On Jackie Robinson Day, baseball’s commemoration of the color barrier-breaking Dodger player, Dodger Stadium was empty of fans but the ballpark was still humming. Dodgers’ Senior Vice President of Planning and Development Janet Marie Smith was taking her daily stroll around the stadium alongside architect Brenda Levin, the two taking notes on their mental to-do list. Smith came to the Dodgers in 2013 to helm their $100 million renovation project. With a flair for historic preservation and a track record of success helping to build and improve baseball parks around the league (Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Atlanta’s Turner Field, Boston’s Fenway Park), Smith has now brought modern updates with 1960’s character to Dodger Stadium, the Major League’s third oldest park.
With just one season under her belt with the Dodgers, Smith who resides in nearby Silver Lake, already has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the team, the stadium, and the city. In fact, you might mistake her for a long-time Angeleno if it weren’t for that Mississippi accent of hers. She’s quick to cite that 2013 actually marked her return to Los Angeles – Smith lived in the area for a time in the 1980s. It’s all very familiar she notes. In fact, Smith jokes the only thing that has changed since that time, is her commute – well that, and Dodger Stadium, of course.
Why do you think people cling so tightly to baseball history, in particular?
It’s the culture – its leisurely pace. There’s a lot of time during the game to have reference points. Also records often take decades to be broken so they’re relevant today, unlike a lot of other sports.
What is the first thing you do when looking to make changes to such a large structure like a baseball park?
Well every place is different but here I think we had several objectives. [Our President] said from the beginning, our scoreboards are lousy, our sound system is lousy, our restrooms are horrible, the food isn’t any good, and there’s no place to be on the concourse. What we tried to do was look at it and say “where was the park the neediest?” I think we felt that Dodger Stadium had, unwittingly, fallen into a lull. The things we focused on last year were things that would touch every fan. Space was number one, restrooms were a close second.
How do you account for the recent trend towards baseball park preservation?
Well I think our ownership would put it a little differently, that it’s not so much about the preservation, I don’t think, so much as the reality that this is home. There may be some bright future for the Dodgers downtown one day, some day but it’s not here. And we’re playing baseball here, today. So why would we not invest in this place, for these fans, and this team today? But [ownership] certainly have given us the latitude and support to [preserve] as thoughtfully and conscientiously as we could.
What is your favorite baseball team?
Oh, I always love the one I’m with.
What is your proudest Dodger Stadium accomplishment?
I think the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most is the expansion of the walk ways. Sometimes the best way to make things different is to change the footprint. It’s great to preserve the parking spaces and the automobile culture but its even better if we can make it feel like you’ve arrived. These places are worthy of having our fans come early and stay late and giving them things to do that they just couldn’t do with a smaller footprint.
Marni Epstein Epstein is an entertainment, music, and lifestyle Journalist and resident of Echo Park. She has previously worked in the film and digital media industries with FOX and Sony Pictures Entertainment. She is currently also pursuing a Masters in Historic Preservation.