Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Not even the Baltimore Orioles wanted to keep the neglected B&O Warehouse—until Eric Moss came to town in 1987.
If you ask a baseball fan to pick one visual that best represents September 6, 1995, it’d probably be the numbers hanging from the B&O Warehouse that night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards
That’s where “2,130” turned to “2,131”—a ceremonial declaration that Cal Ripken Jr. had just broken Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played in Major League Baseball history.
With the league still reeling from a strike one year earlier—forcing the cancellation of the 1994 World Series—the momentous event couldn’t have come at a better time. Baseball fans, who are obsessed with history and statistics perhaps more than most people, were looking for reasons to feel good about the sport again. Watching a man break a record for showing up to work every day inside a stadium designed to evoke the past was the perfect scene.
It’s been 20 years since that night, but the 116-year-old warehouse that served as its backdrop wouldn’t even be around today were it not for a Syracuse University architecture thesis presented in 1987.
Eric Moss was looking for thesis ideas while traveling around Europe the year prior. “I was seeing all of these historic forts and I started thinking, ‘Maybe there’s a metaphor here between a fort and a football stadium, since people from out of town come in and try to beat you up,’” he tells CityLab.
But when he returned to the States, his mind quickly turned to baseball. Moss attended his first game at Boston’s Fenway Park in the summer of 1986. Raised in West Virginia and Delaware, it was a radically different experience than the the donut-shaped Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia he grew up going to.
A football field can only be one length, but in baseball, anything goes once you’re dealing with the outfield. Perhaps no stadium feature demonstrates that better than Fenway’s “Green Monster,” a giant wall built to compensate for the incredibly short distance between home plate and Lansdowne Street. Moss decided that, for his thesis, he would design something that was formed by its surroundings. It would have to be a baseball stadium.
Coincidentally, Baltimore was looking at sites for a new baseball facility at the time. One option: an area near the Inner Harbor with a vacant 1,116-foot-long brick warehouse that no one, not even the Orioles, seemed interested in saving. Moss, however, looked at it and told himself, “that’s my Green Monster.”
Moss drew up and built a model of his ballpark. The warehouse would serve as his right-field wall. A scoreboard would be placed on it and a restaurant inside would allow people to watch the game without buying a ticket. He presented his model in front of a thesis jury, which included Adam Gross of the Baltimore architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross. Moss was hired and brought back to Baltimore to work on ASG’s proposal for a new ballpark.
Partnered up with HNTB for the project, ASG was competing against the team of HOK Sport (now Populous) and RTKL. Moss’s idea made headlines in Baltimore soon after he arrived, but the Orioles still had no interest in the warehouse. As retold by Peter Richmond in Ballpark: Camden Yards and the Building of an American Dream, only Moss did at that point.
In truth, no one cared about it. The warehouse—so oddly disproportioned and squat, so antithetical to the new harborcity, with its glass-and-steel miasma of a downtown profile—was like the other ingredients of Baltimore’s once-delightfully eccentric skyline, fine for the legend, but not right for the new age.
ASG had important allies in the Orioles’ front office—it had recently designed their team store in Washington, D.C.—but they didn’t want to rock the boat with Moss’s idea at first.
HOK Sport had previously proposed a generic facility in 1986 that resembled what they were proposing in Chicago for new Comiskey Park. “They tore down everything and put up this kind of festival-looking stadium that wasn’t Baltimore-specific,” Moss says, showing off a rendering of their initial idea. In January 1988, after months of media attention devoted to Moss’ warehouse idea, HOK Sport proposed keeping half of the structure and won the commission.
“I did make a presentation to some Orioles representation, and I was told that it wasn’t until they saw my work when they realized that they could save the warehouse,” Moss tells us.
By the time the stadium opened in 1992, various design alterations had taken place, including the full preservation of the warehouse. Almost immediately celebrated as a masterpiece upon its debut, various HOK Sport employees and Orioles executives had taken credit for the warehouse. Before Richmond’s book came out in 1993, Moss had already been forgotten.
“It was bittersweet after getting all that press,” says Moss. “For someone just getting into the profession it was very unusual. So then, to watch the professional machine engage and prevail was a little tough.” Going on a stadium tour with his son didn’t help. “It was hard to be on this tour and have the guides credit other people with the design because my son is like, ‘Wait, no, it’s my dad[‘s idea],’” he recounts.
HOK Sport also preserved Eutaw Street, providing a public walkway that makes the warehouse a backdrop to the game instead of an active participant. With Moss’ concept, outfielders would have to duck home runs ricocheting back into the field while the Orioles would have to budget for window repairs. “I’m not gonna say I had all the best ideas,” Moss admits, “but I still think it would be fun to have the warehouse in play.”
For as much praise as Camden Yards still receives today, the Orioles are considering serious alterations as the ballpark nears a quarter-century of use. One idea being floated is to rip out the concourse walls so that anyone waiting in line at a concession stand can still peek out at the field. Moss addressed this in his thesis. Pointing at his rendering, he explains, “I had been to the Coliseum in Rome and I noticed how cool it was that you got these views back to the sport back then. So I created a design that you could, as you walked around the concourse, still be engaged with the game.”
As for the tower in his model, that was “a bit of a nod” to the growing importance of media in pro sports. There’s a scoreboard towards the top for anyone nearby to look up for the score of the game. There’s also an antenna and space for media-related offices “as an acknowledgment that the money isn’t just about the people sitting in these seats,” Moss explains, “and boy, has that continued to be the case.”
Today, Moss is a principal at the same firm that hired him in 1987, and spends most of his design energy on student housing. He’s happy to catch an Orioles game from time to time and doesn’t think too much about the wave of retro-classic ballparks that have followed Baltimore’s, including one in San Diego which incorporates an old warehouse into its left-field wall.
“I’m very content with my career,” says Moss. “I don’t need to be a stadium architect.”