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A NEW HOME FOR THE ANGELS: EDISON INTERNATIONAL FIELD
OF ANAHEIM

A Little Bit This, a Little Bit That

Edison Field Architects Improve on Ideas Borrowed From Popular Ballparks

March 23, 1998|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As work orders go, this one could have been written by Alice in Wonderland.

But this was real life, and this was what Disney told the architects responsible for converting Anaheim Stadium into Edison Field:

We want a new baseball stadium within the confines of the old baseball stadium.

We like Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, so make our stadium like that. We like Coors Field in Denver, so make our stadium like that too. We like Jacobs Field in Cleveland and Turner Field in Atlanta, so make our stadium like those as well.

And we need some Disney touches, so no one will mistake our stadium for the others.

Did the architects throw their hands up in frustration? Amazingly, no. But they will throw their hands up in celebration this week, when Disney unveils its renovated stadium, mostly on time and only modestly over budget.

And, yes, the work order was fulfilled.

"Even though this was a renovation, it was such a major renovation that we were able to incorporate a lot of those ideas," said Kevin Uhlich, the Angels' director of stadium operations.

"We think it should be mentioned in the same breath as a Coors or a Camden," perhaps the most celebrated ballparks to open in this decade.

And just as Disney refers to fans as "guests"--as it does at all its attractions and stores--it refers to Edison Field not as a stadium but as a "ballpark." And, despite the renovation, as a "new ballpark."

Said Anaheim Sports president Tony Tavares: "When I walk around here, I get blown away. It is a brand new ballpark. There is precious little that you can point to and say, 'I remember that.' "

You may remember Anaheim Stadium as a perfectly fine baseball stadium, built to house the Angels when they moved from Los Angeles in 1966. The city of Anaheim expanded and enclosed the stadium to accommodate the Rams in 1979.

The Rams fled to St. Louis in January, 1995. Four months later, when Disney announced its intention to purchase the Angels, the company commissioned Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK), the Kansas City architectural firm responsible for Coors Field and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, to recommend whether to blow up Anaheim Stadium or renovate.

The first suggested blowing up the distant and lifeless outfield seating area, no longer necessary after the NFL vacated the premises, and what once was a perfectly fine baseball stadium could become that again.

"We were very pleased to find out that, when you took down all the concrete and stripped the building down to the skeleton, it was almost a carbon copy of Camden Yards," Uhlich said. "We were fortunate in that this was originally built as a baseball stadium. Our sight lines were fantastic."

To modernize the 30-year-old stadium and distinguish it with the Disney touch, an eclectic cast of architects and designers was assembled. In addition to HOK, New York architect Robert Stern, whose credits include Euro Disney and the Disney animation building in Burbank, was hired.

"Disney wanted a ballpark that had a character out of the ordinary, that would reflect a sense of fun," Stern said. "A new take on the baseball-going experience from the fans' point of view."

Hence the stadium icons, the goofy oversized caps and bats incorporated into an enlarged entrance plaza at the front of the stadium. The plaza includes an actual-size infield, with green and red bricks substituting for grass and dirt. Fans can run toward home plate, imagining themselves as that day's hero, or simply stand atop the pitcher's mound and scowl.

The bats, which hold up a canopy, and the caps serve as clearly defined meeting points and shelters from sun or rain.

"It is functional and fun at the same time," Stern said. "We wanted to use things everybody was familiar with. Everybody's picked up a baseball bat at some point in their life, and half of Southern California is wearing a baseball cap at any given time."

Said Uhlich: "We always had an identity problem. In the past, this ballpark never shouted out, hey, this is a baseball stadium. Now there's no mistaking it."

In addition to defining the outside of the stadium, Disney demanded a signature element inside. Walt Disney Imagineering, which is most notable for designing theme park rides, drew up what the company alternately calls its "California coastline" and "outfield extravaganza."

When the Angels hit home runs, geysers will erupt, colored lights will sparkle and fireworks will soar from within a rock pile and waterfall behind center field. The display includes three pyrotechnic sites, six geysers, 85 show lights and 9,000 gallons of recirculating water, Uhlich said.

Disney believes the structure can entertain fans, particularly children, and serve a higher marketing purpose as well. In much the same way the warehouse beyond right field identifies Camden Yards, Disney hopes the explosions of water and light can instantly identify Edison Field to viewers watching games and highlights.

"Any camera shot will pick up on that," said Bob Gilchrist of HOK.

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