism more like open-ended guidelines.

The park, designed by architect-engineer Emil Praeger — with plenty of detailed input from owner Walter O'Malley — was streamlined and forward-looking. But it also had an unshakable sense of place: Though it incorporated details from baseball's oldest parks — particularly the steeply pitched upper decks that keep fans in the cheap seats close to the action — it was loosely informal and extensively landscaped, taking advantage of its spacious hilltop site. It didn't take long for Praeger's stadium to earn a reputation as the best-designed ballpark in the major leagues.

Modernism is anti-human.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 5, 2005 10:31 AM

You're a Mets fan aren't you? How do you feel abotu Robert Moses' Shea Stadium? You must have gone there quite frequently as a kid. I kind of like it, but I don't know scoot about architecture or baseball.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 5, 2005 11:04 AM

It's a dump and has been since the day it opened.

Posted by: oj at June 5, 2005 11:20 AM

modernism is the triumph of engineering over art

Posted by: at June 5, 2005 11:39 AM

You can't design a proper ballpark if you force it to double as a football stadium. This was the problem with almost all of the "parks" built in the 60s and early 70s (Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veterans, etc.). They all looked the same and no one laments their demise.

Posted by: George at June 5, 2005 12:23 PM

The original "San Diego Stadium", back around '79-'80 before it became "Jack Murphy Stadium", was about the best dual-use. That was before they enclosed the outfield, added decks and generally made it into a football palace at the expense of baseball.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 5, 2005 1:22 PM

Dodger Stadium is really in a primo location. One of the most fun aspects of the stadium itself is that from most of the seats you have a view of the parking lots beyond the outfield bleachers, so for night games you can watch the heavy traffic last until about the 3rd inning, then start up again at the end of the 6th.

Apparently the new owners are making things MUCH more expensive, so it's a lot harder to have a cheap family night at the ballgame. The most inexplicable thing I've heard is that they've banned handheld radios, which means that you're not surrounded by the voice of Vin Scully anymore. I'm no Dodger fan, but they should be put in federal prison for that...

Posted by: b at June 5, 2005 2:17 PM

What's this "time zone rule" I keep encountering on this blog?

Posted by: Tom at June 5, 2005 3:02 PM

Orrin has this Nancy-boy personal rule about never leaving his time zone. Personally, I have a British Empire rule about never going anywhere that wasn't once a part of the Empire. It's a lot more flexible.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 5, 2005 4:34 PM

Because technology is anti-human.

Posted by: at June 5, 2005 4:43 PM

On the contrary, technology is what distinguishes us from the other animals and makes us human.

Posted by: jd watson at June 5, 2005 5:23 PM

No, religion, ethics, art etc. are what distinguish us. Technology ie mechanics and electricity corroded our sense of time, space, and limitation. Modernism is a reflection of the psychic changes wrought by this.

Posted by: at June 5, 2005 5:32 PM

Of course you usually see the people who decry technology renounce only the parts they don't find useful. Even Prof. Kaczynski used those parts which he thought would further his goals.

If our host really believed technology bad (instead of being an excuse for striking a contrarian pose), he'd voluntarily give it up in areas that most affect his own life-- for example, he'd only write with quill and parchment by whale oil lamp, and only permit those writtings to be published by a mechanical press (or better yet, copied and illuminated by Benedictine monks.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 5, 2005 6:53 PM

Your view of technology is, IMO, too limited. Writing, arithmetic, fire, stone and metal working (and the quarrying and mining which make them possible), preparation and use of medicinal plants, domestication of plants and animals, weaving, tanning, sewing, the construction of any structure, the control of water and irrigation, and so on, etc., etc. are all, I believe, technologies.

Without any technology, we are vulnerable naked animals roaming around in small groups. There are no sacred religious texts, no carvings, paintings, or music (except perhaps songs), and the ethics are of the xenophobic tribal variety.

Posted by: jd watson at June 5, 2005 7:00 PM

Gov B - Thanks for the response. A lot more of the insider commentary here will no doubt be clear, or less unclear, now.

Posted by: Tom at June 5, 2005 8:02 PM

Dodger Stadium is a pain to get out of after the end of games. All the traffic is forced through a single lane so it takes forever.

Posted by: Brandon at June 5, 2005 8:13 PM

Tom: OJ really wishes he could enforce a state border rule, but Dr Judd makes him visit her parents in Massachusetts and they take the kids to Disney World. It always struck me as a pretty cheap price for selling out his principles.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 5, 2005 10:59 PM

He should pay Gov. Breck to go in his place.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 5, 2005 11:05 PM

I've known Breck for years and in all that time he's never violated the rule either.

Posted by: oj at June 6, 2005 12:44 AM

Well, Immanuel Kant never went more than 100 miles or so from Konigsberg, either - but I doubt if that is salutory.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 6, 2005 1:48 AM

Mr. Hamlen:
I'd squire the Dr. Mrs. around the country for free.
I visted Olympia, WA (the belly of the beast!) once in 2000.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 6, 2005 7:55 AM

Ah, the exception that proves the rule...

Posted by: oj at June 6, 2005 8:07 AM