Urban Relocation in L.A.

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Dodger Stadium – 1960

Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. Even today, more than fifty years later, there are still people who will not set foot inside the ballpark at Chavez Ravine – and not because they are Giants fans.

Julian Chavez who in 1844 was the first recorded landowner in the narrow valley northwest of Los Angeles. By the mid-1900s, eleven-hundred families, mostly Mexican-American, made their homes in Chavez Ravine. It was a largely self-contained community, with its own schools and churches, stores and community gardens. To residents it was a “poor-man’s Shangri-La.” To outsiders it was a slum and an eyesore.

Chavez Ravine
Chavez Ravine

With money from the Federal Housing Act of 1949, the city of Los Angeles planned to build new public housing. The dilapidated homes would be razed and replaced with twenty-four thirteen-story towers and 160 two-story apartment buildings, becoming “Elysian Park Heights.” In July, 1950, all residents of Chavez Ravine received letters from the city telling them that they would have to sell their homes to make the land available for the proposed redevelopment. Two years later, most of the residents and their homes were gone.

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The 1950s was the era of anti-communist hysteria. Opponents of the project characterized it as socialism. Frank Wilkinson, the assistant director of the Los Angeles City Housing Authority and one of the main supporters of Elysian Park Heights, refused to answer questions from the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was fired from his job and sentenced to a year in jail.

The Los Angeles City Council wanted to cancel the project, but courts ruled the contract with federal authorities was binding. Norris Poulson was elected mayor in 1953 after campaign vows to stop the housing project and other examples of “un-American” spending. Poulson negotiated a buy-back of the land from the federal government at a drastically reduced price, with the stipulation that it be used for a public purpose. The former inhabitants of Chavez Ravine, who had been promised first opportunity to move into the new housing were left with only the little or no compensation they had received for their property.

Angustain family evicted from home in Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles May 9, 1959. Los Angles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA

Enter Walter O’Malley and his Dodgers baseball club, looking to relocate from Brooklyn. The City decided that Major League Baseball, although privately owned, constituted “public purpose,” and sold the land to O’Malley for cheap. Sheriff’s deputies forcibly removed the last residents of Chavez Ravine in 1959.

Cheech Marin narrated a short documentary film, Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, with music scored by Ry Cooder, in 2003.

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