Some quick and dirty notes for my Rawjee Family Student Conversations at USC Price with the students on Chavez Ravine, so that I can be useful to them. Please feel free to correct–it’s very sloppy as I am in hurry.
- up to 1950’s Mexican families, facing discrimination in most of the Los Angeles housing market, create a sustained community–a “Poor Man Shangra-La” as it is called in multiple references. It was self-contained in many ways; residents had their own churches and many grew their own food. (There was also livestock kept). The area consisted of three general districts La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop.
- WWII and post-WWII Los Angeles experience tremendous new population growth, and the City begins to look for places to build. The 300-acre site in the center of Los Angeles was, to outsiders, an obvious choice.
- 1949 The Federal Housing Act of 1949 granted money to cities from the federal government to build public housing projects.
- and Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron voted and approved a housing project containing 10,000 new units, with Chavez Ravine being a central part of the new development plans. Much of the housing was shanty construction, and housing authority planners viewed the construction as unsanitary and unsafe. City of Los Angeles housing authority representative Tom Wilkinson was a central actor in the Plan.
- Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander develop a plan for infill development (Elysian Park Heights) to house 3,300 families in a sprawling complex of 24, 13-story towers and 163 two-story garden apartments, where the families of Chavez Ravine could be housed. The residents were supposed to have first choice among these units.
- In July 1950, all residents of Chavez Ravine received letters from the city telling them that they would have to sell their homes in order to make the land available for the proposed Elysian Park Heights.
- The city began buying property and using eminent domain to push families out. An coalition emerged in LA Politics between conservative private development interests and Mexican families furious at their displacement. Mike Davis reported in City of Quartz that the buy-outs were shady.
- In 1952, Frank Wilkinson, the assistant director of the Los Angeles City Housing Authority was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was sentenced to one year in jail for refusing to cooperate with the committee. Five other Housing Authority employees were fired.
- By this time, virtually all of the families had been removed and their homes razed, though some hold-outs remained in what would be called “The Battle of Chavez Ravine The property would stay vacant for nearly 10 years.
- 1953 The City Counsel tried to back out of its contract with the federal government to provide housing; it went to court, and LA lost.
- Also in 1953 conservative Norris Poulson won the mayor’s office using the Chavez Ravine controversy as a platform; he promised to the vowing to stop the housing project and other examples of “un-American” spending.
- With Norris’ intervention, the feds would relent and sell the land back to the city for a low price on the condition that the land be used for “public purpose.”
- 1957 Mayor Norris Paulson, Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman put together an offer for the Dodgers on behalf of the City of Los Angeles, including what was a privately owned, 56,000-seat stadium at the confluence of several major freeways surrounded by 16,000 parking spaces. (from O’Malley Was Right) It’s a question to me if whether this sale actually
- 1958 Taxpayers Committee for Yes on Baseball, which was approved by Los Angeles voters on June 3, 1958 that the Dodgers were able to acquire 352 acres (1.42 km²) of Chavez Ravine from the City of Los Angeles. (This, too, was an ugly political fight, with Poulson getting accused of taking bribes and making money off the deal.)
- Dodgers Stadium would not open for a few years yet–the Dodgers played in the Coliseum until the field opened.
KCRW’s Coverage of Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander’s plan for public housing
chavez ravine la historia de un pueblo fantasma en trinchera de palabras
The Provisional City: Los Angeles Stories of Architecture and Urbanism
By Dana Cuff (The MIT Press, 2002)
Chavez Ravine 1949 by Don Nomarck
PBS Independent Lens documentary Chavez Ravine
The Rawjee Family Student Conversations at USC Price
This conversation series provides undergraduate students the opportunity to interact with a variety of community leaders in the Los Angeles area. Students gain new perspectives on important social issues, cultivate new interests and passions, discover potential career opportunities, and create lasting friendships with their peers and mentors. Through these enrichment opportunities, undergraduate students have met with city managers, debated ballot initiatives, addressed health policy issues, and toured the Los Angeles River. Learn more here about what we are up to with undergraduates: here.