Thursday, March 13, 2014


We'll let Terry Cannon, the Executive Director of The Baseball Reliquary, weigh in on the history of Chavez Ravine (a key incident from which is featured in one of Ben Sakoguchi's best "orange crate art" renderings--a moment that truly lives up to the project's "in yo face" title: The Unauthorized Histoy of Baseball. Here's Terry:

Chavez Ravine, home of the Dodgers, is a landmark in the contentious political and cultural history of Los Angeles. In 1949, the L.A. City Council unanimously approved a public housing project for the Ravine, long coveted by public and private interests for the land's proximity to downtown Los Angeles. Residents of the Mexican-American community that lived in Chavez Ravine were sent eviction notices and the city began to buy land, condemn houses, and, where needed, take possession of property by right of "eminent domain."

With Cold War hysteria and rampant fears that public housing was a form of "creeping socialism," the Chavez Ravine project was eventually canceled. By the mid-1950s, when L.A. city officials discovered that Walter O'Malley was looking for a new home for the Brooklyn Dodgers, they began a courting process which resulted in the City Council granting O'Malley 300 acres in Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium.

Although the Dodgers would soon become a centerpiece of regional popular culture in southern California, the transfer of public property into private hands aroused the vehement opposition of community activists, who deplored the dubious manipulations of downtown L.A.'s propertied elite in displacing the residents of Chavez Ravine.

And thus a new era in the business history of baseball was cemented into place, wherein wealthy owners were given a preferential form of welfare in order to secure a major league franchise. This practice would become widespread and encompass many creative (and dubious) variations over the next fifty years.

The scene depicted by Ben in Chavez Ravine Brand is a slightly punched-up version of the photographs taken when the last family holding out in Chavez Ravine, the Arechigas, were forcibly removed from their homes in May 1959. The appearance of the lone orange tree in the right-hand background is a testament to something else that disappeared from the southern California landscape.

For an evocative view of Chavez Ravine before the arrival of the Dodgers, take a look at the video (below) and peruse Don Normark's superb pictorial record in Chavez Ravine, 1949.

A fine on-line overview of the eviction process can be found in Linda Christenson's Stealing Home, at the Rethinking Schools web site.

Ironically, the on-line version of Hector Becerra's retrospective article about "the battle of Chavez Ravine" and the bitterness of the lingering memories created by the destruction of the communities located there is accompanied by an ad offering discounts on tickets to Dodgers games.