Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Dodger Dome

Walter O'Malley, the reviled Dodgers owner who moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, had proposed to build a new stadium in Brooklyn before he made his drastic move.


In 1955, the year the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series (or 1956; accounts vary), O'Malley asked the architect Buckminster Fuller--a visionary famous for his geodesic dome designs--to design a domed stadium for a site in Brooklyn.

According to "The Dodgers" by Glenn Stout, Richard A. Johnson, and Dick Johnson, the project Fuller and his Princeton graduate students came up with was a spherical geodesic dome that would have been 750 feet in diameter and 30 stories tall. O'Malley visited one of Fuller's existing domes, and found its plastic construction sturdy enough that he couldn't throw a rock through it.

But the project was rejected by the infamous/legendary urban planner Robert Moses and other key people. The Brooklyn site, down Flatbush Avenue from the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, wasn't viable, and the dome design didn't help O'Malley's case.

"Instead of making O'Malley look like a man ahead of his time," write Stout, Johnson, and Johnson in "The Dodgers,"
"he came off as a man out of his mind. In 1955 the notion of a domed stadium was an untested pipe dream, and Fuller, while a darling of academic architecture and a true visionary, was far, far too 'far out' to be taken seriously by the powers-that-be. Neither Robert Moses nor anyone else in authority would ever be willing to back O'Malley now."
According to the Walter O'Malley website (run by his family), the dome would have been retractable.

Should we be lamenting the lost future, a future in which the Dodgers not only stayed in Brooklyn, but played under the world's first dome designed by a star architect? "Even the most dedicated old Dodgers fan should shudder at the thought that such a facility might have ever been built," write the authors of "The Dodgers."

The Houston Astrodome, the first domed stadium opened a decade later in 1965. Astroturf, the first artificial grass for playing fields, was developed for the Houston stadium. It didn't get enough natural light for grass to grow. While it was the home to many firsts, it wasn't the best field for playing.

The Fuller stadium would have been built at Flatbush and Atlantic, but the powerful urban planner Robert Moses said the stadium would make a "China wall of traffic." Moses suggested Queens.

Not everyone mourns the move and the failure of the stadium. "So we lost the Dodgers, but we gained some great neighborhoods," writes the blogger at Brooklyn Views. "Instead of second guessing the loss of the Dodgers, things could be worse; we could be asking ourselves: 'Who lost Brooklyn?'"

A remarkably similar same debate (though on a much larger scale) is playing itself out with developer Bruce Ratner in a O'Malley role and Frank Gehry in the Fuller role.

[photos from walteromalley.com]

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