Local

Remembering Dodger Stadium when it was Chavez Ravine

May 8, 1959:
May 8, 1959: "Several Chavez Ravine residents fought eviction, including Aurora Vargas, who vowed that, 'they'll have to carry me [out].' L.A. County Sheriffs forcibly remove Vargas from her home. Bulldozers then knocked over the few remaining dwellings. Four months later, ground-breaking for Dodger Stadium began." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection

As the Dodgers gear up for Game 6 of the World Series — once again, on their home turf — it's worth remembering that before Dodger Stadium was a legendary baseball venue, it was known as Chavez Ravine.

The area was home to generations of families, most of them Mexican-American.

"View of children playing in a fenced yard of a very dilapidated house." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Housing Authority Collection 

After the Dodgers made the deal to ditch Brooklyn, Los Angeles officials used eminent domain and other political machinations to wrest that land away from its owners.

"Panoramic view of the Elysian Heights and Chavez Ravine area as photographed by the Los Angeles City Housing Authority in an effort to document slum conditions." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Security Pacific National Bank Collection

It was ugly. It was violent. It remains the sort of living history that residents of a city don't like to remember.

May 9, 1959:
May 9, 1959: "Los Angeles County Sheriffs forcibly evict Mrs. Aurora Vargas, 36, from her home at 1771 Malvina Avenue in Chavez Ravine. Media representatives record the event. The family put up a fight and reported they had only received a written eviction notice, causing criticism of the government's methods." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection

Chavez Ravine was named after Julian Chavez, a rancher who served as assistant mayor, city councilman and, eventually, as one of L.A. County's first supervisors. In 1844, he started buying up land in what was known as the Stone Quarry Hills, an area with several separate ravines. Chavez died of a heart attack in 1879, at the age of 69.

"A group of children play on hills above the ravine, with a smoggy downtown skyline visible in the background." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Don Normark / Housing Authority Collection 

By the early 1900s, semi-rural communities had sprung up on the steep terrain, mostly on the ridges between the neighboring Sulfur and Cemetery ravines.

"Two young and happy residents of Chavez Ravine." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Leonard Nadel / Housing Authority Collection

What eventually came to be called Chavez Ravine encompassed about 315 acres and had three main neighborhoods — Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop.

1948:
1948: "Panoramic view of the housing in Chavez Ravine. Mostly Mexican American families lived in this area. Children are at play in the foreground." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Housing Authority Collection

It had its own grocery store, church and elementary school. Many residents grew their own food and raised animals such as pigs, goats and turkeys.

1949:
1949: "An older woman carrying a bucket crosses an unpaved road with a small child and a dog. Buildings in the background are quite run-down. Chavez Ravine is towards the left of photo." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Housing Authority Collection 

Many Mexican-American families that were red-lined and prevented from moving into other neighborhoods, established themselves in Chavez Ravine.

"Veteran William Nickolas and three of his children stand in the door of the home in the rear of his father-in-law's house at 942-1/2 Yola Drive, Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles. The home had two rooms for sleeping quarters and toilet, no bathing facilities, no gas or hot water. The family is to move into Basilone Homes Housing Project. The wife is Emily Nickolas. There are six children in the family, ages 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, and 3 months." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Leonard Nadel / Housing Authority Collection

Outsiders often saw the neighborhood as a slum. City officials decided that Chavez Ravine was under-utilized and ripe for redevelopment, kicking off a decade-long battle over the land.

1950:
1950: "View of the hillside in the Chavez Ravine area in Elysian Park Heights depicts a country-like setting. The housing in the foreground is fenced and has several animal cages." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Housing Authority Collection 

They labeled it "blighted" and came up with a plan for a massive public housing project, known as Elysian Park Heights.

May 11, 1959:
May 11, 1959: "Cruz Cabral, 39, ex-Marine war hero of World War II, gives moral support to relatives evicted from their house in Chavez Ravine. His aunt, Mrs. Abrana Arechiga, 72, shows his medals. He was wounded four times in South Pacific battles. She reared him on this site." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection

Designed by architects Robert E. Alexander and Richard Neutra and funded in part by federal money, the project would include more than 1,000 units — two dozen 13-story buildings and 160 two-story townhouses — as well as several new schools and playgrounds. 

In the early 1950s, the city began trying to convince Chavez Ravine homeowners to sell. Many didn't want to, despite intense pressure from authorities. Officials often used the power of eminent domain to acquire plots of land and force residents out of their homes.

In 1953, the Elysian Park Heights project fell apart. The city's new mayor, Norris Poulson, opposed public housing as "un-American," as did many business leaders who wanted the land for private development.

The city of Los Angeles bought back the land, at a much lower price, from the Federal Housing Authority  — with the agreement that the city would use it for a public purpose.

By 1957, only 20 families, holdouts who had fought the city's offers to buy and reclaim their land, were still living in Chavez Ravine.

In June of 1958, voters approved (by a slim, 3 percent margin) a referendum to trade 352 acres of land at Chavez Ravine to the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Walter O'Malley.

May 1959:
May 1959: "Some, ready to move out of Chavez Ravine, and others not, members of the Manuel Arechiga family listen to the advice of attorney Phil Silver (left) as new developments transpire in the Chavez controversy."
Herald-Examiner Collection

The following year, the city began clearing the land for the stadium. On Friday, May 9, 1959, bulldozers and sheriff's deputies showed up to forcibly evict the last few families in Chavez Ravine.

This City of Los Angeles Health Department notice dated May 14, 1959 was given to the Arechiga family at 1801 Malvina Avenue in Chavez Ravine. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
This City of Los Angeles Health Department notice dated May 14, 1959 was given to the Arechiga family at 1801 Malvina Avenue in Chavez Ravine. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection

Crews eventually knocked down the ridge separating the Sulfur and Cemetery ravines and filled them in, burying Palo Verde Elementary School in the process.

May 14, 1959:
May 14, 1959: "Mrs. Abrana Arechiga (left) and her daughter, Mrs. Vicki Augustain, look at the ruins of one of their Chavez Ravine homes, which were destroyed by bulldozers during the controversial eviction last Friday, an action which now has erupted into a sensational city-wide furor. After eviction day, the Arechiga family lived in a tent and, later, in a loaned trailer. Now it is revealed they own 11 homes in the Los Angeles area." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection

The 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium opened on April 10, 1962, on a site that thousands of people had once called home.

May 14, 1951:
May 14, 1951: "New projected housing project is forcing many oldtimers like Julian, on wagon, to move from Chavez Ravine to new quarters. Later the area became part of the baseball stadium of the Los Angeles Dodgers instead." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection

 

May 16, 1959:
May 16, 1959: "All was quiet on the Chavez Ravine battlefront. Avrana and Manuel Arechiga are the only remaining eviction warriors there. He's sweeping the dirt off the 'front porch' of their tent. Protest signs are posted nearby." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection
March 11, 1962: Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley stands in Dodger Stadium.
March 11, 1962: Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley stands in Dodger Stadium. "Built for $23 million, it is the first privately financed Major League Baseball stadium since Yankee Stadium was built in the 1920s." Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Herald-Examiner Collection