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Wrigley Renovations: Tribune Critic Whiffs

An architecture writer for the Chicago Tribune wrote her second article about the Wrigley Field restoration project. She made mistakes in the first one. Guess what? She's done it again.

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

Opinions are like... well, you know the rest of that phrase.

And Chicago Tribune architecture writer Cheryl Kent has weighed in yet again on the Cubs' Wrigley Field restoration plans, with a long article in Thursday's newspaper, and for the second time in a little over a month, she has, to use a baseball metaphor, struck out.

Back in April, I reviewed a Kent article on this site and pointed out the false assumptions and outright errors she made in her criticism of the Cubs' plans.

Did this change anything? Well, I wouldn't have expected her to change her mind based simply on something I wrote, but she got facts incorrect last month, and she's repeated the mistakes in her latest article. Consider this, regarding the Cubs' proposal to put a new entrance on the west side of Wrigley Field:

The west gate design has not been submitted to the city by the Cubs for review, but an early drawing showed it with a scale and presence rivaling the main gate and exceeding the secondary entries at the other three corners of the ballpark. Ornamental metalwork reminiscent of the early 19OOs frames the proposed gate. It could easily be construed as original by people who did not know the park.

Of course it's not original -- anyone who's been around Wrigley Field over the last 50 years would know that -- but have a look at this photo of Wrigley Field, taken during the 1932 World Series. What do you see? Ornamental metalwork! The Cubs propose to restore the look that the ballpark had through the 1920s and 1930s.

I ask Cheryl Kent: What's wrong with this? Obviously, you are not going to find original materials from 80 and 90 years ago. So what? The point is to restore the look, not restore the original steelwork. What's bad about the way Wrigley looks now is the chain-link fencing and concrete panels that were put there by the Wrigley ownership in the 1950s and 1960s. It looks ugly. Should that be "landmarked" just because it's there now? Of course not. Kent continues with this factual error:

The Cubs propose to move the outer bleacher walls out by 1O feet, absorbing city property into a private enterprise. So far, the Cubs say they will not pay for the land.

The walls are protected by the landmark ordinance, and conceding this alteration serves no justifiable purpose. The Cubs say they need to move the walls in order to add signs and meet the terms of a contract with rooftop owners. If the walls are back 1O feet, the sightlines from the rooftops would clear the signs, the Cubs say. That is one tortured line of reasoning for altering a historic building for signs that have not been approved, as they must be, for the sake of a contract that will expire in 2O23.

We've talked about the "signs" (meaning the Jumbotron) and the rooftop views and what might or might not be blocked several times here. That isn't the point Kent misses -- does she not realize that the outer walls of the bleachers date only from 2006? The original bleacher walls were demolished when the bleachers were expanded during the winter of 2005-06. So moving those walls -- if the Cubs do get approval to vacate parts of Waveland and Sheffield, and I am not convinced the city is going to allow this -- wouldn't violate any portion of the landmark ordinance.

Kent, further, seems to be bothered by the Cubs' choice of renovation materials:

It's no use pretending the rest of the 2Oth century has not happened and the 21st has not begun. Indeed, one of the things the 2Oth century put an end to was the affordability of well-crafted and executed architectural design details of the sort these buildings propose to emulate. Instead of real stone, the architects have specified "cast stone," or, in other words, molded cement. That fools nobody.

Seriously? Seriously? Would anyone really care if they were to see a wall at a renovated Wrigley that was made out of "molded cement"? Would they think, "Oh, that's not real stone, I'm not going to go inside that phony ballpark?" Get real, Cheryl. I'm no expert in this field, but I'm assuming there are cost factors in using "cast stone" in this project. It's a big "who cares" to everyone except you, Cheryl. Kent concludes:

A useful watchword to guide the revisions is "integrity." Respect the integrity of the ballpark, respect the city's integrity — trusting that it offers sufficient rewards without getting suburbanized — and respect the integrity of our times when it comes to new design and construction.

Based on my readings of the renderings, the architectural drawings I've seen, and the intent of the Cubs, that's exactly what they are doing. As Kent writes, this is the 21st Century. The Cubs are trying to restore the look and feel of what Wrigley Field was in its "glory days" -- the 1920s and 1930s -- but with modern amenities. Yes, that likely includes a large video screen. If that's the price we have to pay for having Wrigley Field for another 100 years, I say, "Bring it on." (Although, as I have written here before, in a somewhat smaller size than the original proposal.)

In the meantime, Cheryl Kent needs to learn some things about Cubs and Wrigley Field history.