Photo Credit: FreshJive
WHILE LOS ANGELES’S sports fans are anxious over the still unresolved and perpetually ongoing saga of the Frank McCourt divorce and its potential to reap utterly negative consequences upon the franchise, possibly leaving it to Major League Baseball to step in — or owner Frank McCourt having to split the Dodgers in half with his wife — and now with an absolutely deplorable and savage beating of a Giants’ fan, Bryan Stow, leaving him in a coma at the beginning of this baseball season; some in the city are pointing fingers and becoming very critical of just how the Dodgers are being managed off the field of play. It is mostly the uncertainty surrounding the team now and the lack of security in the venerable stadium in recent years, along with “the element” McCourt supposedly attracted through his economical marketing promotions, often involving the sales of beer, and which is presumed to be a culprit in the Stow attack, that the Dodgers franchise now find themselves in a bad way with a segment of its faithful public.
But the McCourt case and even the Stow beating, are a mere pebble compared to the boulder of a problem that the building of now-timeworn and iconic Dodger Stadium was, in order to get the Dodgers here; an event which exposed the racial cleavages between whites and Latinos in the city, in the 1950s, just years after the Zoot Suit Riots. (One can argue that the recent ramping up of security by Dodgers’ management and the Los Angeles Police Department, and their perceived racial profiling of Latino Dodger fans, in particular — one of the team’s courted and stalwart patronages — in response to the most recent controversy, has also shown this, in the aftermath of the Stow incident.)
Prior to Chavez Ravine housing Dodger Stadium, the area was home to a community of mostly Mexican-Americans spread among a conglomeration of three smaller towns by the names of Bishop, La Loma and Palo Verde. The 175 acre tract of land was originally inhabited by 3,800 residents and named after Julian Chavez, the original landowner, and early Los Angeles councilman in the 1800s. Once a parcel tended to by the state government, over time, Chavez Ravine became a neglected area where its inhabitants relied heavily upon each other, and where they created a communal garden, began to hold social functions and essentially produced a de facto ghetto or ethnic enclave, depending on how one wants to parse it. But more importantly, it became a tightly-bound, respectable community. However, as many of these stories go concerning resource-neglected and predominantly minority communities, Chavez’s perception to those on the outside in surrounding Los Angeles, found it to be a less-than desirable blight. This began a move to look to re-develop the swath with 10,000 new units furnished by the 1949 Federal Housing Act.
Through several political machinations to clear the land by a group of local business elite known as Citizens Against Sociable Housing (C.A.S.H.) — that acronym is some kind of irony! — and a grand deceit on part of the local government who promised Chavez’s residents first crack at the new homes being built and also largely recanted a promise of compensations to those who were dislocated; the Ravine became a ward to the city at a bargain-basement price of $1.25 million (a 75 percent discount), but only under the federal government’s required auspice of using it for a “public purpose.” This “public purpose” condition was the byproduct of negotiations by mayor, Norris Poulson, a man essentially elected through the works of C.A.S.H., and who ran on an anti-housing development platform for Chavez Ravine.
The individuals who made up C.A.S.H. had plans for the Ravine all along and to “cake-up,” as we say now, but several failed attempts by the city to do anything with the space made it a nuisance to some in the local government, and a portion of the original homes were cleared to be used for firefighter training, while others were just stripped and sold piece meal at auction. At that point, still unable to find that federally mandated public purpose for the area, Chavez Ravine could have just been handed back to its original community, who were now seen as squatters; to do with it what they once did, and which would meet the federal requirements for its selling. That didn’t happen.
But that was just the beginning, because Brooklyn Dodger owner and legend Walter O’Malley wanted to move West and showed interest in the spot, or at least used it as bargaining chip to have Brooklyn help him build the new stadium he was looking for. And so began a battle with a series of dramatic turns that speaks to the powerful and their flagrant moral abuses of power to make money, with little regard for people, and which is outlined at luminary Los Angeles street wear company’s, FreshJive‘s, blog. Here is an excerpt:
Playing off the needs of both coasts, O’Malley spent much of 1957 considering the idea of staying on the east coast or heading west. Facing mounting pressure from city businesses and politicians to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles, Mayor Paulson gathered city officials together to begin planning a way to bring the Dodgers to L.A. Considering the legal and financial solutions of the move, Mayor Paulson found that his biggest obstacle lay in the rhetoric of the legalities, as the construction of a stadium did not serve as an “appropriate public purpose” to the citizens of Los Angeles.
After rejecting O’Malley’s proposition to build a new stadium in New York, the Dodger’s owner’s attention turned to Los Angeles. Receiving approval from the National Baseball League to pursue a move to the west coast, Walter O’Malley was given until September 30th, 1957 to make his decision. Amongst mounting pressure from the Los Angeles Times urging city officials to bring baseball to Los Angeles at any cost, The Los Angeles City Council sat down to propose a deal to attract the Dodgers. Crafting what would later be considered a “sweetheart deal” with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the city of Los Angeles offered to trade 300 acres of the Chavez Ravine land, while taking on over $4 million towards the construction and grading of the ravine. In return the Dodgers would trade the 9-acre Wrigley Field property owned by O’Malley, while paying $350,000 in annual property tax. Additionally, the deal called for the Dodgers to maintain a 40-acre public park for 20 years that would become the property of the Dodgers after the duration was over: the small stipulation regarding the 40-acre park serving as a sly political maneuver aimed to make the deal appear as though the agreement served an “appropriate public purpose.”
Needing a two-thirds vote to confirm the deal by midnight of September 30th, a 14 member city council met to decide the fate of Chavez Ravine. Debating throughout the day and into the night, a deal had not been confirmed as the council grew closer to midnight. Eager to conclude the dispute and bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles, Mayor Paulson lied in front of press and media, telegramming the National Baseball League that the council had reached an agreement when in fact they hadn’t. The lie spurred an unexpected series of events. Although facing immense backlash from city council, the National Baseball League extended their deadline two more weeks, allowing O’Malley more time to declare his decision. Taking another week to reach a verdict, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of the Chavez Ravine deal in a ten to four vote, officially allowing for the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles.
Read more of “For the Love of Baseball: The Battle for Chavez Ravine” [Here]