A major player in the lives of 2 baseball cities

Architect: Boston's historic Fenway Park is next up for the creative force behind Camden Yards.

August 19, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Janet Marie Smith vs. the Green Monster.

If it sounds like an idea coming out of left field, that's because it is. Smith, one of the country's noted baseball park designers and a creative force behind Oriole Park at Camden Yards, is tackling her latest project: the revamping of Fenway Park and its stark green left-field wall that looms as a monster in a city obsessed with baseball.

"Sometimes we stop and say, `It's Fenway, can you believe it?' It's cloud nine just to be here," Smith says in a spare moment during a 15-hour workday at the Boston ballpark, the latest city icon entrusted to her for a makeover.

It's here, on this 90-year-old diamond where Babe Ruth and Ted Williams played their first big-league seasons and "Smokey Joe" Wood dominated the mound, that Smith, 44, is looking to blend Boston's baseball past with the marketing demands of today's big-money sports.

There is a historic 37-foot- high wall to be kept, but there is luxury seating to be added. There is a cozy and intimate feel to be preserved, yet there is the financial pressure to increase the size of a roughly 34,000-seat park, the smallest in major-league baseball. Smith and others are even considering whether they dare add more seats behind the fabled Green Monster to, as she puts it, "make it behave like a new ballpark."

Big decisions for someone who isn't a baseball fanatic. For Smith, a mother of three who lives a hectic but family-oriented life in her adopted hometown of Baltimore, the project is less about baseball and more like polishing a piece of Americana.

"It's not about the sport," says Smith. "It's about being a meaningful part of the city, sometimes harking back to an earlier era. It's good for baseball and much better for the soul of a city."

More than with any other pastime, baseball parks were meant to be civic crossroads and places where common memories are made. That idea inspired Smith to work on Camden Yards when the original concepts for Baltimore's new ballpark were being drafted in 1989.

Strong sense of past

It's familiar territory for Smith. Boston and Baltimore have more in common besides being old Eastern waterfront cities composed of close-knit ethnic enclaves. The cities are nearly the same size, with Baltimore ranked in the 2000 census as the nation's 17th-largest city and Boston as the 20th. Both have a strong sense of their sports pasts, particularly with their baseball teams.

It was Smith who came up with a host of Oriole Park touches - ornithologically correct birds, sun-baked bricks, and the preserved warehouse wall. She also insisted that Baltimore's ballpark be cast in steel rather than concrete, a decision made to reflect Baltimore's character as an industrial town.

Smith has had a creative hand in shaping other city landscapes across the country - Battery Park City in New York, Pershing Square in Los Angeles, and Turner Field in Atlanta, to name a few. Some of the ideas embedded in the cozily retro Camden Yards, which opened a decade ago, set the standard for the new generation of ballparks set squarely in cityscapes, from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to Milwaukee to San Francisco.

In Boston, a town suffering from not having won a World Series since 1918, the decision still hasn't been made whether to renovate or replace Fenway. Many are leaning toward renovation, but the question is the source of debate among Bostonian zealots - civic and baseball alike.

Red Sox President Larry Lucchino said that he and the new owner, John W. Henry, are counting on Smith to help them make up their minds. In a link between Smith's past and present, it was Lucchino as the then-Orioles president who took her pitch for the Baltimore project more than a decade ago and hired her to realize the vision of an old-fashioned ballpark with modern amenities.

Life in Baltimore

When she's not traveling three days a week, Smith leads a decidedly Baltimorean life. She shops at Eddie's and attends Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Cathedral Street. Her home in Roland Park is a rambling sky-blue shingle house filled with three children - Jack, 4; Nellie Grace, 6; and Bart, 8. Her husband, whom she met on a blind date, is F. Barton Harvey III, chairman and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Enterprise Foundation, which builds housing for the poor.

When they married in 1992, they held their reception on the newly finished baseball field.

"Well, that's perfect, we thought," Smith says. "We romanced here and had friends coming from out of town, and we put guest names on the scoreboard."

These days, when they throw their annual holiday party, the couple serves Maryland oysters and Mississippi tamales in a meeting of their home states' cuisines. Smith orders hundreds of tamales to arrive fresh by FedEx.

Harvey describes his wife as an architect's daughter who grew up in racially polarized Jackson, Miss., before leaving to see the rest of the world.

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