Yesterday afternoon, my flight back north from West Palm Beach went north up the Hudson River past all of New York City. After spying Coney Island out the window, I followed the city north through Brooklyn (where I could spot my own block) and north up Manhattan. So many familiar landmarks flashed by underneath, and as we approached the Bronx, two Yankee Stadiums caught my eye.
While one of those stadiums is slowly and sadly being dismantled, the other is approaching is big debut. Already, reviews are trickling out from the Bronx. While it’s really impossible to pass judgment on a baseball stadium until games are being played and fans can review the whole experience, architectural critics are having their say.
First up in what promises to be a never-ending stream of stories critiquing and praising the city’s two new stadiums is Paul Goldberger’s take in this week’s New Yorker. He likes it, especially when compared with the oddly fake-looking Citi Field in Queens. Goldberger writes:
The new stadium feels more tightly woven into the fabric of the city than the old one did. (It will feel even more so once a Metro-North station opens there, later this year, and once the city finally makes good on its obligation to replace the Macombs Dam Park facilities lost in construction of the new stadium with parkland on and around the site of the previous one.) If you approach it by driving along Jerome Avenue, you see a couple of the Bronx’s finest Art Deco apartment houses across the street from the west façade, and you get a hint of the subtle counterpoint that once existed between a baseball park and an urban setting. The stadium is bigger and more imposing than everything around it, of course, but it seems to grow out of its surroundings, and this somehow rescues the building from its own pomposity. In a way, the apartment houses on Jerome Avenue, the jumble of storefronts and bars under the elevated tracks on River Avenue, and the constant presence of street life shape the stadium as much as its designers have.
At Citi Field, conversely, the Ebbets Field façade, stuck in the middle of acres of parking (as Shea was), seems more like a theme park than it would if it were in the middle of the city. HOK has tried to make the stadium feel more urban by placing a long brick building, containing the Mets’ offices, just beyond right field, along 126th Street, where it faces a favela of auto-body shops in Willets Point. But, since the site is defined mainly by expressways and parking lots, the architects are fighting a losing battle. It’s a pity that the Mets didn’t build on the far West Side of Manhattan, where Colonel Ruppert first thought of putting Yankee Stadium, ninety years ago, and where the Jets recently tried to build a football stadium. A football stadium doesn’t need to be in the middle of a city, but a baseball park, smaller and used much more often, does.
A stadium is a stage set as sure as anything on Broadway, and it determines the tone of the dramas within. Citi Field suggests a team that wants to be liked, even to the point of claiming some history that isn’t its own. Yankee Stadium, however, reflects an organization that is in the business of being admired, and is built to serve as a backdrop for the image of the Yankees, at once connected to the city and rising grandly above it.
I am predisposed to both hate and like the new Yankee Stadium. I hate it because it’s replacing something that never needed to be replaced. I like it because I can appreciate the grandiosity of the whole park. This new garish Yankee Stadium is Yankee decadence in 2009 when no one else can or will spend what the Yanks have spent.
After spying a completed Citi Field for the first time from Laguardia last Friday, I can echo Goldberger’s thoughts. From the outside at least, Yankee Stadium looks like it belongs. Citi Field, on the other hand, looks like Any New Ballpark, USA. I’ve seen Citi Field in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in Detroit and Atlanta. It may evoke Ebbets Field if you look at it from the front, but from any other angle, nothing screams unique New York.
When Yankee Stadium — the real old Yankee Stadium — meets its end in a few months or a year, a part of New York City history will join old Penn Station in the great pantheon of landmarks in memory. The new stadium won’t replace the old one in our hearts. If the early word is to be trusted, it will, however, be a sight unto itself.