Excerpts from Forever Blue
“El Dorado” pgs. 287-88
As the money poured out, O’Malley obsessed over the Dodger Stadium project, continually scanning reports on every aspect of design and construction and making decisions on every key element. He wanted the best quality at the best price and dug for the information that would help him get it. The purchase of seats – he needed more then fifty thousand of them -- was a case in point. The American Seating Company began by asking for $16 apiece. When company officials met with O’Malley the price came down to $14.95. He then spoke to Horace Stoneham and learned that the city of San Francisco had paid $12.50 for regular seats and a dollar more for bigger ones to put in expensive boxes. Stoneham warned O’Malley that the contractor in San Francisco had promised to keep the price break secret, but O’Malley was able to use the information to save more than $100,000.
When he couldn’t get answers himself, O’Malley jotted questions on slips of paper and passed them to Dick Walsh, the team executive he had made his lead man on the job. He also ordered countless modifications and additions to make the stadium fit his vision. Some of his pet concepts, like a dining room named after Room 40 in the Hotel Bossert, were sentimental. Others, like two-person “love seats” for fans, were copied from Disneyland. A few were self-indulgent. O’Malley gave himself a big glassed-in office above the third base line and a private box for twenty-four.
The memos and scratch-pad jottings O’Malley left behind from this period reveal dozens of ideas that were considered and then rejected as impractical or outside building codes and city regulations. Among them were:
- a residence atop the stadium
- a compressed-air system to make Old Glory wave continuously on a tall flagpole
- a water tower shaped like a baseball that would be lighted in different shades
- during games, depending on whether the team was winning or losing *twenty-five-cent trams to bring patrons from parking lots to the entrances
- water and light shows made by fountains matched with colored spotlights
- a huge statue – a tripod of bats topped by a baseball – that could be seen from ten miles away.
These ideas and others reveal the same showman’s instinct that had prompted O’Malley to hire a clown for Ebbets Field. However, many of them clashed with the basic design philosophy he had worked out with Emil Praeger, which called for a more graceful style. Built almost entirely out of smooth concrete, the stadium was to be nestled into the ravine in a way that would allow people to park their cars in adjacent lots, enter the building, and find their seats with the fewest possible steps. Once inside, they would find that each one of the fifty-two thousand seats had an unobstructed view of the field. Refreshment stands and restrooms – forty-eight in all – would be close at hand.
Besides these conveniences, O’Malley insisted that the ballpark be beautiful to look at. He wanted none of the cold darkness that could be found at traditional stadiums in the East and Midwest. Built for families who would arrive by car from every direction on the compass, Dodger Stadium – that’s what it would be called – was to be bright, open, and a cheerful as Disneyland. And he wanted it built to last.
The concrete elements of the stadium were made with more cement, and thus were sturdier, than the state of California required for bridges and roadways. All of the twenty-five thousand concrete parts, some weighing as much as thirty-two tons, were cast on the site. They were then numbered and placed in orderly rows on the ground. While this work proceeded, earthmovers leveled a three-hundred-foot-high hill and used the earth to fill parts of the ravine.
In order to place the concrete sections together, Praeger and the main contractor, a local company called Vinnell Constructors, had to import a crane from Germany that, once assembled, would be the largest at work in North America. The monstrous machine was set inside the stadium where it picked pieces of the structure off the ground, swung them around, and then hoisted them into place. It was dangerous work and the derrick collapsed twice during the project, causing extensive damage both times and halting work.
Delays cost money and financing the burden became a big challenge. A group of four local banks had agreed to lend O’Malley $8 million, but by the middle of 1960 he discovered they wanted to charge a higher interest rate than they first offered and add fees equal to 1 percent of the loan. “This increase over our budget would, of course, be financially fatal,” he wrote in a letter to his wife and son…
The option that saved O’Malley materialized when he met with Reese Taylor, head of locally based Union Oil. Union Oil had $27 million in profits the previous year and was on track to make even more in 1960. Taylor, who had long been involved in the “Bring baseball to Los Angeles” drive, wanted to buy the rights to the team’s radio broadcasts. He was prepared to pay $1 million per year for eight years.
O’Malley proposed instead a more substantial arrangement. He asked that Union Oil act as his prime construction financier, lending the Dodgers $8 million at a lower rate than the bankers had requested. (For the first two years O’Malley would make no payments and the interest rate would be zero.) In exchange he’d let Taylor pay $1 million per year for the broadcast rights for ten years, not eight. As an added incentive, he would give Union Oil exclusive rights to advertising inside the stadium and a concession for a gas station to be built in the parking lot.
Between the grace period and all the cash that Union Oil would pay for radio rights, O’Malley saw this arrangement as a “self-liquidating” loan. No banker would ever accept such terms. But Reese Taylor, apparently smitten with the idea of Union Oil being connected with the Dodgers, saw an opportunity. After action by the oil company’s board of directors, the money that would make O’Malley’s dream stadium was deposited in a Dodger account.
* * *
O’Malley’s ballpark was going to be different from the Coliseum in almost every way. It would have a perfectly symmetrical playing surface, with the right- and left-field corners both 330 feet from home plate, which was set in the west end of the park so the sun would have a minimal effect on batters or fielders. Seats would be available on six levels, and many of the spectators would be shielded from the sun by upper decks and a wavy roof at the very rim of the stadium. Most would also get a pretty view of either downtown Los Angeles or the distant San Gabriel Mountains.
The outline of this baseball paradise was easy to see once the shape of the stadium was carved out and Vinnell began to put the concrete pieces together. At sunset a visitor could stand above the field level, behind where home plate would be, and watch the sky behind the mountains turn pink, orange, and deep purple. Cool air filtered in from nearby canyons and chased away the heat of the day. The sight of the work in progress thrilled O’Malley, who wrote to his old friend Frank Schroth (former publisher, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and editor, The New York News) to describe watching “the dream come true.”