By John Lee
It’s a beautiful day at Dodgers Stadium. The players are already on the field, tossing balls back and forth to get their bodies warmed up. A flood of blue sits in the bleachers—56,000 expectant fans waiting for the game to start, Dodger dogs and nachos already on their laps. From diehard, blue-blooded aficionados to excited children at their first game, this “Blue Heaven on Earth” brings a sense of unity rarely felt anywhere else.
When listening to Dodger broadcasts, the name Chavez Ravine may occasionally come up. Sportscasters and locals use this almost as a synonym for Dodgers Stadium; yet many do not know the true meaning of Chavez Ravine. As years pass and more generations of Los Angelenos are born into Dodger Blue families, the story of how the third-oldest Major League Baseball stadium came about gradually loses itself to irrelevance.
Chavez Ravine was once a close-knit, Mexican-American community made up of three small pueblos: La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop. The area was impoverished, dirty, isolated, yet for the many families who lived there, it was home. Unable to find housing elsewhere in Los Angeles, due to redlining and racial discrimination, these chicanos found their own in the hills of Chavez Ravine.
Though they had little money, the residents thrived on their own determination and happiness. Children played naked in the dirty river, while their older siblings partook in competitive games of soccer with a tattered ball and makeshift goalposts. Their parents talked and danced and attended mass together in the little church. They had lived there for generations by this time, some families even as far back as the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
Yet, the powerful people of the city saw Chavez Ravine as a dump, the slums, “blighted” land. In 1949, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles passed the Housing Act, which gave the city $110 million to build affordable housing. Architect Richard Neutra designed the Elysian Park Heights, an idealistic plan for beautiful apartment buildings and townhouses in which these poorer residents could live.
In July 1950, the California Housing Authority notified the 300 families of Chavez Ravine that they must sell their homes and relocate. Of course, the families did not wish to leave. How could they trust the plan will be carried out? How could they simply walk out of the place they had lived in for so long? To convince the fearful chicanos, the Housing Authority guaranteed them fist pick of the new apartments after construction. Reluctantly, the families of Chavez Ravine left their homes—their only hope that the city keeps its promise.
It didn’t. In 1953, Norris Poulson was elected mayor of Los Angeles. As a political conservative, his platform opposed all new public housing projects, and Elysian Park Heights was killed on claims that the Housing Authority supported Communists. Instead of allowing the original residents of Chavez Ravine to return, the area was left vacant until Walter O’Malley, the owner of the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, took interest in building a stadium after moving the team to California.
Thus, the so-called Battle of Chavez Ravine ended. The last remaining families were evicted, their homes destroyed, and construction for what would become one of the most well-known baseball stadiums began.
Though their homes were lost, the people of Chavez Ravine have a story told too rarely. It is a story of a people’s connection to their land, a community fighting the city, against all odds, for their right to live happy. It is a story of Los Angeles, and while the events have passed, residents of our city should take it upon their shoulders to remember how one of our city’s greatest landmarks came to be.
Today, the places where La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop once stood are buried under tons of dirt and concrete, the weight of 56,000 people standing upon the neighborhoods’ graves. Now, the extraordinary views of the city once boasted by these hills live only in the memories of those who once called Chavez Ravine home. Los Desterrados (“The Uprooted”), as they call themselves, still meet annually in Elysian Park. They reminisce on their days in the pueblos, how they used to play among the doves and reeds, splashing in the river under the once visible stars.