May 19, 2021

Three Mexican-American Neighborhoods Were Destroyed, Their Residents Violently Evicted With Little Or No Compensation, To Clear Land For What Became Dodger Stadium

May 9, 1959: "Los Angeles County Sheriffs forcibly evict Mrs. Aurora Vargas
from her home at 1771 Malvina Avenue in Chavez Ravine."

Dodger Stadium sits on land formerly occupied by three thriving Mexican-American neighborhoods that were destroyed, with the residents receiving little or no compensation for their properties.

Vox's Ranjani Chakraborty and Melissa Hirsch present a short history of Chavez Ravine, which "was one of few places, due to redlining and racist land covenants, that Mexican American families could buy property and build wealth in Los Angeles".

But things changed in the late 1940s. The city characterized the area as "blighted," setting the stage for a decade-long battle by residents to preserve the community against threats of eviction. The majority of residents were forced out so the city could build a public housing project. They were given little to no compensation for their properties — and were also told they could live in the public housing project once it was built. But ultimately, after public housing was deemed "a socialist plot" amid the Red Scare politics of the 1950s, the city's plans for a public housing project fell through. Instead, the final, violent evictions of the 1950s cleared the way for Dodger Stadium.

In addition to Vox's suggestions for further reading, which include Eric Nusbaum's Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between (2020), I would add "Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story", a 26-minute film by Jordan Mechner. According to the Zinn Education Project:

Located in a valley a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, Chávez Ravine was home to generations of Mexican Americans. Named for Julian Chavez, one of the first Los Angeles County Supervisors in the 1800s, Chávez Ravine was a self-sufficient and tight-knit community, a rare example of small town life within a large urban metropolis. For decades, its residents ran their own schools and churches and grew their own food on the land. Chavez Ravine's three main neighborhoods—Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop—were known as a “poor man’s Shangri La.”

The death knell for Chavez Ravine began ringing in 1949 . . . The Federal Housing Act of 1949 granted money to cities from the federal government to build public housing projects. Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron voted and approved a housing project containing 10,000 new units—thousands of which would be located in Chavez Ravine.

Viewed by neighborhood outsiders as a "vacant shantytown" and an "eyesore," Chávez Ravine's 300-plus acres were earmarked by the Los Angeles City Housing Authority as a prime location for re-development. In July 1950, all residents of Chavez Ravine received letters from the city telling them that they would have to sell their homes in order to make the land available for the proposed Elysian Park Heights. . . . Some residents resisted the orders to move and were soon labeled "squatters," while others felt they had no choice and relocated. Most received insubstantial or no compensation for their homes and property.

Using the power of eminent domain, which permitted the government to purchase property from private individuals in order to construct projects for the public good, the city of Los Angeles bought up the land and leveled many of the existing buildings. By August 1952, Chávez Ravine was essentially a ghost town.

The proposed public housing was never built after opponents successfully re-cast the idea of public housing as "un-American" and a socialist plot. A public referendum eventually allowed the former Brooklyn Dodgers to use the land, though the measure passed by a margin of only 3%. Supporters of the stadium (including future California governor and US president Ronald Reagan) called anyone who stood against the deal "baseball haters". Dodgers Stadium opened on April 10, 1962.

Also: Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law is an incredibly well-researched history of how federal, state, and local governments worked together for decades to intentionally impose racial segregation in cities and towns throughout the United States, passing racial zoning laws and offering tax exemptions for racist corporations, handing out subsidies to builders to create whites-only suburbs, and giving support for violence against any form of integration. All of these deliberate and racist acts were upheld by law enforcement and the courts, and the ripple effects from these tragic and disgraceful policies continue to be felt today. Regarding this slice of Americana, perhaps more than most, the past is not even past.

1 comment:

johngoldfine said...

Lenny Bruce, sideswiping the Chavez ravine bs, back in the 50's:

Perhaps Bruce's best dramatization of the con, and certainly his most controversial, was his piece called "Religions Inc." Its premise is the summit meeting
called by the religious leaders of the nation and attended by the day workers in
the field. The metaphor is the corporate convention, and religion is seen as Big
Business, a con for packing the suckers into a tight circle around the snake oil
wagon and fleecing them for all they're worth. But this is no penny ante con.
The spokesman, A.A., comes prepared with charts and statistics: "The graph here
tells the story. . . . For the first time in twelve years, Catholicism is up 9 points.
Judaism is up 15. The Big P, the Pentecostal, is startin' to move finally." Later in
the meeting, and getting deeper into business, a question arises about what to do
with a valuable tract of "the Heavenly Land" that has just been acquired-Chavez
Ravine. Since it is a matter of real estate, Rabbi Weiss is called on for his expert
opinion. "I think we should subdivide," he says. On a smaller scale, A.A. announces
the new line for the coming year from the religious novelty house: "the gen-yewine Jewish-star-lucky-cross an' cigarette-lighter combined; an' we got the kiss-mein-the-dark mehzoozoo . . . an' these wonderful lil' cocktail napkins with some
helluva sayings there-'Another martini for Mother Cabrini.'"