They Moved Mountains to Build Dodger Stadium

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

They literally moved mountains to create Dodger Stadium. Between 1959 and 1962, an army of construction workers shifted eight-million cubic yards of earth and rock in the hills above downtown Los Angeles, refashioning the rugged terrain once known as the Stone Quarry Hills into a modern baseball palace.

Controversy surrounds the stadium's origins. First, a never-realized public housing project erased an entire Mexican American community from Chavez Ravine. Later, the city of Los Angeles enticed Walter O'Malley's Dodgers to the site with what council member Ed Roybal called a "sweetheart deal." But once ground was broken on September 19, 1959, the construction of Dodger Stadium -- a project overseen by O'Malley and architect Emil Praeger and executed by Alhambra-based Vinnell Constructors -- was a relatively straightforward project of muscle and machinery.

Workers met their greatest challenge in the site's topography. Steep slopes and deep ravines had long sheltered the Elysian Hills (also called the Stone Quarry or Rock Quarry hills) from intensive development. In 1883, the city set aside the northern half of the land, then considered worthless, as Elysian Park. The other half eventually became home to the bucolic neighborhoods of Bishop, La Loma, and Palo Verde.

But the rough terrain was no match for modern industrial technology. In a little less than 31 months, nineteen giant earthmovers relocated eight million cubic yards of earth, flattening hills and filling in gullies across the 300-acre site. At the highest point, a 726-foot promontory variously called Mount Lookout, Silverwood Hill, and O'Malley Hill, they amputated the peak and carved an amphitheater into the mountainside that would serve as the stadium's foundation. (The landform named Chavez Ravine remained intact. Stadium Way runs through it today.)

Building the 124-foot grandstand was almost as herculean a task as the grading. Some 40,000 cubic yards of concrete, including 78 precast frames, and 13 million pounds of reinforcing steel went into the structure. Because the largest precast pieces were too big to move by truck, Vinnell built a six-acre casting yard on the site. To assemble the pieces, the contractor imported a $150,000 crane from Germany that was then was the largest in North America.

At the project's peak, Vinnell employed 342 workers on the site. Total costs ran close to $23 million, including $4.47 million in city and county subsidies.

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Dodger Stadium nearly missed its scheduled opening date after spring storms twice dealt major delays to construction crews. A month before its planned opening, the right field pavilion had yet to rise from the ground. But the workers rallied, and on April 10, 1962, 52,564 fans enjoyed the modern conveniences of O'Malley's new ballpark.

The grandstand's cantilevered design meant that each spectator enjoyed an unobstructed view of the action -- a departure from older stadium designs that placed support structures between fans and the field. And because it was built into the hillside, the grandstand offered easy access from each of its four tiers to the terraced parking lots behind it, minimizing the need for long climbs up stairways.

While the stadium's fresh, modern design might have made a statement on Opening Day 1962, the team didn't. They fell to the Cincinnati Reds, 6 to 3. But the following day, Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax stepped onto the stadium's clay mound and, standing before the bowl-shaped amphitheater that had only recently been carved from a mountainside, hurled a four-hit complete game. The Dodgers won, 6 to 2.

This 1959 architectural drawing of Dodger Stadium did not envision outfield pavilions, which were later added to the design. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

The 1959 plot plan for Dodger Stadium. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

Groundbreaking ceremony for Dodger Stadium on September 19, 1959. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

Grading work for Dodger Stadium, 1960. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Excavation work for Dodger Stadium surrounds a Chavez Ravine house. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US).

Dodger Stadium under construction on November 17, 1960. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

Dodger Stadium under construction on April 28, 1961. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

1961 aerial view of Dodger Stadium construction. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

A closer 1961 aerial view of the stadium under construction. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Another 1961 aerial view of Dodger Stadium construction. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Dodger Stadium construction on July 25, 1961. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - Los Angeles Examiner Collection.

The Dodger Stadium construction site is visible on the left side of this January 1962 panoramic view. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US).

1962 view of a nearly completed Dodger Stadium. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Spring storms delayed the completion of work on Dodger Stadium's field, seen here on February 23, 1962. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Dodgers president Walter O'Malley in front of a nearly completed Dodger Stadium in 1962. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

1962 view of a completed Dodger Stadium. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US).

L.A. as Subject is an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, cultural institutions, and private collectors. 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.

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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