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.
History of Chavez Ravine
For decades, Chavez Ravine was home to generations of Mexican Americans. The area was split up into three smaller neighborhoods: La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop. A tight-knit rural community nestled in a generally urban area, the people of Chavez Ravine were self-sustaining and largely independent of the surrounding city. By 1951, right before the public housing proposal, Chavez Ravine was home to over 1,800 families. The residents of Chavez Ravine were generally poor and relied on farming for income. Many of the families living in Chavez Ravine by the 1950s moved there due to racial housing discrimination in the city. Due to its reputation as a poor, rural area, the neighborhood of Chavez Ravine was viewed as an example of urban decay. Areas seen as suffering from urban blight were targeted by progressive legislation such as the National Housing Act of 1949.
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 Chavez 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. Planned on 54 acres the development included 24 thirteen-story towers and 163 low-rises providing nearly 3,600 new low-cost apartments. 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. Residents were encouraged to sell property through a tiered buy-out scheme which offered increasingly lower amounts to sellers who stalled, exploiting their fear of losing out on the maximum payment, while in reality the prices paid were well below market value. .
Walter O'Malley and the Dodgers
Walter O’Malley’s mission to move the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles is a narrative of controversial business negotiations and political debates. Gaining full control over the Dodgers organization in 1950, O’Malley instantly had much success with multiple World Series appearances and one World Series championship during the 1950s. However, Ebbets Field, the home of Brooklyn Dodgers, was quickly becoming outdated. At first, Walter O’Malley desired a new state-of-the-art stadium in Brooklyn, but due to political strife with local officials, O’Malley’s plans were rejected. Today, many place blame on Robert Moses and other New York City officials for the Dodgers move out of Brooklyn, after they rejected O’Malley’s proposal. O’Malley ultimately turned his sights west after it was clear that he would not obtain what he wanted in New York. Walter O’Malley decided to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958. His decision to move baseball out west is considered to be O’Malley’s most influential legacy. Not only was O’Malley successful in moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles, but he was also instrumental in moving the New York Giants to San Francisco. The dual move was disheartening for New Yorkers, but ultimately proved to be beneficial for both franchises. The migration out west spurred a national trend of teams seeking new homes in previously untapped markets, proving beneficial to Major League Baseball as a whole. Walter O’Malley’s contributions to baseball and his legacy of spreading the sport across the nation is largely celebrated by baseball fans. However, his reputation and legacy is ultimately complicated due to the Battle of Chavez Ravine. Compared to O’Malley, the perspective of those living in, and ultimately removed from Chavez Ravine, is generally unrepresented. For some, O’Malley is seen as a pioneer who helped make America’s national pastime truly national; for others, O’Malley is seen as a fierce and unforgiving business man who orchestrated the destruction and displacement of one of Los Angeles’s historic Mexican-American communities.
Resistance to development
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. As of September 1957, prior to O’Malley’s decision to move west, the territory of Chavez Ravine was still reserved for “public purposes.” On these grounds, the proposal that Chavez Ravine be used for a baseball stadium received considerable backlash. Many did not believe that a professional baseball team served the public or fell under the domain of public purposes. Some Los Angeles officials argued that the area should be used to establish a zoo, citing that a zoo would provide “public recreation” to the city. The eventual decision to move the Dodgers into the publicly reserved Chavez Ravine ultimately only added to the controversy. In 1958, still without a definite location, the Los Angeles City Council eventually approved the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles. However, this decision was ultimately overturned due to the success of a petition that established the need for a public vote to decide whether or not the Dodgers could obtain the land of Chavez Ravine. This decision forced the disappointed O’Malley to ultimately move the Dodgers temporarily into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was not outfitted for baseball. 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.
Resistance to final evictions
There was significant resistance from residents to the evictions. After nearly 10 years, by 1959 Manuel and Abrana Arechiga (often cited as "Avrana"), with their daughter Aurora Vargas (a war 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.
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- 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
- Animation "The Chavez Ravine Story, or What Price Baseball." Carlos Saldaña, December 2002