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I don't like baseball. Despite that fact, I have for some time entertained the idea of visiting and exploring Dodger Stadium. Dodger Stadium has long struck me as one of Los Angeles' greatest examples of monumental architecture, and I'm not completely sure why it's not more of an establishing shot cliché for films set in Los Angeles, on par with the Hollywood Sign, Venice Boardwalk, Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, and Chinese Theater. When presented with the opportunity to explore it without the distraction of baseball, I stepped up to the plate, as it were.
The tour was organized by deLaB, and the small number of spots were snapped up in about twenty minutes. I initially felt something like guilt for no doubt scuppering the opportunity for some blue-bleeding Dodger fan to possibly realize a lifelong dream. I attempted to absolve myself after being asked by another tour-goer if whether I was an architect or Dodgers fan. How many people that go to Hoover Dam do so because they're superfans of hydroelectricity? I enjoyed myself greatly, so it's also my hope that fellow non-fans of baseball will consider visiting the stadium themselves.
Before the existence of Dodger Stadium, the hills and valleys there were home to three Mexican-American neighborhoods -- Bishop, La Loma, and Palo Verde -- situated on land owned by Julian Chavez known as "Chavez Ravine." In 1951 the city announced their intention to displace and destroy the community (although not in those words) and to subsequently house them in projects designed by Richard Neutra. By 1953, housing projects were routinely besmirched as "socialist," the planned projects were abandoned, and the city purchased Chavez Ravine. In 1957 the Brooklyn Dodgers announced that they were moving to Los Angeles and the remaining residents of Chavez Ravine were forcibly evicted in 1959.
Dodger Stadium was constructed between 1959 and 1962. It is now still sometimes referred to as Chavez Ravine, even though the ravine itself was filled in, because it was also once home to another baseball team: the Los Angeles Angels. When it was announced that the Dodgers were coming to Los Angeles, the city already had two professional ball teams: the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Stars, who played in Fairfax's Gilmore Field and South Central's Wrigley Field, respectively. Dodger Stadium was designed by Emil Prager and Thomas Christian Kavanagh -- two civil engineers known for their projects in New York and elsewhere.
To get to Dodger Stadium I first walked through Echo Park. Right before entering the park, the sidewalks come to an abrupt end. Though this literal shortcoming stands out as odd today, it's certainly not completely unexpected for a semi-public Los Angeles space that opened between the two years separating the end of operations for both the Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway. Seeing no designated entrance or pathway for pedestrians, I walked up the eight-lane road.
There is no mistaking the fact that despite its recent renovation, Dodger Stadium remains almost exclusively oriented toward automobilists. The stadium itself is dwarfed by a dry sea of parking spaces. In fact, the parking lot alone is larger than the adjacent neighborhood of Chinatown. However, unlike Chinatown, Dodger Stadium resembles a community only when cars are present. Surrounded by acres of concrete, there stands -surrounded by trees -- a 76 Station that opened in alongside the stadium, the building of which was partly financed by Union Oil (then the owner of 76).
The newly renovated stadium now includes seven bike racks (compared to 16,000 parking spaces for cars). Anyone who's ever found themselves in a nearby neighborhood like Solano Canyon or Victor Heights on game day has seen the parking lot spread to their streets, effectively making them feel under automotive siege.
There are alternatives to gridlock, cycling and walking up the sidewalk-less roads. The Metro operates a bus, the Dodger Stadium Express, which travels back and forth between the venue and Union Station. From there transit riders can take Metro, Metrolink, Amtrak or other means of transit home and avoid the gridlock. In recent years, the Angeleno Heights Trolley attempted to raise funds to restore a Birney trolley car that serviced Angeleno Heights from 1920-1946 as part of the Los Angeles Railyways "yellow car" system. The trolley would have connected Angeleno Heights, Echo Park, Chinatown, Pueblo, Civic Center, and Victor Heights neighborhoods with Dodger Stadium.
The tour started near the gift shop. Although it's not uncommon to hear people complain about downtown's skyline, the view of it from Dodger Stadium is stunning. My first thought was that the stadium must've been built with the vista in mind. However, it was quickly pointed out that most of Bunker Hill and the Financial District's skyscrapers weren't erected for a two or three decades after the opening of the baseball stadium. 32-story City Hall was the tallest building until 1964, with the rest of downtown's buildings topping out at thirteen stories.
Entering the stadium's upper deck there affords another breathtaking view -- one that eloquently refutes the frequent characterization of Los Angeles as an overly horizontal city. From here the view is dominated by the Elysian, Monterey, Repetto, San Rafael, and Verdugo Hills, and beyond them, the San Gabriel Mountains. What other supposedly vertical cities can complete with Los Angeles's chains of hills and mountains?
Having not lived in the 1960s and having never visited Dodger Stadium before its renovation (or any other baseball stadium, for that matter), I'm not sure of how different it feels from its pre-renovation look. If I loved an institution I can imagine being distressed by heavy-handed changes, but to me the new Dodger Stadium looks and smells like a building from the early '60s. Some renovations were pointed out and though there were unmistakably modern touches, such as a cartoon image of Psy shilling-soju, the ballpark has a space age charm. Even the giant bobbleheads and new murals have a uniformly retro aesthetic.
Among the new additions are playgrounds for visitors who demand more excitement than baseball affords them. I was particularly taken with the landscaping, which has an unmistakably modern look with its emphasis on drought tolerant plants. The succulents and other hearty plants simultaneously look strange and fitting in the concrete 1960s saucer-pod planters. Many of the other renovations are hidden from fans' sight, and we were asked not to take pictures of the clubhouse.
As the sun set and I took in the view of this amazing venue I surprised myself by thinking that I might actually come back to attend an event and experience the space filled with a crowd. I imagined bicycle races, croquet matches, or kite battles as suitably engaging alternatives to baseball games or rock concerts. Not long after, it was announced that soccer will be coming to the stadium for the first time in its history when Real Madrid, Everton, Juventus, and Los Angeles Galaxy will play.
To keep the baseball theme going I ended my visit by stopping in at the Short Stop, a bar long popular with Dodgers fans and formerly the LAPD's notorious (and disbanded) CRASH unit. Though there are still gun lockers, off-duty cops are vastly outnumbered today by civilian barflies. The walls, however, are still covered with framed Dodger memorabilia.
Photos by Eric Brightwell.
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