Despite faults, ballpark remains major attraction

Dodger Stadium is poised to become the third-oldest facility in baseball after a new Yankee Stadium opens next season — no mean accomplishment for a city that’s hardly older than the game itself. And for a landmark, it has managed to stay remarkably current.

The stadium opened in 1962, attracting a crowd of 52,564 to see the Dodgers lose to the Reds, 6-3. Located in the midst of Chavez Ravine, it functioned as both an advertisement for some of the city’s most paramount virtues — sweeping views of the entire Los Angeles basin, Major League Baseball’s longest streak of rainless games — as well as its faults.

History certainly bears witness to the latter. The stadium rests on land that the city of Los Angeles had taken over in a protracted battle (initiated years before the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles was envisioned) that forced the sale of the residences of hundreds of predominantly Latino residents, culminating in several being carried out of their homes by authorities. Afterward, construction crews drastically altered the local landscape, even leveling an entire peak to fill in a crevice.

And considering its location in America’s most polluted, congested city, the stadium’s inaccessibility by public transportation has been especially problematic — game-night gridlock routinely snarls such major arteries as Sunset Boulevard and the 5 and 110 freeways. Construction of the Gold Line rail in 2003 brought commuter trains as close as Chinatown, but there is still no direct bus or rail connection.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledged the problems at a press conference last spring, noting: “Isn’t it amazing that we built a public transportation system, and it never connected to Dodger Stadium?”

But the stadium remains a mammoth attraction nonetheless. Despite going 20 years without a World Series, the Dodgers still boasted the second-highest attendance in the majors last season. And the field itself, maintained through an elaborate, computer-controlled irrigation and drainage system installed in 1995, was voted the best playing grounds by MLB ballplayers in a 2003 survey.

Although the stadium was designed to maximize the ravine’s natural acoustics with a then-cutting-edge sound system (modeled after Teatro alla Scala in Milan), the park didn’t hold a live music performance until 1966, when the Beatles played the penultimate leg of what would be their final tour. Since then, the stadium has hosted a number of major concerts, from Bruce Springsteen to Michael Jackson, U2, Elton John and the Police, with Madonna on tap for November.

Though nearby venues like the Staples Center have more sophisticated sound systems and outdoor theaters like the Hollywood Bowl may be more elegant, there’s still a grandiosity to the ballpark that entices major events. That awareness of size is a constant throughout the stadium’s history, extending back to the end of its second season, when the grounds were used for a ski-jump competition, with a 17-story snow-covered ramp installed over the right-field bleachers.

In 1987, Pope John Paul II delivered a Mass from the mound. Ten years later, Kiss performed the first rock concert to incorporate 3-D glasses, an idea that never really took off.

Fleetwood Mac used the stadium to record its marching band-assisted single “Tusk.” The Three Tenors held their first reunion appearance at the stadium in 1994 (to commemorate the U.S. hosting the World Cup), spawning the concert album “The Three Tenors Live in 1994,” which debuted at No. 4 on Billboard charts. And, perhaps most notably, the stadium was used to film the climatic scene in “The Naked Gun” (standing in for the Angels’ ballpark, natch).

In April, owner Frank McCourt announced plans for a $500 million revitalization of the park, aiming to make it more of a year-round destination. Unlike truly old-school sites Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium is relatively isolated from surrounding neighborhoods, leaving the grounds fallow in the off-season and on off nights. The proposed renovations would bring a museum, shopping center and restaurants to the ravine as well as alterations to make the stadium more environmentally friendly.

With that sort of investment, Dodger Stadium shouldn’t fear a wrecking ball anytime soon.

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