March 16, 2009

OUR LONG SHEA STADIUM NIGHTMARE IS OVER:

Home: New stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets. (Paul Goldberger March 23, 2009, The New Yorker)

In 1921, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the co-owner of the New York Yankees, needed to get his team out from under the thumb of the New York Giants, his landlords at the Polo Grounds, in Harlem, and build his own stadium. Having looked at a plot occupied by an orphan asylum in upper Manhattan, some land in Long Island City, and an area on the West Side, over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, he settled on the Bronx. Just across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, he erected the largest and grandest stadium in baseball. Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, was a haughty structure designed to give the game a feeling of permanence lacking in earlier, scrappier ballparks, like Fenway Park, in Boston, Wrigley Field, in Chicago, and Ebbets Field, in Brooklyn. Unlike the builders of older ballparks, Ruppert didn’t have to contort the stadium to fit the lines of city streets. The stadium could spread out and lift high; it was the first ballpark to have three full tiers of seats. Nestled beside elevated subway tracks and across from the playgrounds and basketball courts of Macombs Dam Park, Yankee Stadium rose above its surroundings.

There is nothing so revolutionary in Yankee Stadium’s replacement, which opens just to the north, across 161st Street, on April 3rd, when the Yankees host the Chicago Cubs for an exhibition game. (The first regular-season game is on April 16th, against the Cleveland Indians.) The new Yankee Stadium, designed by the architectural firm HOK Sport, is effectively an attempt to atone for the brutal 1973 renovation of Ruppert’s building, which removed the historic ambience without adding much in the way of modern amenities. HOK has reincarnated the old stadium, but with clearer sight lines, luxury suites, plenty of places to eat, and, finally, sufficient bathroom facilities. [...]

Also about to open is the New York Mets’ new home—the first time that two major-league stadiums have opened in the same city at the same time. Citi Field, which people are already calling TARP Field, or Bailout Park, opens on March 29th, with a college game. (The Mets play an exhibition game there on April 3rd and their first regular-season game on April 13th.) Like the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is right next door to its predecessor and was designed by HOK Sport. The firm has pretty much cornered the market in sports facilities in recent years; in 1992, it designed the most influential ballpark of modern times, Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles insisted that the new park have the ambience of an old-fashioned one and feel connected to the city, and HOK, scrapping an earlier design, obliged. Camden Yards launched a generation of so-called retro-classic ballparks, a style to which both of New York’s new stadiums conform, even though they look vastly different from each other.

The previous home of the Mets, Shea Stadium, opened in 1964, at a time when architects seemed to think that their mission was to purge baseball fields of asymmetry, idiosyncrasy, and anything that seemed remotely related to a park’s surroundings, and to offer up instead gigantic doughnuts of concrete that looked like highway interchanges. (Other notable examples of the genre sprang up in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.) Citi Field is pleasanter in every way than the harsh stadium it replaces. The park has a casual feel, with warm red brick inside, lots of amenities, great sight lines, and a layout that’s easy to navigate. There are forty-two thousand seats, fifteen thousand fewer than Shea had, all a calm dark green and arranged in somewhat irregular tiers, bringing you much closer to the field than before. The complex has an energetic composition of brick façades, and dark-gray steel elements, which are said to have been designed with the great steel arch of Hell Gate Bridge in mind, and give the place a feel that is as much industrial as retro.

As for the retro-classic side of Citi Field, the Mets, having no ancient ballpark of their own to evoke, have appropriated someone else’s. The architects, whose Camden Yards design incorporated features of several historic ballparks, have here wrapped an imitation of the façade of the much mourned Ebbets Field around the southern corner of the new structure, and the old Brooklyn stadium likewise inspired the form of the entry rotunda.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at March 16, 2009 8:23 PM
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