When the Los Angeles Angels Flew to Anaheim

Anaheim Stadium rises from a former cornfield in Anaheim in 1966. Photo by George R. Fry, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.

How could the Angels call any place but Los Angeles their home? After all, the club's name directly referred to the city, and there had been a team named the Los Angeles Angels since the first decade of the 20th Century, when the minor-league Los Angeles Looloos wisely opted for a more dignified nickname. So it's easy to understand why, when the Angels began to voice their displeasure over their second-class citizenship at Dodger Stadium, L.A.'s political leadership scrambled to keep the team within the city limits. A city council member proposed a new stadium at the site of Pacoima's Hansen Dam. Mayor Sam Yorty offered up the empty bowl of the damaged Baldwin Hills Reservoir. But some forty miles to the south in rapidly suburbanizing Orange County, the city of Anaheim and its mayor, Rex Coons, lured the team with an offer too sweet to refuse: a publicly financed ballpark, a 35-year lease, and the chance to build a new fan base among Orange County's growing population.

No one would have described the site of the Angels' new stadium as heavenly on August 30, 1964, when team owner Gene Autry and other dignitaries thrust their golden shovels into the ground and turned the tired soil of a bulldozed cornfield. A row of eucalyptus trees -- the remnants of a windbreak -- towered above the three wooden stakes marking the future location of home plate. Tumbleweeds rolled nearby, while in the distance, beyond parallel rows of alfalfa and an orange grove, State College Boulevard hummed with traffic. Still, the mood was festive. A couple of Anaheim's most distinguished citizens -- Goofy and Mickey Mouse -- were on hand to participate, as were a Marine Corps band and several Hollywood stars. Even Mayor Yorty of Los Angeles dropped in to wish the team well.

Work began almost as soon as the groundbreaking ceremony adjourned. Contractor Del E. Webb, who happened to own part of the New York Yankees, had little time to spare: he had pledged to complete the $15.8 million stadium by the opening day of the 1966 season. Over the next 20 months, Webb's construction workers poured 42,000 cubic yards of concrete, laid 7 million pounds of reinforcing steel and 8 million pounds of structure steel, and installed 1,900 light bulbs. City leaders, meanwhile, announced that the park would bear the city's name, since they had agreed to let the ballclub rebrand itself generically as the California Angels. (Also considered: "Southern California Angels" and "Orange County Angels.")

When Anaheim Stadium opened on April 19, 1966 (Chicago White Sox 3, California Angels 1), it was a monument to its time. Designed by Noble W. Herzberg, the stadium -- since renamed Edison International Field and then Angel Stadium of Anaheim -- looked almost futuristic from the expansive parking lot, like a massive, squat spaceship on its launch pad. Four sets of cantilevered ramps protruded from the hull, and a sleek command center (or office pavilion) stood behind home plate. Instead of paint, a material containing quartz crystals coated the exterior walls, which made the concrete glisten under the night lights. Inside, a symmetrical, three-tiered grandstand afforded close views of the field from its 43,204 plastic seats, while the open outfield allowed glimpses of the Chino Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains. But nothing caught the eye as much as the Big A: a 230-foot-tall A-shaped scoreboard that stood just behind the outfield fence. Naturally, a halo topped the structure, which helped the Angels feel a little more at home despite the long freeway drive that now separated them from their eponymous city.

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Anaheim Mayor Odra Chandler and contractor Del Webb look on as Angels owner Gene Autry and actress Pat Wymore break ground on Anaheim Stadium on August 30, 1966. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Visitors from Disneyland present a sort of pennant to Angels manager Bill Rigney at the Anaheim Stadium groundbreaking. Photo by Ben Olender, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Anaheim Stadium and the surrounding parking rose from formerly agricultural land once devoted to growing corn, alfalfa, and oranges. Here, bulldozers clear the site for construction. Courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library Photograph Collection on Anaheim Local History (accession number P16616).

An aerial view of the Anaheim Stadium construction site from February 1965 with landmarks labeled. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi with a model of the Big A scoreboard. The team's players supported the move since they found Dodger Stadium's quick infield and pitcher-friendly dimensions ill-suited to the team's style. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Aerial view of Anaheim Stadium under construction on January 23, 1966. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Workers erect a light tower in Anaheim Stadium's outfield in early 1966. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Aerial view of Anaheim Stadium under construction in 1966. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Another 1966 aerial view of Anaheim Stadium under construction. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Aerial view of Anaheim Stadium on April 9, 1966, when it hosted its first exhibition game. Photo by Ben Olender, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Circa 1966 view of an Anaheim Stadium concession stand. Courtesy of the Anaheim Public Library Photograph Collection on Anaheim Local History (accession number P16619).

As this 1967 of a rain-delayed game shows, the stadium originally featured no bleachers or grandstands beyond the outfield. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Mount Baldy and an orange grove frame this Big A and Anaheim Stadium in this undated photograph. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

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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