Baltimore's groundbreaking stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, gains its character from a piece of the park that its designers initially didn't want to incorporate.
The longest building on the East Coast almost wasn’t a part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In fact, the very idea of incorporating a warehouse into a new ballpark in downtown Baltimore was more of a secondary thought altogether. But once the Orioles had a vision for their stadium, selling them on the oddly-shaped building — it measures 1,106 feet long but is only 51 feet wide — still wasn’t easy.
Joe Spear, an architect with Populous who worked on the Oriole Park project, told SI.com that the original effort in Baltimore actually focused on enticing an NFL team back to town by renovating Memorial Stadium. The hope was that, along the way, maybe that would keep the Orioles from sliding south down Interstate 95 to the nation’s capital.
As the discussion of renovating Memorial Stadium continued, Spear said it became clear that the 40-year-old stadium simply couldn’t be what both franchises would need. So the Orioles floated the idea of moving away from the multipurpose stadium concepts that had been the flavor of the previous two decades.
It wasn’t long before the Orioles crafted the first in a long line of “ballparks,” baseball-specific venues designed with history and character, with their version coming on an 85-acre, one-time railroad center just 12 minutes by foot from the city’s Inner Harbor. And while the fight to make the 46,000-seat ballpark out of steel instead of concrete took some effort, the major batch of character actually sits outside the venue.
"I remember (the Orioles) were skeptical about keeping the warehouse," Spear said. "We spent a month or so studying how the warehouse could be incorporated. At the end of that, they were very pleased to incorporate it. It created a wonderful tension (between the park and outside)."
The 120-foot-tall former B&O Warehouse, built between 1898 and 1905, never touches Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but a 60-foot cinder bridge connection between the park and warehouse creates a Eutaw Street social gathering space for the park. The ballpark design opens up to the warehouse for “an instantly recognizable icon” over the 21-foot-tall right field fence.
"When fans turn on a game in the third inning, we want them to understand instantly that this is Baltimore," Spear said. "For us, that warehouse became that. It was familiar to Baltimore and very unique. We thought it was the perfect backdrop."
That backdrop stands 439 feet from home plate, and the space between the warehouse and the park is peppered with Orioles history. The East Coast’s longest building isn’t just a vacant shell, though, now housing office space for the Orioles, banquet facilities, the ballpark’s central kitchen and space for ballpark operations. Even the main ticket office operates out of the north end of the structure.
With how synonymous the warehouse now is with Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it's a good thing that secondary thoughts moved to the forefront of design minds.