Despite anything that might happen on the field during the darkest of seasons, Dodger Stadium is now and has always been my favorite place on the planet. It's where my father and his father took me to ballgames and it's where a buddy of mine, should he survive me, plans to scatter my ashes by stealth decades from now. It's where I am at most one with.
It's a treat to learn something new about L.A.'s half-century-plus-one-year-old landmark, and thanks to Chaz Perea we have done just that. Perea is the Dodgers' landscape manager, an International Society of Arborists-certified tree expert, who cares for the some 200-plus species of plant life found within the 365-acre Stadium campus.
Always the pioneering organization, perhaps it's no surprise that the Dodgers, who famously gave the world Jackie Robinson, and who currently employ baseball's first female head athletic trainer in Sue Falsone, should be the one and only Major League Baseball club to employ a full-time arborist. Or even a part-time arborist. Perea, who's been with the team since 2009, is closing in on his Bachelor of Science degree in Turf Science from Penn State University Online, has Associate of Science degrees in Pest Management and Ornamental Horticulture from Mt. San Antonio College, and manages a full-time staff or four.
Senior Vice President of Planning and Development Janet Marie Smith, an architect who has managed such stadium projects as Orioles Park at Camden Yards and Fenway Park -- both with baseball executive Larry Lucchino -- and who worked to turn Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Stadium into what is now Turner Field -- with Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten -- came to Los Angeles last year to do wonders for Dodger Stadium.
Smith and Perea took me on a fun tour of the stadium last week -- inside and out but mostly out -- pointing to things I'd strolled past hundreds of times before, but never took the time to appreciate. At least, not as much as I do now. She talked about the contrast between the "pastel color scheme, the vertical circulation being on the park perimeter via stairs and escalators and ramps sculpted in the landscaped berms" of Dodger Stadium and what you might find elsewhere. I said something about "Anaheim and concrete," neither Smith nor Perea took and bait, and we kept walking.
In a more formal sit-down later, Smith shared her thoughts on what to me is the city's coolest building:
"Dodger Stadium is unique in every way, sitting as it does overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and the Downtown L.A. skyline to the south. Not only is it the only major league baseball park of the 1960s, a significant period of modern architecture in America, the only ballpark carved into the mountainside with every level entered at grade and palm trees growing from the upper deck gates, but as teams have moved into dense, urban grids and mimicked the ballparks of the classic early 1900's era, Dodger Stadium with its park-like setting adjoining Elysian Park, stands out as even more novel and beautiful among its MLB peers.
"The setting is unique to baseball, but the form is not unique to L.A. Dodger Stadium is nestled into the mountainside much as the Hollywood Bowl and Pasadena's Rose Bowl, both vintage buildings, are carved into the hills. Like Dodger Stadium, one enters the Hollywood Bowl from behind the concert shell so that the patrons are as much a part of the scene as the stage." Adding later, Smith said, "and I forgot to mention Santa Anita! Glorious and green like Dodger Stadium and wonderful transformation of the infield to a kids area."
Perhaps as much a symbol of Los Angeles as any sports venue, the Hollywood sign or the beach could possibly be, standing tall and proud is the native palm tree -- or the Washingtonia robusta, as it's known in scientific nomenclature -- and there are over 500 in and around Dodger Stadium.
Perea is proud to note "the wide variety of Agave species I have been planting at the stadium and other great succulents in the sedum, kalanchoe, sencio, and aloe genus...The succulents I pointed out to you have been great in terms and reducing water, fertilizer, and maintenance input."
Those include, above, the "Aloe plicatalis, the green fan shaped aloe on the left; the Aeonium 'Sunburst,' the tall yellow, green succulent in the middle; the Aloe striata, the shorter plant immediately to the right of the Sunburst; the Kalanchoe thyrsifolia 'Flapjack,' the red rounded [one] to the right of the Aloe striata; and the Aeonium 'atropurpureum,' the dark purple guy on the far right. Sedum reflexum is the small green border plant."
In the photo below is the "Phormium 'Yellow Wave,' the tall green and yellow arching plant in the center; the Aeonium 'Sunburst,' the medium-height yellow, green succulent to the right, and left of Phormium; the Senecio mandraliscae 'Blue Finger,' the bluish plant at base of ivy covered 'martini' planter."
Smith: "The goals are to enhance the landscape by growing drought tolerant plants and creating a landscape environment that requires minimal water and maintenance." To that end, according to Perea, below we have "the Agave attenauta in the center, the [dark purple] Aeonium 'atropurpureum,' and the Sedum rubrotinctum 'pork and beans' at the bottom...The concrete martini planters, and there are 149 onsite, I think were put in after the 1962 season. Two sizes; the 6' diameter and the 10' diameter."
Smith brought in the prominent landscape architectural firm Mia Lehrer + Associates, with offices in the Wiltern Building, to work on the $100-plus million renovation project, with the bulk of the heavy lifting going on between the end of play last season -- in October of 2012 -- literally right up until Opening Day this season -- on April 1, 2013. The firm is in the news now, both with their L.A. River Master Plan work just being completed and the Natural History Museum Nature Gardens project opening June 9.
While talking about the landscape architectural firm during our visit last week, almost as if on cue but by complete coincidence, we ran into Mia Lehrer principal Michelle Sullivan in the newly-created plaza area on the Top Deck level of the stadium. I noticed a blueprints-toting person, so credit me with find.
Sullivan shot over some notes about the sustainability elements of the project, which can be summarized this way:
Removal of asphalt and the creation of plaza space, more separation between car and the pedestrian areas and the opportunity to provide more landscape/plantings at those transitions, improved water efficiency, added planting to reduce area of hardscape and lower heat island effect, re-use of existing materials and installation of products from recycled material, support of alternate means of transportation, lowering of storm water runoff, planting native and low water consuming plants, installation of an irrigation smart controller, installation of underground storm water collection in some of the parking areas, which is utilized to water some areas of landscape, and the addition of planting areas to allow for storm water capture. There's also a plan to install electric car charging stations in the parking lot.
Perea identifies the plants below as the "Phormium 'Yellow Wave, tall green/yellow arching plant in the center, Aeonium 'Sunburst,' medium-height yellow, green succulent, and Senecio mandraliscae 'Blue Finger,' the bluish succulent at base," and insists on identifying his staff as well. They are, landscape team members Jesus Calvario, Ignacio Carrillo, Fred Cortez, Jose Perez, Jose Portillo, Pete Serna, Octavio Suarez and Jose Sandoval; and mechanics Tony Mancuso and Mike Aguirre.
As explained by Perea sustainability sounds like logical, common sense stuff, but it takes an arborist, and one with a stated goal toward "greening," to make it happen. What else helps the Dodgers reach their sustainability goals?
"Using plant material that is native to our southwest region, and other arid regions to replace annual color [is] a great means of reducing water use and fertilizer use as well; not to mention the maintenance is so much easier than caring for annual color. We probe the soil to check soil moisture before we break out the hose and start watering!"
As for pests, Perea says: "You could say I don't just resort to chemical warfare when it comes to dealing with weeds, insects and pathogens. I research my target pest and try to come up with a practical long-term solution to keep the population in check."
To reduce gas and oil usage, and keep carbon exhaust emissions to a minimum, Perea's team uses the chain saw as little as possible, opting for the manual saw in much of their tree pruning. "Using a manual saw presents less of a safety hazard for the operator and reduces the amount of high decibel engine noise the operator is exposed to. This can make a substantial difference when pruning over 500 palms three times per year [or 7,500 individual cuts] and attending to the other thousand or so mature tree residents in the Chavez Ravine. It allows the operator to work under less stress, reduces fatigue, make better observations when in the canopy of the tree and enjoy the aerial view a bit more."
Push brooms instead of the blower or the hose, whenever feasable, and "not leaving equipment running unnecessarily; not using golf carts unnecessarily." In other words, "walking more often and having two men ride in two-seater vehicles instead of riding individually -- like we're in the carpool lane."
Ah, so that's why the 90-minute trek through Chavez Ravine, hoofing it the old-fashioned way, up and down those many stairs from the Field Level to the Top Deck.
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You learn something new every day, and in my case this past week, many things. Now, if I can just drop the phrase "Washingtonia robusta" into a conversation at a party while sitting under a palm tree.