In the recent past, a new ballpark had meant the construction of a large, utilitarian, symmetrical, “cookie-cutter” home that could accommodate not only baseball, football, and soccer, but also rock concerts, monster truck shows, motocross, and just about any other event where thousands of folks might show up to watch. For practical purposes, these types of venues that sprung up across the North American landscape in the 1960s served the public well. From an aesthetic standpoint, however, they were awful in their blandness: nondescript, sterile, and almost indistinguishable from one another. Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh looked very much like Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati which looked very much like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia which looked very much like Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Utilitarian blandness became the norm.
The trend toward “retro parks”—modern baseball homes with an old-time feel and appearance to them—had begun in the minor leagues. Buffalo, NY was the first sizable community to realize the natural charm of bringing back old-style baseball parks to the downtown core of a city. Pilot Field, the home of the AAA Bisons—which has been renamed several times for new corporate sponsors since it first opened in 1988—was the inspiration for the much grander plans on the Baltimore waterfront. The Kansas City architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK) was hired to design Oriole Park. At first, HOK came up with plans that looked similar to Chicago’s new version of Comiskey Park, which were not especially appealing to the eye. However architectural consultant Janet Marie Smith urged the Orioles to reject those plans and lean towards the “retro” theme. It proved to be a brilliant choice.
Situated downtown just a few blocks from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, not too far from the place where Babe Ruth was born in 1895, Oriole Park’s construction began in 1989. It took 33 months to reach fruition. The final cost was $106.5 million which was financed by Maryland’s state lottery. During its construction period, Baltimore’s new ballpark did not even have a finalized name. Former owner Eli Jacobs preferred the simple name “Oriole Park”—which had precedence in Baltimore’s long baseball history. However, Maryland’s governor William Donald Schaefer liked the stately sound of “Camden Yards” which derived from the old railroad hub in the area. Eventually a cumbersome compromise was reached: Starting in 1992 Baltimore’s American League baseball club would play home games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Few people bother to refer to it by its awkward official name, though. Camden Yards is far more widely used.
Before Oriole Park was anywhere near completed, fans were offered sneak-preview tours months ahead of Opening Day 1992—and their input was welcomed. Their suggestions that were adopted ranged from elevated, full-view bullpens to changing tables in the men’s restrooms. Some of the old-time amenities that would be included in the final design were sheer frippery—but the fans loved them.
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