Back to the Futura

The day began with a 5:15 alarm. Not used to the early wakeup time, I spent the next ten minutes in a daze. The dog started licking my feet, a habit she does whenever she wants a walk, so I was up shortly thereafter.

Behind home plate. The logo is repainted daily.

Dog walked and fed and myself showered and dressed, I hopped in the truck to drive 40 minutes to Oceanside, where I was to catch the Metrolink train going all the way to Los Angeles Union Station. For those that don’t know, Metrolink is a diesel commuter rail service much like the Bay Area’s Caltrain, except that it has multiple lines that venture out to Ventura, Lancaster, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Oceanside, at the north end of San Diego County. One way trip price: $14.50. I was afraid of getting stuck and stressed in the normal weekday LA traffic, so rising early was worth it. Other than a brief delay to allow a late BNSF freight train to pass, the ride was smooth and uneventful.

After a little breakfast a few blocks away from the station, I set out to take public transit to Dodger Stadium so that I could catch the 10 AM tour. That’s right, public transit. There’s been a little talk about the Dodger Express, a bus that runs directly from Union Station to Dodger Stadium. The bus only runs on gamedays from 90 minutes before first pitch until shortly after the game ends, so the option wasn’t available to me. Instead I had a choice of either the #2 or #4 bus, both of which head north through downtown before going west on Sunset Blvd. The bus got me to Sunset & Elysian Park by 9:35, leaving me 25 minutes to hike up Chavez Ravine to the “Top of the Park” to make the tour time. The walk is about 3/4 mile, with an elevation change of 160-170 feet. No sweat, right?

Halfway up at the intersection of Elysian Park Ave. and Stadium Way.

Good thing I had 25 minutes to spare because I needed every one of them. Having never been to Dodger Stadium except for a game, I was not prepared for the security procedure that met me at the gate (pictured above). Every driver (and pedestrian as I would soon find out) had to check in at the gate and have their driver’s license or ID run. As I waited by the guard shack, I noticed that they were running ID on every person inside every car except for children. The guard told me that under no terms was I to stray away from the P lot to other areas of the park before I was to start the tour. Apparently this is because many of the stadium gates (not the gates to the parking lots) are open during the day so that maintenance can be easily performed around the premises. This rigamarole added an extra 7-8 minutes. At 9:50 I was on my way, printed badge sticker on my shirt. I arrived at the ticket booth at 9:57, the only person ahead me a cop who was getting tickets for a future home game.

View from in front of elevator at Top Deck, San Gabriel Mountains in background

Shortly after Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers from Fox, he announced a $500 million renovation and development plan for Dodger Stadium and the surrounding grounds. The goal was to fix some of the circulation issues within the stadium and update the venue to make it on par with the new generation of ballparks. Scoreboards were changed, as were seat options in the lower deck that cut into the wide expanse of foul territory. The lower concourses were refreshed with a retro-modern look harkening back to the stadium’s opening. All of the seats were changed to the original pastel color scheme. The upper concourses (reserved, top deck) remained untouched. Whether that was because McCourt was steeling himself for a nasty divorce or because he and Jamie McCourt were wasting money on mansions is hard to say. Whatever the case, the money didn’t filter up to the cheap seats.

The press box hasn't changed much either (note rust on ceiling). Neither has the great view.

Sure, the upper decks need the urinal troughs replaced. It would help if all signs were in Futura and the prominent ones had the sleek, brushed metal look. That’s for the new ownership group to do, and they’ve indicated that they’re going to make some upgrades, which are designed to last a decade. There isn’t an obvious place to add to the 33 suites in-house. That led to McCourt’s creation of “baseline boxes” and other field level premium options. A group including Orel Hershiser has proposed a horrific set of additions including a Arlington-like second deck in RF and an egregious amount of outfield signage. A restaurant or two and some party areas would suffice, along with getting rid of the troughs. The place is kept up well already. Concrete floors are generally polished. Painted walls are repainted every year.

Dugout Club. Memorabilia adorns the ramps leading down to the floor.

Much has been written about the origins of Dodger Stadium. To get the real story, look here. Or check out the construction pictures here. To me, Dodger Stadium is the perfect form of reactionary stadium. The vision that Walter O’Malley saw was formed by his experiences at Ebbets Field and his frustrations in getting a replacement built in Brooklyn (you’re welcome, Robert Moses). Ebbets Field couldn’t get any bigger than 35,000 cramped seats. It had no parking onsite, making it difficult to attract white flight suburbanites that were fleeing the city in droves. It was a bandbox. O’Malley wanted bigger, more spacious, more modern. When he couldn’t get that in Brooklyn (Moses offered Queens), he went to LA, a city that was all too willing to use eminent domain to drive people off a 200-acre hillside to attract a major league franchise. Dodger Stadium was built into that hillside with cantilevered decks, spacious foul territory, large dimensions and a great view of nature in the San Gabriel Mountains to the north. It was close enough to downtown (2+ aerial miles) to be central to the region, though it turns it back on downtown and its gritty nature. And parking, oh did it have parking. The future was cars, rockets, and Disneyland. If O’Malley brought the Dodgers to the West Coast, he would be feted like a king. Feted he was, until the end of his life. Forever the villain in Brooklyn, he was always a hero in Hollywood.

It’s with that sense of history that I hope there are no major changes at Dodger Stadium (they can build condos, just don’t change the actual venue). It’s a product of its time, good and bad. Stadia are becoming more disposable over time. Candlestick Park will be demolished soon after the 49ers leave. Whatever happens to the Oakland Raiders and Oakland A’s, it’s unlikely that the Coliseum will be left as is. Either it will also be demolished or it will be radically transformed. Qualcomm Stadium may stick around, but the land there in Mission Valley is too valuable not to reuse. We need Dodger Stadium to stick around as a reminder of what America was like in the postwar era: optimistic, not quite coming to grips with its socioeconomic and racial issues, hopeful yet paranoid, somewhat naive. It’s a messy, conflicted, beautiful period. Dodger Stadium is a testament to that.

20 Responses to Back to the Futura

  1. baycommuter says:

    Nice writing. A better view of the urban-development attitude of that time than “Mad Men,” I think, is Caro’s biography of Robert Moses. Too bad he didn’t make it out to L.A.

  2. Columbo says:

    @ ML – I noticed you said part of McCourt’s renovation was for circulation. What does that refer to exactly? I ask because (true story), in about 1999 I flew down to LA with a buddy for a few days and we went to a Ducks game and a Dodger game. If I recall it was some time in April. Anyhow, when we were leaving the hotel to go to the game I noticed it was unseasonably cool to say the least. I went back into the hotel and put on long-johns, a big sweater, and a big jacket. At about the 6th inning I couldn’t take it anymore. We were sitting in the 2nd deck (LF) and it was bone-chilling. Now I’ve been to many Giants games at Candlestick and I’m not lying when I say I’ve never felt anything like this. The wind was strong and icy. I told my friend we have to get out of here because I couldn’t take the cold anymore despite having all those clothes on. Interestingly, a local who was sitting nearby reached over and told me that this phenomenon that you would never associate with LA occurs rarely but he said it does happen and it sucks. When you say “circulation” are you referring to the whipping wind-like occurrences infamous to Candlestick (and what I felt that night at Dodger Stadium) or is that something else?

  3. JGMJ says:

    Disagree. Dodger Stadium is a monument to the car in a society (and City) that is trying to reclaim itself for pedestrians and other forms of transportation. Relocate the Dodgers to a new stadium that provides access to multiple modes of transportation. Try as they may, Dodger Stadium will never have the accessibility it needs, which will become even more of an issue if the ownership develops on the parking lots. While the views may be great, sitting in standstill traffic for an hour after a game makes the experience in many instances unbearable, and it isn’t getting any better.

  4. Georob says:

    This is also a reminder that ballparks have always been built where cheap land was available. Chavez Ravine was, for lack of a better term; a slum. No one else would have built there and consequently the price was right for Walter O’Malley. Most of the later “suburban” parks would be on the outskirts of town where land was also plentiful and cheap. Finally, the current generation of downtown stadiums found available space on former industrial land that was no longer suited for that purpose. It’s simple economics, nothing else.

  5. GoA's says:

    I agree ML – personally love Dodger stadium and the mcCourts for all of their faults did a good job in their partial restoration- during murdoch’s time he let the stadium decline significantly. I also liked the concept of developing around the ballpark to create more of a urban feel- have great memories of Dodger stadium and I hope the Magic and crew keep it and continue to upgrade it-

  6. Marine Layer says:

    @Columbo – I was referring to how difficult it is to move from level to level within Dodger Stadium unless you’ve paid for the privilege.

  7. Dan says:

    JGMJ, you do realize you can walk to Dodger Stadium from downtown or take the bus right? In an area where no one takes public transit that’s about all they need. Dodger Stadium is perfect in that regard. The LA basin worships the car.

  8. Matt says:

    1) @ML – I hope you were able to stop by Phillipe’s which is about a block away from Union Station. They claim to have invented the French Dip, though your concept of what French Dip is probably differs from theirs. For more info and menu, check out “www.phillipes.com”.

    2) About four years ago, then Dodger owner Frank McCourt offered his vision of renovating Dodger Stadium. He wanted fans to come in earlier and stay later which he hoped, of course, would mean more revenue. “http://commotionmag.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/dodger-stadium-renovations/” briefly discusses the topic and provides two links to the L.A. Times describing the concept in more detail along with photos of the reveal event as well as a sketch of the public transportation terminal just beyond center field. Yes, the idea will remind many of you of the “Coliseum City” concept supposedly floating in the minds of the Oakland City Council

  9. Marine Layer says:

    @Matt – Philippe’s was my last stop before I went back to San Diego. Totally worth it.

  10. gojohn10 says:

    I’ll be at Union station on Thursday. Thanks for the tip, Matt.

  11. JGMJ says:

    Dan – You cannot walk to Dodger Stadium from Downtown unless you want a multi-mile, uphill hike. City Hall to Dodger Stadium is 2 miles. The closest buses still require an uphill walk, and unless you live along Sunset, will require a transfer. Los Angeles is leading the nation in public transportation investment and is possibly going to tax itself again to expand that funding. Farmer’s Field is being billed as the most transit accessible stadium in the NFL and starting next season, you can take the light rail train to a Trojan football game.

  12. Marine Layer says:

    @JGMJ – That’s why I think Chavez Ravine should be developed. Any master developer will be forced to devise and help pay for a workable mass transit solution to serve the development, whether the project is commercial, residential, or both. It’s probably the only way transit will go all the way up the hill.

  13. JGMJ says:

    Connecting Chavez Ravine by any meaningful form of public transportation (meaning rail, not bus) will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It will require either a subway deep beneath the hill, made difficult because of the grade change, or some kind of dedicated at grade rail line that will also have to find its way up that hill. The planned Regional Connector light rail through Downtown is 2 miles and is currently budgeted at $1.25 billion. Even if the Dodger transit connection is a quarter of that cost, you are looking at $300 million. This is not even to mention that in the time it would take to both develop the parking lots to the density necessary to support rail transit and build a transit line, Dodger Stadium will be celebrating it’s 100th anniversary.

  14. Marine Layer says:

    @JGMJ – Not even a quarter of MTA’s ridership is rail. Be realistic.

  15. Nicosan says:

    The neighborhoods around Dodger Stadium, Elysian Park and Echo Park will fight development of that area tooth and nail. I am not sure there is a solution to transpo that is financially feasible other than more 4s and 2s on Sunset. But maybe if there is development of a shopping center in the Ravine that could change. Traffic will be nuts every day there. As it is the Park gets used a lot by families, mostly Latino for picnicing, parties and such. I think the residents will fight hard, just as they have to control the exit traffic in the area.

  16. JGMJ says:

    Marine Layer – Not sure how that is relevant to the discussion. Simply running a bus on the same clogged streets on game day will get you no appreciable increase in transit use to Dodger games – The Dodger Shuttle currently does that and is a joke. Without a transit on a dedicated ROW, traffic will continue to get worse. Of course rail ridership is lower than bus ridership – there are hundreds of bus lines and a handful of rail lines. With billions in projects both under construction and planned, ridership will only increase. The least they could do is pay to extend the proposed Downtown streetcar to Dodger Stadium. While that wouldn’t be sufficient in the long term, it would be a good start.

  17. Nathan says:

    OT @Nicosan

    Update on the microbrews at the Coliseum. The little stand by 106 has Anchor and Lagunitas beers this year. Yesterday it was Anchor Steam, Anchor Liberty, Lagunitas IPA, and Lagunitas WTF.

  18. Joe says:

    I love the Ballpark in Arlington (granted, I’m a biased homer) but Hershiser should’ve been embarrassed to attach his name to that horrible renovation plan. Just an awesome park and one I hope to see one day. Fix it up all they want, but if they’re going to fundamentally alter the place, the roof, the view, etc, you’d be better off just starting over. Not that that’s a good idea at all.

  19. Marine Layer says:

    @JGMJ – The simple fact is that it’s easier to expand via bus/rapid instead of rail/streetcar. Whatever the development is at Dodger Stadium, the development part should be expected to drive transit demand more than baseball simply because of the daily use and projected mode splits. How can MTA justify a major change to the streetcar project or any other huge capex to accommodate Dodger Stadium when there’s no significant proven demand? It’s a classic chicken-and-egg scenario.

  20. JGMJ says:

    Marine Layer – Sure it is easier to add a bus route, it’s also easy to do nothing and have everybody drive, that doesn’t make it a good plan. I worked on the long term plan Dodger Stadium and sat in meetings with Frank McCourt. All of the 50 year plan alternatives (timeframe of the full build-out) had non-bus transit. Now that there is new ownership, who knows what they will want to do with the parking lots in the long term. The fact remains, in order for major development to occur up there, serious transit investment (not a bus route) is needed to make it work and MTA won’t be the ones footing the bill.

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