In the late 1990s, Fenway Park faced the end of its operation as the Red Sox home field. Among other things, the park wasn’t fully accessible to fans with disabilities.
Built in 1912, the park had opened long before accessibility in such venues was a consideration. Fenway hadn’t been updated in decades and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only required entertainment structures built after 1990 to comply with its standards.
When faced with this problem and others, such as the size of seats and the condition of the park, the owners of the Red Sox decided that they should look into building a new park near the old one.
In response to the possible demise of the venerable structure, "Save Fenway Park!" sprang up. The volunteer, nonprofit organization was determined to maintain tradition, and a group of architects, headed by Philip Bess, took on the project of drafting an alternative plan based on making renovations. The team created two proposals. One focused on fixing the park and the other tearing down the grandstand and rebuilding to ADA standards.
“We were cognizant of and attended to all the requirements at the time,” said Bess, now director of graduate studies and professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame. “It was a matter of creating ramps and elevators, as well as finding places to put seating.”
After the initial week they were given to plan, the Red Sox organization continued to make changes to the proposals before they were accepted and Fenway Park began renovations. The improvements still continue with waterproofing and the expansion of select seating areas, and the creation of wider sidewalks on the exterior. Even though it was built pre-ADA, Fenway Park is now considered one of the most accessible stadiums in New England, according to Disaboom, an online resource for individuals with disabilities.
“We enjoyed the experience,” Bess said. “There are a whole set of constraints when creating a renovation plan and none of them are a burden. We were all for everyone being able to see a baseball game.”
Although an old structure, Fenway has wheelchair accessible seating from on top of the “Green Monster” to the Lodge Box near the field. There is special seating for individuals with hearing and visual impairments to maximize their game experience, located in the Lodge Box and other areas. The park allows for service dogs and offers large print and Braille season schedules free of charge as well. The Red Sox website features an access guide with more details as to what is available to individuals with disabilities.
Fenway is the oldest major league baseball park in America, and now, not only have fans been able to keep their historical treasure, but Red Sox fans with disabilities can better enjoy “America’s pastime” there.
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Ellen Blash is an English major at George Washington University.