Take It From The Top A Take It From The Top

August 30, 1992|By Edward Gunts

Wayne Simonsen doesn't have season tickets to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but he may have the next best thing.

As a waiter in the posh Camden Club restaurant on the seventh and eighth floors of the warehouse behind right field, he has a clear view of the action whenever he looks out the window.

"It's like having our own sky box," he boasts.

Mr. Simonsen is one of several hundred people who make up the city-within-a-city that is inside the historic B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards. Accountants, bookkeepers, secretaries, bartenders, cooks, electricians, plumbers, photographers, computer operators and more than a few major-league baseball veterans are his fellow "citizens."

By now most O's fans know that the warehouse, an eight-story behemoth, is an unusual backdrop to right field and, at just 460 feet from home plate, it's a tantalizing target for left-handed power hitters.

But because so much of the building is off limits to the general public, many people may not realize how much goes on behind its brick facade.

Stretching 1,016 feet -- nearly one fifth of a mile -- it has been described as the longest building on the East Coast. If someone stood the warehouse on its end, it would be 101 stories tall -- putting it in the same league as New York's Empire State Building and making it more than twice as tall as any building in downtown Baltimore.

Inside this very long, very thin building, space has been devoted to the business side of the Orioles ball team, but there are shops, restaurants and banquet facilities as well.

When the Maryland Stadium Authority bought the warehouse it was a vacant shell -- bare brick walls, wooden floors and acres of windows. Architects from Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum's Sports Facilities Group were called on to bring the mechanical systems up to building codes as well as create interior spaces that meet the needs of the various occupants -- all while complementing the new-fangled, old-fashioned ballpark next door.

Because various departments house everything from front-row tickets to scouting reports to autographed baseballs, security here is tight and many sections are off limits to the general public. But Janet Marie Smith, the Orioles' vice president for stadium planning and development, agreed to take a Sun reporter on a tour from top to bottom. Photographer Janis Rettaliata, who has documented the ballpark from the start, visited many of the same areas. What follows are glimpses of the renovated spaces beneath the surface of this remarkable building.

SEVENTH AND EIGHTH FLOORS

The Camden Club is one part of the warehouse that is open to the public -- at least those who become members or come with members. (The one-time initiation fee is $1,000, and monthly dues are $45.) Featuring vistas of the playing field to the west and framed views of the Inner Harbor to the east, the club seats 220 in its main dining room on the seventh floor and another 130 in the more casual Lounge and Grille Room on the eighth floor.

Of all the spaces in the warehouse, the Camden Club is perhaps the most in keeping with the old-fashioned character of the ballpark itself. Walls are lined with photographs of turn-of-the-century Baltimore, of old-time Orioles players from when the team was in the National League, and of the warehouse before its conversion. Woven into the carpet is the emblem of the 1890s Baltimore Baseball Club, and dinner is served on chinaware that bears the Camden Yards logo.

Views from either level are comparable to those from the ballpark's upper deck. At the south end, it feels as if you can almost reach out the window and touch people in the seats across the way. Unless you're seated very close to the warehouse's small windows, it difficult to see much of action on the field, but TV monitors located throughout supplement the views. All in all, it's a very civilized way to ease into a game. It's also a great place to wait out a rain delay.

SIXTH FLOOR

When Bruce Hoffman, the Maryland Stadium Authority executive director, talks about trying to generate revenue from the warehouse to help defray the cost of building and operating the ballpark, he means areas such as the sixth floor, which, like the seventh and eighth floors, is also partially open to the public.

Most of it has been turned into a large banquet room that can accommodate up to 550 people for sit-down dinners and 800 for stand-up receptions. One of 16 places at the ballpark that are available for parties, it's a good use for space that is neither at the very top of the warehouse nor near street level, and a weatherproof alternative to outdoor venues such as the picnic area behind center field. Businesses, tourist groups and re-election campaigns have been among the early users.

FIFTH FLOOR

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