A FENWAY WITH CLASS AND GLASS? Mere copy of old park would be a failure

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Even before John Harrington announced last month that the Yawkey Trust would sell the Red Sox, it was a Boston given that replacing Fenway Park would require too much time, cost too much money, and ultimately be a disappointment to everyone involved.

One need look only as far as the FleetCenter to know that.

But the new owner now has a chance to correct what promises to be the biggest bungle, the intention to duplicate Fenway, just with more seats. Even if that were possible - how do you add legroom to every row, without moving every row farther from the field? - it's an awful idea. How often in history has a copy ever approached the majesty of the original?

It is a fair impulse to want to retain its ties to the one of the best ballparks in history, but instead of duplication, how about evocation? How about nodding to the past while creating something entirely new? How about a glass Green Monster?

Yes, glass. It works on several levels, beginning with the practical. A severe drawback of the new design is that many of the additional seats would be in far center field, even farther from the action than the bleachers' back rows are now. Those seats could be in the front row, in left, but the club wants to retain the park's signature feature, the left-field wall.

That's a win for tradition but a loss for fans. With glass, the seats behind it would have a view unprecedented in the game. Fans would see the fielder running toward them, then pull up, and back up, to play the carom. Or see him stand in resignation as yet another fly leaves the yard.

It would be vital to have the sides of this seating area fully open, and to have a roof no more substantial than what covers the present grandstands, to avoid the antiseptic feel of the 600 Club, the sealed-in premium seating area behind home plate.

But that's a detail; it can be done, said Richard A. Mauro of Revere, the president of Tower Glass Inc. of Woburn, who has helped build some of the grandest structures involving glass in Boston in a 40-year career. He has done work at Fenway, and his company built the "glass-wall system" at another sporting venue, the Harvard Racquetball Club.

"An all-glass wall system would be no big deal, pretty standard. The critical points would be the bottom, the base, and at the head. The rest of it can be free-spanned with all glass," Mauro said.

But couldn't the glass break some day, and hold up a game, or hurt someone? "No, I don't think so," he said. "Glass is glass and it has its properties, and glass can break. But from a batted ball [that far away]? I doubt it." Mauro recommended that the glass not begin until, say, 10 feet off the ground so players couldn't run into it. And he pointed out that glass's green tint would add to the evocation of the old yard.

It is ironic that the park's landmark nature obstructs the effort to deliver a new one. In Baltimore, Cleveland, and San Francisco, where the best new parks are, they replaced stadiums that were at best ordinary, and at worst reviled.

The Chicago White Sox, meanwhile, offer a different case study. They had Comiskey Park, built in 1910 and hallowed in baseball, albeit not at Fenway's level. Their new house is also called Comiskey, but the similarity ends there. What stands today is no more than a mall with a ballfield, a gimmick to draw consumers the way a roller coaster draws shoppers to the Great Mall of America in Minneapolis.

The outcome should be instructive to all of Boston: Fans from all over the country dream of seeing a game at Wrigley Field, Chicago's "other" stadium. These pilgrims stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and otherwise contribute to the local economy. The only people who go to Comiskey are White Sox fans, and even they can't be too happy with the place.

A commonality of the great new parks is evocation of the past, mixed with modern ideas. But for their inspiration, the Red Sox went to a Xerox machine.

Perhaps they don't realize it, but the Red Sox don't really want to re-create Fenway. They want to retain Boston's status as a world capital of baseball. They want a park people will love, and flock to, even when the team stumbles. They can have that, but the new owners must be willing to ask their architects what is possible, instead of telling them what they want.

If they don't, Boston will at best be saddled with a life-size reminder of the treasure it once had.