Thank Heavens Fenway Park Still Stands

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2008

A guest column brought to you by Sean O…

Less than a decade ago, Fenway was on its last legs. Its dark, dirty concourses and cramped seating stood in stark contrast to the new generation of ballparks springing up around the country.

The dissatisfaction with Fenway came to a head on May 15, 1999 when then-CEO John Harrington announced New Fenway Park, a clone of Fenway with larger concourses, wider and more plentiful seats, but with all of the iconic charm of Fenway Park.

As the television commercial said at the time, “remember, every time the Red Sox get a new park, they win the World Series.”

What’s not to love?

Plenty. Today, we stand fortunate that Fenway Park never fell to the wrecking ball, as have sister parks in Detroit, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and soon to be New York.

John Henry’s ownership company has revolutionized Fenway Park, making it viable for another 100 hundred years.

I’ve made no secret of my general distaste for the designs of HOK Sport. Their benefits are numerous, of course, but in no way different from Fenway. HOK is known for its wide and wide-open concourses, ample concessions, and manufactured classic feel.

But since the renovations beginning in 2002, Fenway has transformed those dark, dirty concourses into an area that at least rivals its HOK competitors.

Concessions have been entirely renovated with the addition of the first/third base decks and Big Concourse, and the conversion of existing spaces into unique options (steak tips and Legal Seafoods, for example).

But most importantly, Fenway does not have the many critical downsides of HOK parks. The retro-era of stadiums is a definite improvement over the circle clones ala Veterans Stadum and Three Rivers, but it is a fundamentally false aesthetic.

Red brick and steel make no sense in a parking lot in Philadelphia, or an open field outside Dallas. The feeling of intimacy of the classic parks was created not by haphazard dimensions and aesthetic appliqué, it was created by seating arrangements where fans are right on top of the action.

This feeling is all but lost in the majority of newer parks, where double decked luxury boxes and a pathological fear of cantilevers push the upper deck toward the heavens.

Walking around Fenway today is an oft-jarring, but wholly pleasant experience. Even after growing up at the park, I constantly find new parts of the park added by ownership.

Fenway has evolved into an organic, plastic being, constantly changing and improving. And even with its problems, there is no reason to bulldoze history due to a few minor failings.

Yes, the seats down the RF line are atrocious, but does that warrant dumping the brilliant LF corner?

Yes, seats are hard to find, and expensive, but do we truly believe demand and price would be driven down by a new park?

Fenway is as much a part of Boston as Beacon Hill or the Public Garden. Boston has separated itself from other American cities with its steadfast adherence and respect for history.

While others have attached themselves to the latest trend, destroying the past, Boston has more often chosen to improve what already exists for future generations.

I believe New Fenway Park would have been viewed as Boston City Hall, a hulking, illogical waste, but, due to the fine work of Save Fenway Park and the Henry group, generations to come will enjoy America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.