A History of L.A.'s Baseball Stadiums: Stars, Angels, the Battle for Chavez Ravine

Children play among the ruins of L.A.'s Wrigley Field, 1969. Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

Last week, major league baseball returned to Dodger Stadium, a ballpark remembered by sports fans as a classic venue for the national pastime, where Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela once submitted opposing batters under warm summer skies. The ballpark is also known, less proudly, as the culmination of a redevelopment project that displaced Mexican-American families from their hillside community. This story of the stadium's controversial creation, as well as the story of the L.A. ballparks that preceded it, is revealed through photographs and other images from Southern California's archives.

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Stars and Angels
Although the Dodgers became the Southland's first major league baseball team when they moved from Brooklyn in 1958, two Los Angeles stadiums already hosted talented professional baseball clubs.

Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

In South Central Los Angeles, William Wrigley, Jr.'s Los Angeles Angels played in a stadium named after the chewing gum magnate. Though the name Wrigley Field is now associated with Chicago, the L.A. stadium (pictured above) was actually the first in the nation to bear the name.

Wrigley Field, which opened in 1925, was not the Angels' original home. From 1903 to 1912, when the franchise was founded, the Angels played first at Chutes Park, an amusement park at Washington and Main. They then moved two blocks west to Washington Park, a stadium built specifically for baseball.

Washington Park, home of the Los Angeles Angels. Courtesy of the USC Digital Library, California Historical Society Collection.

The Angels were not Wrigley's only baseball team. Wrigley is perhaps better remembered as the owner of the Chicago Cubs, who like several other major league teams made Southern California their spring training home. Unlike other teams, however, the Cubs trained on Wrigley-owned Santa Catalina Island. Their training facility near Avalon is pictured below in a postcard from the Pomona Public Library's Frasher Foto Postcard Collection.

Chicago Cubs' spring training facility on Santa Catalina Island. Courtesy of the Pomona Public Library's Frasher Foto Postcard Collection.

Across town from Wrigley Field, Gilmore Field hosted the Angels' crosstown rivals, the Hollywood Stars. Located at Beverly and Fairfax near the Los Angeles Farmers market and adjacent to the football-oriented Gilmore Stadium, the 13,000-seat Gilmore Field hosted a team that embraced the glamour associated with the show business town. Movie stars were not an unusual sight in the Gilmore Field stands, and the Stars' owners included restaurateur Robert Cobb (the eponymous creator of the Cobb salad) and actor William Frawley of I Love Lucy fame.

Gilmore Field. Courtesy of the LA84 Foundation.

Though minor league clubs, both the Stars and the Angels were members of the highly-competitive Pacific Coast League (PCL). With entrants like the San Francisco Seals, the San Diego Padres, and the Portland Beavers and with access to a talented regional pool of athletes, the league thrived in the absence of National or American League teams on the West Coast.

With the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles in 1957 and the concurrent relocation of the New York Giants to San Francisco, the PCL quickly lost stature and many teams were displaced by new major league arrivals.

In fact, both the Angels and the Stars were forced to relocate in 1958. Gilmore Field was promptly demolished that year. Wrigley Field was spared for over a decade and briefly played host to the newly-formed Los Angeles Angels (no relation to the earlier PCL team) of the American League.

The Dodgers' 3 A.M. Plan
When owner Walter O'Malley announced in October 1957 that the Brooklyn Dodgers would move to Los Angeles the following season, he hadn't decided where his team would play. To secure territorial rights to Los Angeles, O'Malley had purchased both the Angels and Wrigley Field. However, the thirty-year old minor league park seated only 22,000 fans, which spurred O'Malley to search for a higher-capacity stadium. He also considered the Rose Bowl, but was dissuaded by the cost of converting the Pasadena stadium for baseball use. Eventually, he settled on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In what O'Malley described as his "3 A.M. Plan", proposed just four months before the Dodgers were due to arrive in Los Angeles, a baseball diamond would be wedged into a stadium designed for football and track sports. The narrow playing surface required a 42-foot tall screen along the left field wall, only 251 feet distant from home plate, and a short, temporary fence along center and left field. The photograph below, from the USC Libraries' Los Angeles Examiner Collection, shows the unusual field dimensions of the Coliseum during the Dodgers' Opening Day in 1958.

The Los Angeles Dodgers host the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day, 1958, inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Courtesy of the USC Libraries' Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

Los Angeles Coliseum on the Dodgers' Opening Day 1958. Courtesy of the USC Libraries' Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

Battle for Chavez Ravine
The Coliseum was a temporary solution, but the Dodgers still needed a permanent home. With the help of the City of Los Angeles, they found one in the hills just north and west of Downtown Los Angeles.

In 1951, the city announced plans to raze the Mexican-American community of Chavez Ravine and construct in its place a public housing project, Elysian Park Heights. Architect RichardNeutra's vision for the development is the pictured below in an image courtesy of the Southern California Library for Social Studies & Research, which preserves the photographic records of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

Using the power of eminent domain, the city purchased much of the land and the hillside houses in preparation of the housing project. The political winds soon shifted, though, and in the midst of the Red Scare the idea of a government-run housing project fell out of favor.

By then, the community was largely abandoned. While some holdouts remained, most residents had already sold their property, and much of Chavez Ravine sat vacant for years. Finally in 1957, the city agreed to swap the land with the Dodgers in return for the team's interest in Wrigley Field.

On May 9, 1959, the city evicted the final holdouts, Manuel and Abrana Arechiga, from their Chavez Ravine home. In a moment captured in a photo below, the Arechiga's daughter, Aurora Vargas, resisted and was carried off the property by L.A. County Sheriff's deputies enforcing the eviction order.

The family's removal paved the way for Dodger Stadium's groundbreaking only four months later.

Chavez Ravine in 1950. Courtesy of the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles Photograph Collection.

Architect Richard Neutra's vision for the Elysian Park Heights development. Courtesy of the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles Photograph Collection.

A lone house amid construction for Dodger Stadium, 1960. Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

Final eviction from Chavez Ravine on May 9, 1959. Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

Dodger Stadium under construction on May 25, 1960. Courtesy of the USC Libraries' Los Angeles Examiner Collection

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

The images in this post from UCLA's Young Research Library are used under a Creative Commons license.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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