Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Emergo was a fake skeleton hanging from a wire that was pulled out into the audience. My little hometown theater didn't have it, alas.
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What the well-dressed IT administator is wearing for 1959. Note the Librascope LGP-30, which had 113 vacuum tubes and 1,450 diodes.
||This menu from Earl Carroll's nightclub has been listed on EBay. Isn't the artwork great? Bidding starts at $22.
Chavez Has Become a State of MindBe quiet, all of you.
Stop that frantic whispering. Calm down.
I'm not going to begin until I have your complete, undivided attention.
There, that's better.
The subject of my travelogue lecture today is "With Rod and Gun Through Chavez Ravine."
And don't move for the exits.
Just because I've never been there doesn't mean that I'm not an authority.
Let's face it. We're all authorities.
And besides, every absolute, positive fact with which I'm going to enlighten you is based on indisputable, carefully researched and documented hearsay.
The truth of the matter is, there're some folks in that gully who some other folks wish were someplace else.
Those are just my surface observations.
I go deeper.
But before I do, I want to make one point clear:
I'm for those families who refuse to be budged.
I take this stand partly because I believe that the people are honestly and genuinely fighting against what they believe is injustice.
And partly because I don't like to be spattered with tomatoes by emotional strangers.
However, before I sign any petition, I'd like to review a few of the facts:
The Arechiga family, on whom nearly all of the Chavez Ravine publicity has centered, had its property legally condemned half a dozen years ago. The family was told to leave then. Since 1953, a check for $10,050 (the condemnation price of the property) has been waiting for them.
But the Arechigas didn't leave -- and as a result, they've been living rent-free and tax-free on the property ever since.
The amount saved by them adds up to quite a bit.
But there's another matter to be considered.
The property was condemned to make way for a public housing project, which never materialized.
Therefore, legally and morally, should the city be obliged to return all properties seized to their original owners? Or to those owners who still want to buy their properties back?
Legally, apparently not.
But morally, I wonder.
Obviously, the city felt it had no moral obligation. And the city's stand was endorsed by its citizenry, which voted in favor of the Dodger contract on a very tense day last June.
The question as to who's right and who's wrong, I'm afraid, is a moot one.
I'm just sorry that some people in Chavez Ravine got the boot so ungracefully.
I'm even sorrier for them if the "principles" which made them martyrs weren't 100% their own. If some other parties gave them a bum steer or two.
O Weep Ye for O'Malley
I'm sorry for the sheriff's deputies who were given the very dirty job of bodily removing the reluctant families. It's too bad that the officials who botched up matters in the first place weren't ordered to put on their old clothes and do the evicting themselves.
And while I'm sympathizing, I suppose I ought to say a kind word about poor Walter O'Malley.
When he was at the bartering table with our city fathers, he was assured that the city and the people standing between him and Chavez Ravine would iron out their differences peacefully and amiably.
Now, through no fault of his own, he's the most despised landlord since Squire Cribbs tried to kick out poor old Missus Wilson.*
* A reference to "The Drunkard" -- a melodrama that was performed for decades in Los Angeles.
May 8, 1959: Councilman Edward R. Roybal meets with the Arechiga family at Curtis Street and Malvina Avenue, where they camped out in their fight against being evicted from Chavez Ravine.
Photograph by Harry Chase / Los Angeles Times
Sept. 16, 1959: Groundbreaking for Dodger Stadium.
Eric Avila is an associate professor of Chicano studies, history and urban planning at UCLA. His book, "Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight," deals in part with the Dodgers’ decision to move to Los Angeles and the construction of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. He answered questions about the Dodgers and Chavez Ravine in an e-mail interview with Keith Thursby.
I realized that Dodger Stadium was another component of this new suburban culture that was taking shape in L.A. during the postwar period. Along with shopping malls, television, theme parks, movies, Dodger Stadium emerged as one of the new cultural institutions that defined the identity of Los Angeles during the 1950s. Thus, I saw the need to include it in my book.
Photograph by Hackley / Los Angeles Mirror-News
Jan. 9, 1952: Homes being cleared from Chavez Ravine.
It's not surprising to me that the Times didn't cover the conditions of community life in the Chavez Ravine during the 1950s, except to emphasize that the ravine was a worthless piece of land -- a "junkyard," I think it called that neighborhood -- in need of redevelopment. But it's important to remember that by the time the Dodgers had agreed to move to Los Angeles, most of the residents of the ravine had already moved out, based on an earlier promise from the city that public housing was going to be built in the area. I can only speculate on their disappointment when they learned that the project was canceled, fueled by the later discovery that the city was going to subsidize O'Malley's bid to build a stadium on the site. And that was the crux of the opposition to the "Sweetheart deal" between O'Malley and City Hall: that the city reneged on its promise to build housing for poor people because government-subsidized housing was "socialistic," then turned around and subsidized (Walter) O'Malley's bid to build a stadium in the area (I spell out the terms of that deal in my book). Many Angelenos saw that as pure hypocrisy (and it very much reminds me of current accusations of "socialism" in the U.S.).
The Los Angeles Times wholeheartedly endorsed the plan to build a stadium in Chavez Ravine, and mocked the plight of the Arechiga family as staged theatrics. Over and over again, the LAT emphasized the imperative to build Dodger Stadium in the ravine -- this was after it denounced public housing as a "socialist scheme" -- and it played upon local fears that if the public did not approve the construction of Dodger Stadium, that the Dodgers would pack up and go back to New York. Basically, The Times initially played upon local Cold War anxieties to defeat the proposal to build public housing in the ravine, and then became the biggest cheerleader for bringing the Dodgers to Chavez Ravine.
The city and The Times used scare tactics to the effect of "if you don't vote for Proposition B, then the Dodgers will leave L.A. and find another city more willing to accommodate their interests." No evidence of this, of course, but that's how The Times advocated its side of the controversy. What many people don't realize is that Proposition B passed by a narrow margin: Many people did not approve of the deal between the city and the Dodgers, as they felt that the city was giving away too much to bring the Dodgers to L.A. In other words, the Dodgers arrived amidst a great deal of controversy and by no means was there any kind of consensus about their arrival in Southern California.
As far as I can tell, the Times -- historically a major proprietor of downtown real estate and business -- was invested in boosting the centrality of downtown, especially in light of the rapid suburbanization that was occurring in the larger urban region. Thus, both the Music Center and the stadium were central to downtown revitalization -- one would attract wealthy elites and the other would attract middle and working class consumers. It was all about their geographic proximity to the downtown core.
The long-term reverberations of the evictions left a residue of bitterness among many local Mexican Americans, who remember a much longer history of displacement and dispossession in California and the U.S. West. For many of these people, the televised spectacle of this Mexican family being forcibly evicted from their homes resonated within a larger historical context of the American conquest of Mexico and the subordination of Mexican Americans within a new political, economic and racial order.
This essentially is what my book is about, so I can't recite the entire argument for you here, but basically, Dodger Stadium was another component of a new suburban culture that took shape in Southern California that catered to white middle class suburban consumers who sought safe, convenient and controlled cultural experiences that were removed from the historic diversity and perceived dangers of the city. Disneyland, shopping malls, freeways were all part of this new suburban culture. True, Dodger Stadium was in the heart of the city, but it was a self-contained island of sports entertainment (defined at the time as "wholesome family entertainment"), lodged upon a hilltop ravine, insulated by a massive parking lot and easily accessed by the new freeways.
Photograph by Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times
May 2, 1964: A large crowd packs into Dodger Stadium for a Sunday afternoon game. It looks like every parking spot is taken.
8. Let's talk about another scenario. What do you think the Dodgers would have done if they were somehow not able to play in Chavez Ravine? What might have become of the area and the people still living there? And would the Dodgers playing somewhere other than Chavez Ravine been better for the region in the long run?
Before Walter O'Malley announced his decision to move his team to L.A., he quietly purchased some 11 acres of land in South-Central L.A. which included, I believe, an old baseball diamond known as Wrigley Field. Initially, there was some speculation that O'Malley would build his stadium there. And in fact, the African American community--loyal fans of Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers -- expressed its great hope that the Dodgers would settle somewhere in the vicinity of South-Central L.A. The city, however, boosted by the cheerleading of the L.A. Times, proposed what was essentially a gift of the Chavez Ravine (since it had already been cleared initially for a defunct public housing project) to O'Malley, which O'Malley accepted in exchange for the 11 acres in South-Central, much to the chagrin of the black community. The huge irony of course is that now there is some talk about moving the Dodgers out of the ravine somewhere closer to downtown to build one those retro ballparks that are in fashion now, which likely could have been Wrigley Field in South-Central LA. All the makings were there, but instead the city and The Times opted for the Chavez Ravine. As for the community that occupied the ravine prior to its clearance for public housing, I suppose it may very well have become gentrified in the way that Echo Park has become in recent years. Imagine a craftsman home in the heart of Elysian Park!