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:]