“Play Ball,” a guest blog by Jerry Campbell (President of Vida Joven Board of Directors, U.S.)
The baseball season is in full swing, and those of us who follow the game are delighted. But behind the balls and strikes, the home runs and foul balls, there are sad tales of big businesses and their political allies taking advantage of marginalized Mexican-American communities.
Chavez Ravine is a canyon area just north of downtown Los Angeles. For the first part of the 20th century, Chavez Ravine was a very close-knit, agricultural, and poor Mexican-American community. Many of the Mexican-Americans who lived in Chavez Ravine had moved to that area after having been victimized by racial housing discrimination in other parts of the city.
As the population of Los Angeles expanded, Chavez Ravine came to be viewed as a prime, underutilized location by powerful developers. City authorities characterized the area as “blighted” and as an example of “urban decay.” Having thus characterized the Chavez Ravine as problematic, city authorities proposed redevelopment as the solution. Los Angeles then received federal funds to build public housing in Chavez Ravine. Well-known architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander developed a plan to turn Chavez Ravine into a housing development called “Elysian Park Heights.”
From 1952 to 1953, city authorities seized and razed most of the existing properties in Chavez Ravine through a practice called eminent domain. Such “redevelopment” dispossessed many of the Mexican-American residents of this community, forcing them to relocate to other parts of the city. Some of the residents, however, stayed put and struggled unsuccessfully for ten years to retain control of their own property. That struggle came to be known as the Battle of Chavez Ravine.
Most of the residents of Chavez Ravine had already been displaced when the Elysian Park Heights project came to a halt. Remember, this was the 1950s. A wide-spread fear of communism swept throughout the U.S., and some Los Angelenos characterized the Elysian Park project as a socialist enterprise. Other public housing projects also lost support during this time.
In the mid-1950s, the City of Los Angeles bought the Chavez Ravine property back from the Federal Housing Authority. The city purchased the land for a very low price, with the stipulation that the land be used for a public purpose. That public purpose? Baseball.
On June 3, 1958, Los Angeles voters approved a referendum called “Yes for Baseball.” The Dodgers then acquired 352 acres of Chavez Ravine from the City of Los Angeles. As for the remaining Mexican-American residents of that land? The city of Los Angeles evicted them.
You can find a brief overview of the “Battle of Chavez Ravine” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBcxB70tgGc. As you enjoy the baseball season, also remember the thousands of Mexican-Americans who lost their homes to “America’s Pastime.”