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Dodger Stadium once had plans to add a dome

A look back at early ideas for Chavez Ravine

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From The Sporting News, March 11, 1959

Dodger Stadium is a grand palace filled with wonders for all five senses, from tasty Dodger Dogs for hungry fans to the serene sounds of organ music for audio aficionados. The tiered seating offers spectators majestic views of a translucent roof. Right fielders never worry about losing a high fly ball in a cloudless, daytime sky. There is no need for patrons to bring a light jacket, or worry about a marine layer, because Dodger Stadium’s dome allows for an always comfortable 75 degrees.

Wait, what? Dodger Stadium’s dome?

According to a March 11, 1959 Sporting News article authored by Frank Finch, Walter O’Malley built Dodger Stadium with the intent of adding a dome should the weather or future events necessitate it. “If we find, say in five or ten years, there is a demand for such a facility as we propose, the dome will be built,” O’Malley is quoted.

“I realize that there weren’t any rainouts in Los Angeles last season and we’re not worried about that,” O’Malley continued. “But perhaps there would be sufficient demand for a covered stadium in which to present such events as industrial exhibits, conventions, circuses, and the like.”

Of course, the demand for such a dome never materialized, much to the delight of spectators who enjoy warm Santa Ana winds, the beautiful vistas of the San Gabriel Mountains, and cotton candy skies during the summer.

While it is difficult to gauge how close to reality the Dodger Stadium Dome was, O’Malley was fascinated by a dome concept sketch as far back as 1952. Architect and engineer Buckminster Fuller had invented a geodesic dome which he demonstrated at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the summer of 1952 and patented it in 1954. It was also featured in a September 27, 1952 issue of Collier’s magazine.

Even before that, Neil Sullivan writes in his book The Dodgers Move West of an innocuous report in a March 6, 1952 New York Times article suggesting Norman Bel Geddes was invited to spring training by O’Malley to discuss designing a replacement for Ebbets Field. The “grandiose” plans included a retractable roof (Sullivan, 1987, p. 37). Sullivan called it “O’Malley’s Pleasure Dome.”

O’Malley wrote to Fuller in 1955 about his idea to create a domed baseball stadium and Fuller, then working at Princeton University as a guest lecturer, enlisted his students to help with the design. The wonderful website devoted to Walter O’Malley’s life, walteromalley.com, features an entire essay, authored by Brent Shyer, on the relationship between O’Malley and Fuller. It also includes a four-minute video narrated by Vin Scully which describes the idea’s development.

Shyer’s essay is an excellent summary of O’Malley’s idea to build a dome in Brooklyn, presenting the concept in a broad discussion of domed stadiums in baseball, from the Astrodome to current stadiums such as Miller Park in Milwaukee.

There is, however, no reference in Shyer’s essay to O’Malley proposing a completely domed Dodger Stadium prior to the facility’s completion as the Sporting News article intimates. Shyer does quote a December 12, 1963 letter from O’Malley to Fuller in which the Dodgers’ owner writes he would like to, “explore with you the possibility of erecting a section of your geodesic dome from the outer dimensions of the skinned area of our infield up to the bottom elevation of our reserved seat stands thus enclosing the horseshoe behind home plate. This would give us a ground area big enough for basketball and hockey games.”

Fuller’s response was positive, stating the possibility was completely feasible, although it, obviously, never materialized. O’Malley, Shyer notes, would write to Fuller again in 1967 rekindling the idea, but, again, Dodger Stadium never added a dome.

Frank Finch’s article in the 1959 Sporting News remains the earliest reference to a Dodger Stadium dome and references a February 27, 1959 press conference at which O’Malley spoke alongside New York engineer Emil Praeger. It was Praeger who, according to author Jared Podair in City of Dreams, “pioneered an innovative approach to ballpark construction” (Podair, 2017, p. 131). Praeger had built Holman Stadium in Vero Beach by removing tons of dirt to create an amphitheater effect for the stadium. He would use the same technique to build Dodger Stadium into the hills of Chavez Ravine.

The hypothetical Dodger Stadium dome, Finch wrote, would feature a permanent “two and one-half inch thick egg shell” and would cost approximately $3,000,000. Finch elaborated on the dome’s design using colorful, descriptive language “In the top of the dome there would be a louvered orifice 100 feet in diameter to permit circulation of air throughout the edifice.”

Despite the seemingly advanced concept of the Dodger Stadium Dome, it is not mentioned in any of several well-researched books, including Sullivan’s The Dodgers Move West, Michael D’Antonio’s biography of O’Malley, Forever Blue, or Podair’s City of Dreams.

While there is a lack of historical documentation, and discussion, around the Dodger Stadium Dome, it is fun to speculate as to how it would have changed the game or team construction. Imagine a Metrodome-style Homer Dome in Los Angeles.

Would the Dodgers of the 1960s have foregone the speed game fronted by Maury Wills for a power game by keeping Frank Howard instead of trading him to the Washington Senators? Would Joe Pepitone have been able to see Clete Boyer’s throw in game four of the 1963 World Series instead of losing it in sun-drenched white shirt sleeves, allowing Jim Gilliam to reach all the way to third base, where he would later score the series-clinching run? Where would Willie Stargell’s 1969 home run off Alan Foster actually have landed?

Of all the memorable Dodger Stadium moments, one thing we would have certainly been deprived of with a dome would have been seeing all of the red brake lights beyond the right field pavilion when the impossible happened on October 15, 1988.

Seems like dome-free Dodger Stadium has turned out just fine.