Chavez Ravine is an area in Sulphur Canyon that is the current site of Dodger Stadium, a baseball venue in Los Angeles, California. It was named for Julian Chavez, a Los Angeles councilman in the 19th century. Chavez originally purchased the land in the Elysian Park area, which eventually grew to about 315 acres, in 1844.
Before being cleared for public housing, Chavez Ravine was made up of the three mostly "Mexican-American" communities of La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop. In the 1940s, the area was a poor, though cohesive, Mexican-American community. Many families lived there because of housing discrimination in other parts of Los Angeles. With the population of Los Angeles expanding, Chavez Ravine was viewed as a prime, underutilized location. The city began to label the area as "blighted" and thus ripe for redevelopment. Through a vote, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, with the assistance of federal funds from the Housing Act of 1949, was designated the task to construct public housing, in large part to address the severe post-World War II housing shortage. Prominent architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander developed a plan for "Elysian Park Heights." The city had already relocated many of the residents of Chavez Ravine when the entire project came to a halt. Fear of communism was sweeping the United States and loud voices in Los Angeles cried that the housing project smacked of socialism.
The land for Dodger Stadium was purchased from local owners/inhabitants in the early 1950s by the City of Los Angeles using eminent domain with funds from the Federal Housing Act of 1949. The city had planned to develop the Elysian Park Heights public housing project which included two dozen 13-story buildings and more than 160 two-story townhouses, in addition to newly rebuilt playgrounds and schools.
Before construction could begin, the local political climate changed greatly when Norris Poulson was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1953. Proposed public housing projects like Elysian Park Heights lost most of their support. Following protracted negotiations, the City of Los Angeles was able to purchase the Chavez Ravine property back from the Federal Housing Authority at a drastically reduced price, with the stipulation that the land be used for a public purpose. It wasn't until the baseball referendum Taxpayers Committee for Yes on Baseball, which was approved by Los Angeles voters on June 3, 1958 that the Dodgers were able to acquire 352 acres (1.42 km²) of Chavez Ravine from the City of Los Angeles. (The Dodgers, from 1958 to 1961, played their home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.)
Los Angeles-based author Mike Davis, in his controversial, often polemical history of the city, City of Quartz, describes the process of gradually convincing Chavez Ravine homeowners to sell. In his book Davis asserts that with nearly all of the original Spanish-speaking homeowners initially unwilling to sell, "developers" representing the city and its public housing authority resorted to offering immediate cash payments, distributed through their Spanish-speaking agents. Once the first sales had been completed, it is said that remaining homeowners were offered lesser amounts of money, some speculate to create a community panic of not receiving fair compensation, or of being left as one of the few holdouts. Some residents continued to hold out, despite the pressure being placed upon them by such "developers," resulting in the Battle of Chavez Ravine, an unsuccessful ten-year struggle by a small number of remaining residents of Chavez Ravine to maintain control of their property, after the substantial majority of the property had been transferred to public ownership, during the period in which the city intended to use the land for the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.
In the end, the project died. A few years later, the city made the controversial decision to trade the land to the Brooklyn Dodgers and their owner Walter O'Malley, in exchange for land around the minor league park Wrigley Field, in a move to provide incentives for a migration to Los Angeles.
Many cities had been subsidizing sports stadiums in an effort to bring prestige to their cities, and Los Angeles was no exception in that the city provided the land on which Dodger Stadium was built as such a subsidy. But in another sense Dodger Stadium is a very major exception to what occurred in other cities (such as San Francisco) in that construction of Dodger Stadium was financed almost entirely by the Dodgers' private funds, not public revenues. With Chavez Ravine slated to become the site of the new Dodger Stadium, the tiny number of remaining members of the Chavez Ravine community were physically forced to relocate, although they were compensated for their properties at fair market valuations. While some had initially left the neighborhood, voluntarily or involuntarily through either the use of eminent domain or condemnation, a number (quite a small number after about 1954) stayed until the end. Eventually the sheriff's department went in with bulldozers and armed men. A few property holders in the area had actually managed to avoid eminent domain proceedings and they were finally bought out by O'Malley. The final holdout eventually accepted the city's offer of $10,500 for his former home. The homes and streets were razed, the larger community having been destroyed years before in the public housing effort. Most people who lived there were pushed out by force, and had no where else to live.
During the years when the Los Angeles Angels were tenants of the Dodgers (1962 through 1965), the Angels referred to the stadium as "Chavez Ravine Stadium" or simply "Chavez Ravine". Los Angeles City Council designated the property as "Dodgertown" in October 2008. The United States Postal Service assigned postal code "Dodgertown, CA 90090" in April 2009.
References in the arts
Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, a film directed by Jordan Mechner, tells the story of how a Mexican American community was destroyed to make way for a low-income public housing project.
A portion of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a mural by Judith F. Baca in the Tujunga Wash Drainage Canal in San Fernando Valley, California, is titled "The Division of the Barrios and Chavez Ravine." It depicts families separated by freeways and the Dodger Stadium in the air like a spaceship.
In 2003, the Urban Performance Troupe Culture Clash, comprising three writers and performers Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, premiered a stage show titled Chávez Ravine at the Mark Taper Forum.
During Dave Dameshek's "Number One Sports" segment on The Adam Carolla Show, Dodger Stadium was often humorously referred to as Chavez Ravine.
At the end of the Twilight Zone episode "The Whole Truth" (1961) Rod Serling says "be particularly careful in explaining to the boss about your grandmother's funeral when you are actually at Chavez Ravine watching the Dodgers."
- Don A. Allen, Los Angeles City Council member, favored building a zoo and a golf course, as well as a baseball stadium, in the Ravine
- City Council member Harold A. Henry, opposed the contract with the Dodgers
- John C. Holland, Los Angeles City Council member, 1943–67, also opposed the pact
- Patrick D. McGee (1916–70), Los Angeles City Council member who opposed the contract
- City Council member L.E. Timberlake, favored the contract
- City Councilwoman Rosalind Wiener Wyman, leader of fight to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles
- The Fascinating History of the First Jewish Cemetery in Los Angeles