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TAKE IT FROM THE TOP A TAKE IT FROM THE TOP

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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

Anchoring this level is the private suite of Orioles majority owner Eli Jacobs. It is perhaps the most daringly furnished space in the warehouse. (As seen from the stands, its windows are 19 to 22 counting from the north end of the warehouse.) The Orioles' interior designer, Suzanne Forte, chose a black and off-white color scheme for Mr. Jacobs' office, meeting room and reception area, with custom furniture and baseball-theme artwork. Her calculatedly cool approach is the antithesis of the unabashedly traditional Camden Club, but it shows how adaptable the warehouse is to different designs.

Next to Mr. Jacobs's suite is the Orioles archives. Off-limits to the public, it's an atticlike treasure trove filled with relics of the franchise's history, including old media guides and yearbooks, souvenirs, team pictures, posters, trophies and a collection of autographed balls. There's even an old costume of the O's mascot.

FOURTH FLOOR

The bulk of the space on this level is taken up by an 11,000-square-foot kitchen where ARA Leisure Services Inc., the stadium concessionaire, prepares most of the food served in the ballpark, including 2,300 crab cakes a day. Once it's ready, the food is carried to the ballpark across a bridge over Eutaw Street, the reconstructed corridor that serves as part of the main concourse during games and a pedestrian mall at other times.

One of the largest commercial kitchens in the state, the ARA facility has rows of freezers and other appliances, many set on wheeled carts so they can be moved into various configurations to suit different cooking needs. Executive chef Russell Szekely says it takes two shifts of 10 cooks each to feed a sell-out crowd. Cold food is prepared a day ahead, and hot food is prepared the day of the game, keeping the staff busy from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Even the pork and roast beef sold at Boog's Corner, the popular barbecue stand run at the stadium by former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell, is prepared in this kitchen.

Other spaces on the fourth floor have been reserved for the Designated Hitters and Oriole Advocates, the club's two support groups. The Designated Hitters have their own bar and a lounge for buffet meals, and the Advocates have a separate lounge.

SECOND AND THIRD FLOORS

If the elevator lets you off in front of the large reception desk where switchboard operators Greta Smith and Judy Valentini rule the roost, you know you're in the Orioles' executive offices. Unfailingly patient and personable, Ms. Smith and Ms. Valentini are the Orioles for many people who come to the warehouse on business or in need of assistance with a ticket snafu or some other crisis, and they make a charming first impression.

The lobby where they work rises two stories and has a wide stairway that allows Orioles employees to move between the second and third floors without waiting for an elevator. Past the lobby, the offices range from spacious suites for the executives on the third floor to more utilitarian quarters for worker-bee departments such as public affairs and accounting.

There are also one-of-a-kind spaces for divisions such as Oriole Productions, the in-house department that prepares training tapes and the video clips fans see on the Sony JumboTRON board, and the scouting department, which keeps files on current and prospective players. Shatterproof glass has been used in the windows of many of these offices as a precaution against the occasional "Ruthian clouts" that are expected. (It would take a home run about 500 feet long to hit club president Larry Lucchino's third-floor windows.)

"One advantage of the warehouse is that it gives a lot of room for each department to spread out," says Ms. Smith. "But one of the disadvantages is that it's spaced in a linear fashion, which is not ideal. In the warehouse, we're removed from the press box and other areas in the ballpark, which means we have to have satellite offices in some cases."

The linear arrangement also posed a design challenge because there was more than a little jockeying for the best views and the most square footage. The planning took on some added drama when Frank Robinson was named an assistant general manager and the floor plan didn't include an office for him. The last-minute conversion of a conference room saved the day. But the truth is, every office is terrific. The ones facing the field are just a little more terrific than the others.

Some of the memorabilia from the archives has been displayed in glass cases throughout these offices. The "Championship Seasons" case holds the 1966 World Series Trophy alongside photos, programs and pennants from that year. Others trace the "Evolution of Memorial Stadium" and honor "Ballparks That Inspired the Design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards." Sluggers' bats, retired jerseys and other symbols of the team's brightest moments adorn the walls. The club wants to put them on public display when space can be designated for an Orioles Hall of Fame, Ms. Smith says.

FIRST FLOOR

This level is the most familiar to fans because of the retail spaces that line Eutaw Street: the Orioles Baseball Store, Bambino's Pub and Pastimes Cafe. Any of them might have been twice as large, but they had to fit within the "footprint" of the warehouse like all the other spaces. The Orioles' store is a mob scene from morning to night. Bambino's Pub is a popular post-game hangout with a boisterous, "Cheers"-type atmosphere and great old photos of George Herman "Babe" Ruth, including one from his days at St. Mary's Industrial School in Baltimore.

Far less rowdy is Pastimes Cafe, an eatery with a diverse menu but the personality of a shopping-mall cafeteria. It's a convenient place to take small children, though, or to go when the barbecue is sold out at nearby Boog's Corner.

At the north end of the warehouse is the Orioles' main box office, overseen by Steve Kowalski. With more than half of the 32 ticket windows at the ballpark, it handles thousands of requests a day -- and the lines often reflect it.

BASEMENT

Another area off-limits to the general public, the basement has the most utilitarian spaces in the warehouse, many punctuated by the massive stone piers that help hold up the building. The spaces include locker rooms and areas for uniform distribution for the more than 300 ushers, guards and ticket takers who work for the Orioles, and changing areas for several hundred ARA vendors and other employees. There are also offices of Harry M. Stevens Maintenance Services Inc., the ballpark's maintenance company, and workshops and tool storage areas for the plumbers, electricians and painters who work for the stadium authority. An underground ramp connects the warehouse to the ballpark's service concourse, so fans don't cross paths with most of the service personnel.

For all the work that has been done so far to recycle the warehouse, there's even more to come. The changes to date fill only slightly less than half the warehouse -- about 196,000 of the total 430,000 square feet. The rest, on the south end, is still space available for redevelopment -- a prime opportunity for this linear city-within-a-city to grow even larger.

WHAT'S WHAT WITH THE WAREHOUSE

Official name: B&O; Warehouse.

Address: 333 Camden St.

Original architect: Baldwin and Pennington.

Built: 1898 to 1905.

Dimensions: 1,016 feet long by 51 feet wide.

Original use: Storage of grain and other goods transported by the B&O; Railroad.

Last use: Archives for CSX Corp., parent company of the B&O; Railroad.

Total square footage: 430,000 square feet.

Square footage occupied: 161,000 square feet.

Number of windows: 898

Number of windows with shatterproof glass: 63

Previous owner: Harbor Exchange Limited Partnership, a development group headed by Morton Macks and Willard Hackerman. They planned an off-price retail center but never moved ahead with construction.

Amount Harbor Exchange paid for it: $4.6 million in 1983.

Amount the state paid for it: $11 million in 1989.

Cost to renovate warehouse so far: $20 million plus.

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