Battle of Chavez Ravine
The Battle of Chavez Ravine has several meanings, but often refers to controversy surrounding government acquisition of land largely owned by Mexican Americans in Los Angeles' Chavez Ravine over approximately ten years (1951–1961). The eventual result was the removal of the entire population of Chavez Ravine from land on which Dodger Stadium was later constructed. The great majority of the Chavez Ravine land was acquired to make way for proposed public housing. The public housing plan that had been advanced as politically "progressive" and had resulted in the removal of the Mexican American landowners of Chavez Ravine, was abandoned after passage of a public referendum prohibiting the original housing proposal and election of a conservative Los Angeles mayor opposed to public housing. Years later, the land acquired by the government in Chavez Ravine was dedicated by the city of Los Angeles as the site of what is now Dodger Stadium.
By 1951, Chavez Ravine was slated for redevelopment under the National Housing Act of 1949 - which provided federal money to build public housing, among other things. The Los Angeles Housing Authority began acquiring the land of Chavez Ravine in 1951, through both voluntary purchases and exercise of eminent domain. In furtherance of the public housing proposal, the City acquired almost all of the land of Chaviez Ravine and razed nearly the entire community over the period from 1952 to 1953. The planned public housing development was entitled "Elysian Park Heights" and designed by Austrian architect Richard J. Neutra. Social critics of the era have argued that the urban renewal efforts of the 1950s under the National Housing Act often included significant and even dominant elements of racial and ethnic oppression, sometimes reflected in the dispossession of minority landowners in "renewed" areas.
In 1953 Norris Poulson, a political conservative, was elected mayor of Los Angeles on a platform that included opposition to construction of all new public housing projects. In addition, a public referendum was then passed barring all public housing in Los Angeles. Poulson's election and the referendum resulted in the termination of the "Elysian Park Heights" development. The City also agreed with the federal government to abandon the public housing project with the stipulation that the by then nearly-vacant land be used for a "public purpose." For years the nearly vacant Chavez Ravine land lay unused but for a tiny number of remaining original residents, and was offered by the City to various potential developers without success. Eventually, in the late 1950s, the City proposed to Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley that an entirely separate plot of land (a plot not part of or close to Chavez Ravine) be used as the site of a baseball stadium for the Dodgers, who were exploring a move from Brooklyn's Ebbets Field to Los Angeles. O'Malley declined the original offer, but expressed an interest in Chavez Ravine, which he had seen from the air. The City ended up conveying the Chavez Ravine site to the Dodgers for small consideration. Dodger Stadium was then constructed with private funds, and remains privately owned.
Manuel and Abrana Arechiga (often cited as "Avrana"), with their daughter Aurora Vargas (a widow, later surnamed Fernandez), were among the last of the tiny number of residents to hold out against the government land acquisition effort undertaken for the original public housing project. Forced removal by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) on May 9, 1959, resulted in the arrest of Aurora. Aurora Vargas was fined and briefly sent to jail for her resistance. Manuel Arechiga was the final holdout, living in a tent on the site of the demolished home for months. Stories are recounted of Mr. Arechiga sitting in his tent with a shotgun, defending the ruins of his former home. Public sympathy for the Arechigas quickly waned, however, when subsequent news reports revealed that the Arechigas owned twelve rental houses elsewhere in Los Angeles. This was, however, a false representation of the family as it was cousins, relatives, and children who owned these houses. Many Angelenos consider the siege of the LASD on Manuel Arechiga as The Battle of Chavez Ravine. Arechiga eventually relented and accepted the city's offer of $10,500. After a decade, the battle was finally over.
- Hines, Thomas S. "Field of Dreams History: The Battle of Chavez Ravine." Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1997, Opinion section, p. 1.
- McGarry, T.W. "Postscript: 'My Grandchildren Go to the Games . . . The Dodgers are my Favorite Team. But I Just Can't Go in That Stadium.'" Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1988, Metro section, p. 3.
- Parlow, Matthew J. "SYMPOSIUM ARTICLE: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: EMINENT DOMAIN AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING," 46 Santa Clara Law Review 841, 2006.
- University of California "calisphere" Photos and Documents (keyword: Arechiga)
- Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles story PBS documentary
- Baxter, Kevin (March 29, 2008), "Orphans of the Ravine", Los Angeles Times