Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between – Eric Nusbaum
The story, as I had heard it, was that Walter O’Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was looking to replace Ebbets Field and, after running into resistance from city officials on acquiring the land he needed, he turned his sights west, landing in Chavez Ravine and displacing Mexican immigrants who had called that area home. In Stealing Home, Eric Nusbaum tells the story which is somewhat more nuanced than that.
Nusbaum weaves three tales, one of the Aréchigas family, one of Frank Wilkinson, and one of the Dodgers, which coalesce in the hills of what is now referred to as Chavez Ravine, but at the time was the neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop. The Aréchigas put down roots in Palo Verde after emigrating from Mexico by way of Arizona, raising multiple generations in their humble abode. Frank Wilkinson, meanwhile, had a vision for public housing that needed a place to build, and the neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop were the unlucky winners. As eminent domain notices went out to the affected families, including the Aréchigas, plans for the housing project hit a snag when Wilkinson was outed as a communist. You would think this would have put a stop to the evictions, but no.
Following protracted negotiations, the city council convinced Walter O’Malley to uproot the Dodgers and move to Los Angeles and they purchased the Chavez Ravine property back from the Federal Housing Authority, with the stipulation that the land be used for a public purpose. In June of 1958, 2 months after the Dodgers began their first season in LA, voters approved a “Taxpayers Committee for Yes on Baseball” referendum, which enabled O’Malley to acquire 352 acres of Chavez Ravine from the city in exchange for Wrigley Field (the Los Angeles version). After additional legal challenges, including the eventual removal of the Aréchigas, ground was broken on Dodger Stadium in September of 1959, and it opened for business on April 10, 1962. The abandoned Palo Verde elementary school, which taught multiple generations of Aréchigas children, was simply buried and sits beneath the parking lot northwest of third base.
At the end of the day, multiple sources converged to remove the Mexican families from their homes in order to ultimately build a baseball stadium. While the Dodgers have taken the majority of the blame over the years, had the original housing project either gone through to completion or never started in the first place, the land would not have been available for them to swoop in and overtake. Had Walter O’Malley thrown a little extra money at the problem, it may have soothed a lot of hurt feelings. This was an important story that I’m glad was finally told, filling in many of the holes of the popular myth.