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The First-Ever Olympic Village Was Built in Los Angeles

The 1932 summer Olympic games held in Los Angeles offered a chance for athletes traveling from around the world to experience the very first Olympic Village since the ancient Greeks pitched their tents on the plain of Elis.

Located in Baldwin Hills at the end of West Vernon Place and west of Crenshaw Boulevard, the Village consisted of 550 portable houses were designed and built by H.O. Davis, each measuring 24 by 10 feet. Each house contained two 10 by 10-foot rooms with a connecting shower. Each room housed two athletes, with two beds, two chairs, a dresser, and a lavatory bowl.

Davis enhanced the village with five dining halls, a post office, a radio station, a hospital, a dental laboratory, a fire station, a movie theater, and a 600 foot tall administration building. The total cost for the construction of the village came to be about $500,000.

1,836 male athletes lived there for the duration of the Games of the Xth Olympiad. And in accordance with gender norms of the time, 126 female athletes were excluded from the celebrated village and placed in the Chapman Park Hotel in Mid-Wilshire.

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Female athletes lounging at Chapman Park Hotel | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

The Olympic committee was sensitive to the fact that sending an athlete around the world was very expensive. So they created the cost effective plan to sell every house and all furnishings at the end of the festivities, so they could only charge the athletes $2 a night to stay in the village.

There are no remnants of this village in Baldwin Hills today because every house was sold for $140, or $215 if furnished. Dozens of houses were sold to Californians, many were sent around the United States (including Hawaii), and some were even sent across the world to Germany, Japan, and South Africa.

An article in The Los Angeles Times at the conclusion of the games declared the Olympic Village a success: "'Never,' was the general opinion. 'You can't pen men of all nations together; men from countries, perhaps, who believe they have age-old hatreds; young men whose races, beliefs and ideals conflict.' But Los Angeles did it. They were not penned, these men from all over the world; they were offered a beautiful home that became more than home to them."

Frank Wykoff of Alhambra was a member of the 400-meter relay team in the 1932 games. He recalls, "I'll never forget the elation of living at the Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills. Being able to visit throughout the village, trying to overcome the language differences with representatives of 56 nations was a rare delight."

A row of cottages at Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Aerial look at Olympic Village | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

When the Olympics returned to Los Angeles 52 years later in 1984, the committee saved millions of dollars by housing athletes in dormitories on the USC, UCLA, and UCSB campuses. This contributed to the 84 games ending with a $232.5 million financial surplus.

The sense of awe and appreciation for other cultures has unfortunately been lost on Olympic athletes today who choose to bypass the Olympic Village and instead stay in luxury hotels. John Stockton of the U.S. basketball team once asserted, "We don't intend to make a whole lot of friends here. The Olympic spirit is beating people, not living with them."

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer also preferred hotel rooms to the Olympic village. That year, athletes were housed in what the IOC chairman, Jacques Rogge, called the "best" Olympic village yet. Beijing had built the world's largest green building complex, complete with energy efficient windows, solar and green roofs, and a heat exchange system that collected and reused rainwater for heating and cooling. After the games, these apartments were sold for a million dollars each.

This year, 16,000 Olympic and 6,200 Paralympic athletes and team officials from more than 200 competing countries will stay in the new state-of-the-art Olympic Village in London. There are 2,818 apartments across 11 residential blocks, each built in the traditional London style with a courtyard that offers athletes a private area to relax.

It remains to be seen if this year's Village will keep up the modern Olympic spirit of not making a whole lot of friends.

London 2012 Olympic Village | Photo from www.london2012.com


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