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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.