A Little Bit This, a Little Bit That

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.

For the two restaurants within the stadium, one behind home plate and one perched above the right field corner, the company hired New York's Marty Dorf, who designed restaurants at Disney World. For the two merchandise shops within the stadium, one targeted at children, Disney hired Los Angeles' John Rock, who designed the megastores of Virgin Records.

Not every fan, however, will enter the stadium through the main plaza or eat at one of the fancy restaurants. So another dilemma was tossed into the lap of the design team.

"We were trying to create a ballpark that didn't feel like it was sitting in the middle of a parking lot," Gilchrist said.

Create an illusion, in other words, since Edison Field is a ballpark sitting in the middle of a parking lot. The designers borrowed their answer from Baltimore. At Camden Yards, architects extended Eutaw Street into the stadium, creating a carnival atmosphere of food, drink and entertainment beyond right field. Former Oriole star Boog Powell runs a popular barbecue stand along the street, next to a microbrewery on wheels.

At Edison Field, architects extended the ballpark perimeter some 15 feet to accommodate food courts, picnic areas, a beer garden and an entertainment stage in what Gilchrist calls an "oasis" between the turnstiles and stadium concourses. Heavy landscaping, including palm trees, serves as an intended buffer between the parking lot and the concourses.

Stern also selected copper dust as a color complement to the forest green of traditional ballparks, both colors brightening the old exterior that Tavares disparaged as "battleship gray."

"I'd like to say everything we did here was original, but it wasn't," Uhlich said. "We tried to take components and make them better every step of the way."

At Camden Yards, for instance, terraced bullpens allow fans to watch pitchers warm up. Edison Field designers believe they did the Orioles one better by locating the bullpens within the family seating area in left field, which will allow children to interact with pitchers.

From Jacobs Field, Disney borrowed the concept of dugout suites. At Edison Field, fans in those suites also can watch hitters in the batting cages beneath the stands.

Disney noted the wide left field concourse in Denver, where designers reinvented the cheap seats as a hub of activity. Disney adopted the idea and slapped it with a G rating, leaving children plenty of room to roam on a walkway that includes a kids' store and a kids' concession stand that features chicken fingers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

From Atlanta, Disney imported the concept of an interactive game area in right field. That site, the only major construction area not expected to be finished for the grand opening, should be ready by May, Uhlich said.

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner approved $17 million in supplementary expenses, increasing the project cost to $117 million and the company's share to $87 million. Disney's agreement with Anaheim capped the city's contribution at $30 million.

"When you're doing a renovation, you look for things that will give you a good payback," Tavares said. "The luxury boxes will give you a lot of revenue, so you concentrate on that.

"But sometimes those little things that mean something to the average fan get chopped out, and that's what we put back in."

The additional money went to adding new rubber flooring atop concrete walkways and replacing light fixtures and bathroom sinks.

"It's pretty gratifying," Uhlich said. "After 2 1/2 years of reviewing blueprints and having meeting after meeting after meeting, to see it come to fruition is pretty exciting.

"It's turned out better than all of us thought it would."

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Finding All the Pieces

In their quest to make Edison Field a ballpark that would keep the fans coming back, the architects were able to borrow aspects from several of baseball's newest and most popular stadiums:

Jacobs Field: Fans of the Indians can be right on top of the action from dugout suites.

Camden Yards: Terraced bullpens in left field allow Oriole fans to watch pitchers warm up. A plaza behind the right field bleachers with food stands and souvenir sales is a gathering point before games.

Turner Field: The Braves have an interactive game area for children in the outfield stands.

Coors Field: The Rockies' stadium has a wide concourse behind the left field bleachers, a hub for fan activity before and after games.

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