Landmarks law could shut down Wrigley video boards

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Cheryl Kent has chimed in on the Wrigley Field renovation controversy (aka “Who Wants To Build a 6,000-Square-Foot Video Board?”), and she makes an interesting point:

Just about any alteration to Wrigley has to be cleared by the Historic Preservation Division of Housing and Economic Development.

Happily, the staff there has more control and negotiating power with these protections in place than it did, say, with Prentice Hospital, which the mayor and his appointed wrecking crew (aka landmarks commissioners) ran by themselves.

What’s protected at Wrigley? All four perimeter walls, the roofline, the exposed structural system, the “marquee” sign at Addison and Clark streets, the brick wall encircling the playing field (and that includes the ivy), the dugouts, the scoreboard and the “generally uninterrupted sweep and contour of the grandstand and bleachers.”

In addition to all that, any new signage has to be OK’d before it can be added to Wrigley Field, making the proposed 6,000-square-foot video screen considerably less than the sure bet suggested by the city and the Ricketts family.

The Historic Preservation Division is still a city agency, and I don’t quite understand Chicago politics well enough to tell why they would have more backbone in standing up to the Cubs (and the mayor) than the landmarks commissioners. Regardless, Kent makes clear that the landmarks commission is being asked to bend the rules a hell of a lot here, and the city certainly has grounds to reject or trim some of the more, shall we say, ahistorical changes that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is pursuing.

And Kent makes clear what she thinks of some of those proposed changes as well:

Were the plan suggested so far to be fully implemented, Wrigley would be fundamentally damaged to dubious purpose.

There’s probably no problem with the proposed upgrades to the team facilities like batting tunnels and the clubhouse or locker room. These changes need to be fleshed out, but they appear to be tucked out of sight behind or beneath existing structure. Likewise, the renovation and modernization of the existing concourse could likely be approved as long as the expressed structure is respected. But these are impressions taken from undetailed sketches and renderings.

What about the “Jumbotron”? At 6,000 square feet it could measure 60-by-100, about three times bigger than the current center field scoreboard. So, if it were vertical, picture an eight- to 10-story building (100 feet tall) as wide as an articulated bus (60 feet long) sitting on top of the left-field bleachers.

The Rickettses are withholding a drawing presumably showing the scale of the video screen. It’s impossible to admit such an animated monster and preserve the essential intimacy of Wrigley Field. It would overwhelm the park and dominate its views.

People at Cubs’ games do not sit slack-jawed looking at video in between plays or innings. They talk to one another, they argue, they attend to their scorecards, they explain a bunt to a child, they sing and stand and stretch at the seventh inning. That’s the point of going to a ballgame instead of watching it at home.

This is an aesthetic judgment, obviously: Some people like ballparks without electronic distractions, others those with lots of bells and whistles. But even though Ricketts may own Wrigley Field, he knew he was getting a city landmark when he bought it — and limiting changes to private property for aesthetic and public-interest reasons is precisely what landmarks law was created to do. The debate about what happens to baseball’s second-oldest ballpark should be just beginning — whether or not that happens is going to depend more on that Chicago politics mentioned earlier than any number of architecture critics.

[UPDATE: Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess, who helped in the early planning that led to the Fenway Park reconstruction, has chimed in with his own critique of a Wrigley jumbotron at Chicagoside Sports. Scary rendering included:]

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11 comments on “Landmarks law could shut down Wrigley video boards

  1. Neil:

    I agree with what Kent says, however her interpretation of the changes proposed (or “almost proposed”, depending on how you want to look at it) should also have covered the decision to rebuild the bleachers three or four years ago. The old bleachers were effectively replaced, with a new “batter’s eye” lounge created where the old batter’s eye was. I believe they did this without affecting the existing scoreboard, though they did fill in the space between it and the old stands, obviously.

    Lots of people may have opinions on what is or isn’t acceptable under “preservation” laws, in other words. It doesn’t always translate into actual preservation of historic landmarks…

  2. This might seem a little radical, but I think you could place the screen on a neighboring building in the background. It would have to be raised a bit more to be seen by the fans on the outfield seats, but this way you leave Wrigley intact.

  3. John B: Agreed that it’s in the eye of the beholder. But there is a substantive difference between expanding the bleachers in a way that’s at least a nod to the historic look and feel of Wrigley, and adding a giant screen. It’s why the Red Sox were able to add seats on top of the Green Monster, but if they’d wanted to knock it down and rebuild it out of purple-tinted plexiglass, that probably wouldn’t have been approved.

    Dave: I’m pretty sure there’s no way to put a screen on a neighboring building in a way that it’d be viewable from everywhere in Wrigley. And if you could, it’d still dramatically change the Wrigley experience.

  4. Ms. Kent ommited one of the habats of the Wrigley customer – heavy drinking.
    There’s a good chance that the size of the board will be scaled down as a political/p.r. “comprimise”.
    Would not be surprising that the Cubs are floating the monster size knowing that it will be objected to and they’ll suggest a smaller size to appear flexable and get what they want.

  5. I agree with Paul that the reply/advertising board’s side is an opening negotiating position. Also wanted to comment that it would be much more noticeable at night; we have similar electronic boards on 101 that I hardly notice passing during the day, but really have to focus on not staring at when it’s dark.

  6. Hi Neil,

    Completely off-topic to this post, but relevant to the blog overall: what do you think of the strange saga of Mr Fernandes and the Queens Park Rangers’ intent to move from Loftus Road on credit, while paying a bloated payroll and preparing to be demoted from the Premier League? It seems to me that the UK presents the inverse of the Loria Problem. Here, we have an incompetent owner insisting on destroying his own finances rather than his community’s, while overspending for a losing team. Meanwhile, Portsmouth FC is now publicly-owned. Thoughts?

  7. Wow – that videoboard would look ugly. Hideous. Personally I don’t like the LED board in RF either. Changes like expanding the bleachers, the hitters backdrop restaurant & dugout seating are all very subtle in comparison.
    Ballparks need less electronics, music & noise – not more.

  8. SCJ: I’m assuming that that board would not be visible from outside the stadium. But you are right, high intensity (IE: viewable in broad daylight) video ad boards can be a major driving hazard. Many communities are “catching up” to regulating their use and brightness after the fact. One of the educational institutions where I live has one set right outside it’s main entrance… adjacent to a heavily used crosswalk. A greater danger to it’s students I cannot imagine… you literally can’t see anything but the video board when you are driving by, not students on the crosswalk, not even the crosswalk lights flashing.

  9. The inside video board wouldn’t be visible from outside the stadium, but they’re talking about advertising screens on the outside of the stadium as well.

  10. You understand Chicago politics perfectly well. The Historic Preservation Division is 100% a rubber stamp of the Mayor. The preservation board is to independent thought what veal is to freedom.

  11. That TV makes the stadium look foolish. I do not get the supposed need to watch TV at a baseball game. We got some real electronic addicts these days. They spend most of their time looking at a smartphone, and even have to look at a screen at a baseball game. Smart phone addicts, and electronics addicts are about the most boring people in the world.

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