“California Calls” pgs. 164-166
Copyright © 2009 Michael D’Antonio and Riverhead Books
In the summer of 1952, O’Malley helped a writer at Collier’s magazine put together an article about his concepts, developed with the help of Emil Praeger and Norman Bel Geddes, for just such a ballpark. Hyping “the future” was a staple for this magazine, which had recently devoted dozens of pages to space travel as conceived by Wernher Von Braun and others.
When published, O’Malley’s futuristic vision was a column-free, weatherproof dome – possibly movable or translucent – seating fifty-five thousand for baseball and ninety thousand for events like prizefights. The field, which could be made of artificial turf, would be lowered below ground level, and parking arranged so customers could walk from their cars to their comfortably cushioned seats without much of a climb. Plans for traffic would allow thirty thousand people to leave the park within fifteen minutes, but if they chose to linger they could shop in an arcade of stores or have their oil changed by attendants in the parking garage. (These services, along with office space and the garage, would be available for neighborhood use every day of the year.) Everywhere machines would replace workers by taking tickets, opening gates, and dispensing food.
Pressed for his most realistic view, O’Malley told Collier’s he believed that a stadium very much like the domed wonderland he described would be built eventually. Where and when were a different matter, he said, adding “We’ve already had too much of that wait-’til-next-year stuff in Brooklyn.”
It was an honest answer from an owner who couldn’t be sure that Brooklyn and the Dodgers would merit such an enormous investment. Still, a new park seemed essential if the club were to remain in the borough and thrive. And O’Malley was the type to keep every option open for as long as possible. In late 1952 he used a chance meeting with George Spargo, who worked on slum clearance under Robert Moses, to remind him of the benefits of a new Brooklyn ballpark. After many years with Moses, George Spargo had become one of the most powerful bureaucratic functionaries in New York. He did the gritty work of arranging rich contracts for politically important men who became Moses’s dependents. Spargo and Moses would have to be involved if the government was going to help the Dodgers but in a politically contentious place like New York City this wouldn’t happen quickly.
While he waited, O’Malley embarked on a bit of a practice run, building a little ballpark for Dodgertown so his team wouldn’t have to decamp for Miami for its spring training games. Impressed by the design of the new stadium in Miami, where no seats were blocked by pillars or posts, he had Emil Praeger work on a similar plan for Dodgertown. O’Malley was involved in every aspect of construction, right down to the specifications for the cypress planks that would be used for seating. He also chose to name the park for Bud Holman.
As might be expected, the stadium project met some opposition. The entire campsite was owned by a local government agency and leased for the ceremonial sum of $1 per year and the promise of increased tourism. Local critics often questioned the trade-off, alleging that the Dodgers got a sweetheart deal. O’Malley did respond at times. When he came under fire in 1952, he wrote to a banker in Vero to warn, “I do not know how to run away from a fight.” The critics backed off and the project went forward.
Emil Praeger needed less than a year to design and build the stadium, which became one of the most idyllic spots for baseball in the country. Gentle sloping walkways brought fans to the gate, and when they passed through they discovered a beautiful green diamond. Earth removed for construction was used to create berms that marked the limits of the outfield. Towering, graceful palm trees lined the perimeter of the entire property. Altogether the little park was a marvel of simplicity where spectators were almost as close to the action as parents at a Little League game.
When Holman Stadium opened on March 11, 1953, the visiting dignitaries included the governor of Florida and the president of U.S. Steel. They saw the Dodgers beat the Athletics, but O’Malley missed the game. After the opening ceremonies, he disappeared for a meeting with Commissioner Frick, other members of the major league executive council, and the owner of the Boston Braves, Lou Perini. At this private conference Perini discussed moving his team to Milwaukee. The Braves had suffered a shocking decline in attendance, going from one million in 1949 to less than three hundred thousand in 1952. Milwaukee beckoned with a new county stadium that would eventually hold more than fifty thousand.