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May, 1959 - 60 Years Ago

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Location: San Diego CA - deep in the heart of SoCal

PostPosted: Fri 5/31/19 9:46 pm    Post subject: May, 1959 - 60 Years Ago Reply with quote

There's been a lot of discussion this month about the events of May, 1959 as the Dodgers played their second season in L.A.

The first momentous event was the anniversary of the celebrated exhibition game between the Dodgers and Yankees on May 7, "Campy's Night" at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum--a sentimental but uplifting evening as Dodger fans in L.A. celebrated the man who never played in their city, but who would have had he not been involved in an accident that paralyzed him during the offseason of 1957-58. The Yankees came to the Coliseum for this emotional event as Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella was wheeled out on the field by his HOF teammate, Pee Wee Reese, to be honored in a pre-game ceremony.

All fans in attendance were asked to light a flame, as 93,000 flickering points of light kept the Coliseum aglow. At one time, Harpo shared with me that, attending the game with his dad as a nine-year-old, it was the first time he was allowed to "play with matches."

As noted above, Campanella had never played as a Los Angeles Dodger. But the memories of his heroics, and his inspiration to his former teammates, drew respect and admiration from the new L.A. Dodgers fans.

The second event of reference was more controversial and took place the following day, May 8, just a few miles northeast of the Coliseum--the forceful removal of the last remaining families from Chavez Ravine as the Dodgers were forging their way towards groundbreaking of their new stadium. While it brought an extremely sad end to a tight-knit community of the city, the popular version of the story told is not exactly accurate--just as is the case with many other events involving emotional events and baseball. Many people don't have any idea that the "red scare" of the 1950s changed the course of events in Chavez Ravine.

To recap, from several segments heard on NPR:

By the time the...few remaining families were forcibly removed from their homes, Chavez Ravine was a ghost town. Most of the residents in its three neighborhoods had sold their properties in the early 1950s to the city of Los Angeles under the forceful use of eminent domain — the state's power to take private property for public use, after paying the owner of the property a fair price. In many cases, even today, the government tries to lowball property owners, offering only a fraction of the property's value. But many in the neighborhoods resisted.

When the City initially began taking over the Chavez Ravine lands, it told residents of the neighborhoods there that the land would be for public housing, and that housing was promised to many of the Chavez Ravine residents who would be displaced. But those plans changed when when Norris Poulson, a conservative Republican, entered the mayoral race in Los Angeles and ran on an anti-public housing campaign using Red Scare tactics.

"[Poulson said] public housing was a secret Communist strategy to create Communist cells in the heart of downtown," (UCLA historian Eric) Avila says.

When Poulson won the mayoralty, those public housing plans withered and died.

For years, the ravine sat in limbo, depopulated but for a few residents. But in 1958, the City reached a deal with Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to bring the team to Los Angeles. Per their plan, Dodger Stadium would be built on the empty land in Chavez Ravine.

There was one thing in their way: the Mexican-American families who were holding out, and had never sold their properties...

...Buried Under the Blue (is) an organization that wants to preserve the history of the three Chavez Ravine neighborhoods that are today buried under Dodger Stadium. (A founding member) shares archival images on social media of those forgotten communities, including the residents' resistance to the City's repossession of their homes.

But the group also wants to remember the history of the Chavez Ravine neighborhoods, which the City deemed slums in the 1930s, but where a tight-knit community of over 1000 families flourished, nonetheless.

There were weddings and quinceañeras and everyone was invited. Neighbors left their doors unlocked. They grew their own produce and even raised their own livestock.

According to Avila, the UCLA professor, the evictions are part of a larger, complicated story of how both the Dodgers and the city's Latino communities have been defined by each other. "The other part of the story is just how important the Dodgers have been to the development of a homegrown Chicano/Latino identity in Los Angeles," he said.

I have heard it said by some that Mexican-American communities rejected the Dodgers in their early days at Dodger Stadium, but that certainly wasn't true overall. Jaime would certainly not have had a job if he didn't have an audience. And yes, it is true that the number of Latino Dodger fans exploded with the advent of "Fernandomania" in 1981, but there were many of them there all along. But prior to that era, all the Mexican friends I had in L.A. were Dodger fans.

And so, that's the story of May, 1959 in Los Angeles.

Later that year, the Dodgers won the World Series--the first World Series ever played west of the Mississippi--but that's a story for another time.
"The Dodgers have always occupied an enormous place in the history of the game. If the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball history, the Dodgers are the most essential. Their legacy is unique."

-Baseball Hall of Fame

Last edited by dodgerblue6 on Tue 6/4/19 6:14 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: San Diego County, CA

PostPosted: Sun 6/2/19 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think it has been discussed ad nauseum, but the families were going to be removed for a public housing project. The Dodgers have become such a civic treasure there in L.A. and even though this is a bad memory for some, it happened and the team is beloved even if the decision makers from back then weren't.
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