Dodger Stadium and the emergence of a modern Los Angeles

As the Dodgers compete in the World Series, we look at how the construction of Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine symbolized the birth of a modern Los Angeles.

Dodger Stadium is now an icon of midcentury Los Angeles. But its birth was a painful one, and the battles over its construction tore Angelenos apart even as it now brings communities together.

As Los Angeles celebrates the Boys in Blue getting back into the World Series for the first time in almost 30 years, we recall the controversial early days of this beloved stadium, and why “the city downtown establishment wanted Dodger Stadium to be the first piece in the building of a modern world class downtown Los Angeles,” says historian Jerald Podair.

Podair, author of “City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles,” finds that the Dodgers may have never left Brooklyn 60 years ago if it hadn’t been for a deal hatched between LA city officials and real estate businessman Walter O’Malley.

“One of the things that struck me in researching this book is how little O’Malley knew about Los Angeles in 1957. When he announced the move, he had only been to Los Angeles three times in his life for a total of less than 10 days. He needed a map to get to Chavez Ravine,” Podair said.

What O’Malley didn’t know is that Chavez Ravine had been the site of a proposed public housing project in a community of Mexican-Americans. Most of the residents were either bought out or evicted by eminent domain. The housing project, to be designed by Richard Neutra, was cancelled, and the stadium moved forward with the support of liberal and conservative city leaders.

One of the long-standing ironies of the Dodgers is that Latinos are among the team’s biggest fans, even though many Mexican-American families were uprooted to build the stadium.

Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson and Los Angeles Examiner sportswriter Bob Hunter survey Chavez Ravine for a proposed Dodge ballpark. Photo taken March 13, 1957
Los Angeles City Councilman John Holland speaks against the Dodger contract. Photo taken September 30, 1957
Mayor Norris Poulson celebrates City Council approval of the Dodger contract. Photo taken October 7, 1957
A Los Angeles Coliseum worker prepares the field for Dodger baseball. Photo taken January 22, 1958
Photograph caption dated January 14, 1959 reads, “Walter O’Malley gets the word from state supreme court: ball in Chávez Ravine. Dodger owner (second from left) tosses baseball to Atty. Harry Walsh before photo-sketch of proposed stadium area as Buzzy Bavasi (left) and Atty. Joe Crider, Jr. look on. Court upholds stadium contract 7-0.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
President Walter O’Malley of the L.A. Dodgers holds up a shovel souvenir of yesterday’s groundbreaking ceremonies at Chavez Ravine for the Dodger Stadium, where he hopes to play by next July. Dated September 18, 1959. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Several Chavez Ravine residents fought eviction, including Aurora Vargas, who vowed that, “they’ll have to carry me [out].” L.A. County Sheriffs forcibly removed Vargas from her home. In this photo Mrs. Manuel Arechiga (mother of Aurora Vargas) and her two dogs are led away, as reporter Clete Roberts attempts to do an interview. Bulldozers then knocked over the few remaining dwellings; four months later, ground-breaking for Dodger Stadium began. Photo dated: May 8, 1959. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
The night of “Ocho de Mayo,” a date that will live in infamy for Chavez Ravine folks (May 8, 1959). Friends sit around a warming fire with some of those who were evicted from their homes to make way for Dodger Stadium. Mrs. Augustain is sleeping on the cot. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Several Chavez Ravine residents fought eviction, including Aurora Vargas, who vowed that, “they’ll have to carry me [out].” Here, L.A. County Sheriffs forcibly remove Vargas from her home. Bulldozers then knocked over the few remaining dwellings; four months later, ground-breaking for Dodger Stadium began. Photograph dated May 8, 1959. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Excavation of land at Chavez Ravine for future Dodger Stadium. Photo taken June 15, 1960
Photograph caption dated August 26, 1960 reads, “With apparently all obstacles now out of the way, actual construction of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ baseball stadium can get under way. Happily examining a scale model of the 56,000-seat park to be located in Chávez Ravine are (left to right) Dodger officials Dick Walsh, President Walter O’Malley and Buzzy [sic] Bavasi. Construction contract is signed.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Photograph caption dated November 21, 1960 reads, “Walter O’Malley, president of the Los Angeles Dodgers (left) and Del Webb, view model of new Dodger Stadium as they go into a huddle over plans for the American League move to this area.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Photograph caption dated February 25, 1961 reads, “This view shows some of the piers for the grandstands. Playing field is at left. There will be lounge and powder room facilities on all levels of the new stadium. The park will have the largest baseball parking area in the country, over 16,000 individual slots.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Photograph caption dated February 16, 1961 reads, “Work ahead of schedule in Chavez Ravine.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
A symbolic key to Dodger stadium was presented to president Walter O’Malley. Making the presentation at the Dedication Ceremonis are Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick (left) and National League President Warren Giles. Photograph dated April 9, 1962. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Photograph caption dated December 12, 1961 reads, “Plans were revealed yesterday for a gigantic civic celebration in conjunction with the opening of the new Dodger Stadium next April. Shown admiring the model of the baseball showplace are: Walter O’Malley, Dodger president; Mayor Sam Yorty; H.C. McClellan, chairman of the dedication committee; ex-mayor Norris Poulson; Gene Autry, Angel owner; and Bob Reynolds, Angel president.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
An aerial photo from April 12, 1962 shows construction underway on the new Dodger Stadium and parking lot in Chavez Ravine. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Construction of Dodger Stadium, built for $23 million, the first privately financed Major League Baseball stadium since Yankee Stadium was built in the 1920s. According to the Herald-Examiner’s Morton Moss, Chavez Ravine had turned into a “vast monument of multi-colored steel concrete and terraced asphalt surrounding a barbered acreage of scalloped greenery.” Dated March 11, 1962. Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Photograph caption dated April 10, 1962 reads, “No, this isn’t an on-ramp to a toll road. Nor is it a traffic jam. It’s an auto lineup of anxious baseball fans waiting at Solano Street entrance to new Dodger Stadium today. Note ambulance waiting in extreme right lane of photo. Solano entrance is one of five access roads busy early today routing 56,000 fans making beeline to Dodger opener in $18 million stadium.” Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Aerial view of downtown Los Angeles, showing Dodger Stadium during the final stages of its construction in the foreground. Security Pacific National Bank Collection /Los Angeles Public Library
Close-up view of a Dodger player’s hat, glove, and ball left on the field, January 11, 1989. James Ruebsamen, Herald-Examiner Collection / Los Angeles Public Library