What was the greatest day in the Dodgers' 50 years in Los Angeles? A fan today might think it was last Thursday, when the team grabbed slugger Manny Ramirez. Most might say the day Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run to win the first game of the 1988 World Series. But how about June 3, 1958? That's the day L.A. voters let Walter O'Malley do what he'd come west to do - build his team the greatest baseball stadium ever. KPCC Special Correspondent Kitty Felde says it's the next chapter in the story of how the Dodgers came to Los Angeles.
Kitty Felde: Fifty years ago, more than 60 percent of the voters in Los Angeles showed up at the polls for the June primary. You can explain that staggering turnout in a single letter – B.
Proposition B was the land swap deal between the city of L.A. and Dodger owner Walter O'Malley. Opponents called it a giveaway, and gathered enough signatures to put it before the taxpaying voters. The late L.A. county supervisor Kenneth Hahn said the battle lines were drawn almost immediately.
Kenneth Hahn: You're either for O'Malley or against him. You know, you're either for taxes or against them. You're either for smog or against it. It was a really hot political thing.
Felde: It was black and white then.
Hahn: Oh, yes.
Felde: In black and white, here's the deal: the city would hand over Chavez Ravine so O'Malley could build a 50,000 seat stadium. O'Malley would also build and maintain a public recreational area in Elysian Park for 20 years.
And he'd give the city the Wrigley Field ballpark property in South L.A. It was a win-win: a stadium on vacant Chavez Ravine land would produce tax revenue for the city, and profits for O'Malley. But the opposition said the deal would benefit only the Dodgers.
From that came Proposition B. Most of the campaigning was at the grassroots level: speeches at chamber of commerce or homeowners meetings. The Dodgers sent representatives. Politicians on both sides fanned out all over the city.
Roz Wyman: But the greatest one of all: my little old mother was a spy.
Felde: Former L.A. city councilwoman Roz Wyman was the city's point person for the Yes on B campaign.
Wyman: And we needed to try to know what was going on in the opposition. And when we would see an opposition's meeting we'd say, "Mom, do you want to go?" And she went. And she would sit at the meetings and listen, and maybe make a comment or whatever. And she was just, she was just the best! (laughs) And she was our big spy for what was going on in the referendum.
Felde: Walter O'Malley remembered the battle in this 30-year-old interview.
Walter O'Malley: The campaign was really predicated on misinformation. And even to this day, I meet people and they say, "Well, that was a great gift you got, that land." We bought this land, and on the land which we bought, we changed the elevations of the land, moved 10 million tons of brick and dirt, and built our own stadium, with our own money, without any subsidy, direct or indirect, from Los Angeles.
Felde: But things looked bad for O'Malley. An Associated Press poll published 10 days before the election showed Proposition B going down to defeat by a slim margin. O'Malley fought back, using a weapon appreciated in a media savvy town like Los Angeles: television. On the Sunday before the election, O'Malley staged a live five-hour "Dodgerthon" on KTTV, channel 11. Guests included Ronald Reagan, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Benny, Dean Martin...
[Dean Martin sings "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine]
Wyman: We really thought that it was terribly important to show broad-based support in the community for baseball. And we really had a wide range of people, not just celebrities.
Felde: Again, Roz Wyman.
Wyman: We put on a fairly good telethon. And it was helpful to get that final vote.
Felde: The election on June 3rd, 1958 was just as close as the polls predicted. By a margin of only 25,000 votes out of more than a million cast, Proposition B passed. Chavez Ravine was finally O'Malley's. Next week, the final chapter in our series about how the Dodgers came to Los Angeles.
["Forever Dodger Blue" plays]