No, it's not whether the Dodgers win or lose their game today with the Chicago Cubs. I'm talking about the three neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, which were condemned and then destroyed to make room for an ill-fated public housing project called Elysian Park Heights. As everyone probably already knows, that ill-fated project was never built; and after nearly a decade of political manœvering, after ownership of the land reverted to the City of Los Angeles (which is a story in itself and involves Richard Nixon), it was sold for $1 to Walter O'Malley, who then built Dodger Stadium. Five thousand people, who were overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican-American, were displaced.
This is who lost today in history, irrespective of who wins today's baseball game.
The Free Methodist Church, Palo Verde
The Free Methodist Church was one of two churches that served the residents of Chavez Ravine; the other was El Santo Niño, which was a Catholic chapel.
The Free Methodist Church was located at 1207 Effie Street, between Gabriel and Malvina Avenues in Palo Verde. On this date in 1948 — a mere two years before notice of the impending eviction was visited on the community — the Free Methodists took out a construction permit to add both a classroom and a women's restroom. Little did they know that they, along with their neighbors, were about to be evicted and their little church destroyed.
The Vargas Family — Nearly 40 Years in Palo Verde
September 11, 1913. On this date, José Gregorio Bargas (Vargas) took out a permit for construction of a 30' x 30', three-room house at 1763 Gabriel Avenue in Palo Verde. Gregorio, along with his wife, Rafaela Vanda, and four of their five children — José Ambrosio, 19; María Evarista, 12; José León, 11; and María Bonifacia, 5, were recent immigrants from México. A fifth child, Guillerma, just two months old, was born in Los Angeles. Whether the Vargas family already lived in Palo Verde when Guillerma was born is not known, but the family's appearance in Palo Verde makes them one of the first residents of that neighborhood, perhaps preceded only by the family of Francisco de León, owner of the City Center Grocery store at 1146 Effie Street, which was just down the block from the Vargas family home.
October 18, 1940. José Gregorio's son, José Ambrocio, took out a permit to upgrade the house that his father had originally built in 1913. Ambrocio added a concrete foundation, installed new studs, rearranged the floor plan, re-wired the house, applied stucco to the exterior, and made general repairs.
At the time of the 1920 census, the head of the Vargas household in the house on Gabriel Avenue was Gregorio and Rafaela's son, Ambrocio. Ambrocio Vargas and his wife, Tiburcia Gonzáles, were the parents by then of the first three of their nine children, including eight-month-old Porfio, who, in 1938, would marry a neighbor from Malvina Avenue, Aurora Aréchiga; volunteer for the Army during World War II; and be killed in action in the Pacific in 1944. Porfirio Vargas' body was never returned to the United States for burial.
Porfirio Vargas' widow, Aurora, is best known as Aurora Vargas, who, along with her parents, Manuel and Abrana Aréchiga, refused to leave their home at 1771 Malvina Avenue at the time of the evictions, and who was evicted forcibly by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies on May 9. 1959, in an event that was captured on video.
The Vargas family continued to live on Gabriel Avenue. They are documented in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 census returns. The original homesteaders of the family, Gregorio and Rafaela, died in 1937 and 1931, respectively. Ambrosio and Tiburcia Vargas eventually became the parents of nine children, and the family owned two houses on Gabriel Avenue, at 1763 and 1767. They continued to live in Palo Verde until they, too, were evicted during the 1950s.
Let us not forget ...
So, irrespective of whether the Dodgers win or lose tonight, one hopes that at least some of their fans will pause for a moment to remember that the proud and happy residents of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, in the end, did not win — rather, they lost everything, and what they lost was much, much more than just a baseball game.
The facts that are reported here are the result of original historical and genealogical research by the author, whose birthday, coincidentally, is 33 years to the day after Gregorio Bargas took out his original construction permit in Palo Verde on September 11, 1913.
October 18th, 2016
This afternoon at 5:08 pm in Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers will host the Chicago Cubs in the third game of the National League Championship Series (NLCS). There will be games tomorrow and Thursday as well — all beginning at 5:08. Both automobile and stadium gates will open a full three hours before the game, at 2:08 pm.
An excerpt from an email that was sent to (some) local residents from Erika Sanches, Coordinator, Community & Government Relations for the Dodger organization, set the stage for the impending invasion that residents dread but know is coming:
Your Los Angeles Dodgers have advanced in the post season.
As they have done for decades, the Dodgers organization will, for each of these games, perpetrate the fraud that will wreak havoc on the narrow streets and the residents of the communities surrounding the stadium in the form of bumper-to-bumper traffic, sometimes for hours, along with the concussions from fireworks that will frighten small children, the elderly and pets, rattle windows, and set off car alarms. Both of these outrages are clear violations of the Dodgers' Conditional Use Permit, but they don't care, because they know they can get away with it; and anyway, they have given the residents notice. What more could anyone ask for?
Pyrotechnics should be expected during the lineup announcement and during the national anthem.
This excerpt from an email of a resident to the Dodgers on August 19th, in reference to night 2 of the two-night Guns N' Roses concert in Dodger Stadium, clearly and legitimately articulates the issue:
Are you ever going to respond to us? The noise emanating from the stadium is shaking up our peaceful community. My wife and I take care for our elderly mother with a heart issue and this is causing us a major stress. It is truly unbearable. It’s the loudest ever. We thought AC/DC and KISS were bad but now you’ve proven to us that it can get even worse.
Needless to say, there was no response from the Dodgers; remember, they provide lip service but nothing else, because they simply don't care.
Another resident sent this as part of an email on October 9th:
Erika asks below if we have any questions [an email from Erika Sanchez was attached]. I have a question: how can you continue setting off fireworks, possibly twice in a single day, given that this is in clear violation of your Conditional Use Permit and despite numerous requests from your neighbors to reduce frequency and noise levels?
And what was the Dodgers' predictable response? Nothing. Nada. Rien. لا شى. Ничего ... well, you get the picture.
Meanwhile, on this day back in 1922 ...
Telesforo Martínez applied for, and received, a construction permit for him to build a four-room home at 1808 Gabriel Avenue in Palo Verde. The home was occupied for nearly 30 years; but in 1951, the vacant home at 1808 Gabriel Avenue was demolished. The residence was vacant because Telesforo Martínez and all of the residents of 1808 Gabriel Avenue who came after him, had been evicted.
Today, 94 years after Telesforo Martínez built his home, Dodger fans will park their cars where the home of Telesforo Martínez once stood. Perhaps some of those cars will have sat in traffic for more than an hour on Solano Avenue in Solano Canyon or Scott Avenue in Echo Park. When the fireworks begin as the Dodger lineup is announced and the National Anthem is sung, the residents of the communities surrounding Dodger Stadium will, once again, suffer the indignity that has been perpetrated against them by an uncaring, powerful corporate entity, just as the residents of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop suffered the indignities of the condemnation of their homes and the eviction of their persons that were perpetrated against them by an uncaring, powerful, civil entity so many years ago.
Well, that’s a good place to take the poor people on Bunker Hill and put them with additional poor people in better-quality housing.
— Robert Evans Alexander, chief architect of the Elysian Park Heights public housing project
Racism can take many forms
This story is but one example of how an inherent racism can be expressed, perhaps even unconsciously. Robert E. Alexander was interviewed in 1986 and 1987 by Marlene L. Laskey as a part of the Oral History program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The transcripts of Alexander's oral history comprise some 769 typed, double-spaced pages in two volumes that were published in 1989. Much of the material refers to Alexander's career as an architect; but there is a portion that refers to the Elysian Park Heights public housing project that was originally proposed to be built in the area improperly known as 'Chavez Ravine' — the overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican-American village in the Stone Quarry Hills that included the three neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop.
Robert Alexander's words speak for themselves, and they speak volumes.
Laskey: "What was the site like? You might talk about what Chavez Ravine was in 1950.
The following is Alexander's response in its entirety.
Well, it was a ravine and a series of subsidiary canyons that came into the ravine. It was a high-class slum area. That is, if you were from Brooklyn or Manhattan you might not conceive of it as a slum, because it was all one-story shacks, but it was packing cases, people living in old chicken coops. It was squalor of the worst kind. But, you know, children growing up in that area must have had an enchanted life, in a way. I mean, they were surrounded by Elysian Park. Their ravine itself had not very many trees in it, but it was country living, as if it was a little place in Mexico. It wasn’t all that bad from the standpoint of living conditions. From the standpoint of sanitation and so on, not too hot. The housing was not the greatest. There was no toilet or bathtub in every unit, you know. The housing criteria devised by the census bureau to define whether the housing was safe and sanitary, as they say, don’t tell the whole story. In a way it was an idyllic situation, in spite of its squalor.
Before we deconstruct Alexander's confused and convoluted description of the village, keep in mind the image above, which dates from 1950, shortly before the evictions began. The photograph was taken from above the Police Academy, looking South toward La Loma.
... it was a ravine and a series of subsidiary canyons that came into the ravine.
Like so many both before and after him, Alexander belies any real understanding of the geography of the area. There were five ravines in the Stone Quarry Hills: Chavez, Sulphur, Cemetery, Solano, and Reservoir. Palo Verde was in Sulphur Ravine and on the loma between Sulphur and Cemetery Ravines; Bishop was situated entirely in Cemetery Ravine; and La Loma took its name from the loma on which it sat, between Cemetery and Solano Ravines and adjacent to the contiguous, neighboring community of Solano. None of the ravines in the Stone Quarry Hills could properly be called a 'canyon', despite the fact that they were sometimes referred to in that way. But Alexander was not alone in his lack of understanding of the geography; Frank Wilkinson, Harold Holtzendorf — even Don Normark and later, Ry Cooder — were not entirely clear on the geography.
It was a high-class slum area. That is, if you were from Brooklyn or Manhattan you might not conceive of it as a slum, because it was all one-story shacks, but it was packing cases, people living in old chicken coops. It was squalor of the worst kind.
Here, Alexander is comparing the village in Chavez Ravine with the high-density tenements found in some East Coast cities like New York, Boston, and even Chicago.
But this is where Alexander stumbles once again. He describes the housing as "... one-story shacks ..." that were constructed of "... packing cases, people living in old chicken coops ...". But take another look at the photograph, above. Of the many homes in the photograph, one sees neither packing crates nor chicken coops; nor, for that matter, are all the homes single-story — there are at least a half-dozen multi-story homes in this photograph alone. Most of the homes appear to be made of stucco on the outside, with porches and windows. There are paved streets, gardens, and trees.
Alexander then goes on to describe his opinion of life in the village.
But, you know, children growing up in that area must have had an enchanted life, in a way. I mean, they were surrounded by Elysian Park. Their ravine itself had not very many trees in it, but it was country living, as if it was a little place in Mexico. It wasn’t all that bad from the standpoint of living conditions.
So what does Alexander think of life in the village? He doesn't seem to know what he thinks.
Was it a slum? And what, exactly, is a slum? Lacking any legal or statutory definition, the term slum then is defined only in the eye of the beholder and becomes subject to the prejudices of the person who uses the term. But it can — and is, and was then — wielded like a cudgel and applied to any area that the Anglo city planners wished to destroy. The racist overtones of that process fairly scream at us today.
Alexander's final statement is a combination not only of his own prejudice, but also of his confusion; he doesn't really know what he thinks ... nor do we have any idea from his description.
In a way it was an idyllic situation, in spite of its squalor.
"... an idyllic situation, in spite of its squalor." If life in the village constituted an idyllic situation, then why was is necessary to destroy it? Was it racism? White privilege? The power of a dominant culture to make decisions for a disenfranchised, minority culture?
We do not know; but Alexander's confused, convoluted description of life in the ravines has value, if only to serve as a bad example.
Latinos, Beísbol, and Chavez Ravine ...
Latinos and baseball ...
When I think of Latinos and baseball, my first thought is not of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dodger Stadium; rather images come to me from my imagination — images of my father and his father, playing baseball in Elysian Park, early in the 20th Century. You see, they both grew up in Solano (my grandfather was born there in 1895), and Elysian Park was their playground.
I am reminded of the Mexican and Mexican-American village in the Stone Quarry Hills that was destroyed, with its three neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop.
Finally, of course, I am reminded of the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium.
That mental image of my father and grandfather in Elysian Park is suggested by the following photograph, which has been in my family for more than a century.
This is a group photograph of a business-sponsored, semi-pro baseball team in Los Angeles that was taken in Elysian Park in 1912. This particular team was sponsored by the Tufts-Lyon Arms Company. The team is Tufts-Lyon No. 2, and the fourth person from the left is the team's shortstop, 17-year-old Teodoro Manuel Bouett, my grandfather — the only Latino on the team, who was encouraged to play baseball by his maternal uncle, Alfredo Solano, who was a founding member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and who played for the Athletic' Club's baseball team during the 1880s — and he, too, was the only Latino on the team. Alfredo Solano, my great-granduncle, is standing in the top row, left-hand side. He was about 27 years old when this photograph was taken around 1884.
My primary interest in this area, though, is the history of the village that was destroyed during the 1950s — that is, the neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop. My grandfather's grandfather, Francisco Solano, bought 87 acres of land in the Stone Quarry Hills in 1866; that land became much of those three Mexican and Mexican-American neighborhoods, plus the community of Solano, which is celebrating its sesquicentennial — its 150th anniversary — this year.
Those three neighborhoods — Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop — have often been called 'Chavez Ravine', presumably a reference to the urban legend that the land once belonged to Julián Cháves, a legend that is categorically untrue. In fact, 122½ acres of the land in the Stone Quarry Hills belonged to members of my family — the Solanos — and became, in addition to Solano, the neighborhoods of La Loma, Bishop, and about half of Palo Verde Northeast of Effie Street. That land remained in my family continuously from 1866 until 1903, when it was sold to developers. The first houses in the village appeared in 1909 in La Loma, 1912 in Bishop, and 1913 in Palo Verde.
So why is the area credited with a mythical connection to Julián Cháves?
So why is the area credited with a mythical connection to Julián Chávez?
I suspect that the origin of that urban legend lies with the 82 acres that Cháves did own in Elysian Valley, or Frogtown, that lies on the flat land by the Los Angeles River to the Northeast of the Stone Quarry Hills. Cháves acquired that land in 1847 during the Mexican Period in Los Angeles from Estefan Quintano, not the ayuntamiento, and in 1856, it was surveyed at Cháves' request by George Hansen, the Los Angeles County Surveyor. To the Northwest of Julián Cháves' 82 acres in Frogtown in 1856 is a 33-acre parcel that belonged to his brother, Mariano; and adjacent to Mariano's land is a 150-acre parcel that belonged to Juan Bouet, my great-great grandfather.
There is a place named Chavez Ravine. It is the first ravine in the Northwest of the Stone Quarry Hills; but it is nowhere near those three neighborhoods. The five ravines in the Stone Quarry Hills are Chavez, Sulphur, Cemetery, Solano, and Reservoir. Bishop's Road runs up Cemetery Ravine, where all of the neighborhood of Bishop was situated. Dodger Stadium is located primarily in Cemetery Ravine, Sulphur Ravine, and against Mt. Lookout. Neither Julián Cháves nor his brother, Mariano, ever owned land in the actual Chavez Ravine; rather, a burro trail up Chavez Ravine crested the summit of the Stone Quarry Hills, then descended through a narrow defile and debouched onto the tract of Juan Bouet, and which provided access to Elysian Valley and the land to the North, like Rancho los Feliz and the San Fernando Valley.
So why the name Chavez Ravine for an area that Julián Cháves literally had nothing to do with?
The answer is probably illuminated in part by a conversation sometime around 1947 between Harold L. Holtzendorf, the Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (or HACLA for short), and Robert E. Alexander, whom Holtzendorf recruited to be the chief architect of the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.
The apple of my eye is the Chavez Ravine project.
According to Alexander's oral history, Holtzendorf told him, "The apple of my eye is the Chavez Ravine project."
Just how, and when, Harold Holtzendorf coined the term 'Chavez Ravine' for the area is unknown; but Frank Wilkinson, Special Assistant to Holtzendorf at HACLA, perpetuated the term in his 1950 notification to the residents of the neighborhoods about the Elysian Park Heights project, although Wilkinson's notification was addressed "To the residents of the Palo Verde and Chavez Ravine Areas".
The area that was ultimately condemned did, in fact, include a portion of the actual Chavez Ravine. But from 1950 forward, the area was always referred to as Chavez Ravine by the political power structure in Los Angeles, and especially in the hundreds of articles in the Los Angeles Times about the public housing project. Interestingly, no survivor of the evictions that took place in Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, nor any of the next generation, for that matter, has ever claimed that they referred to where they lived as Chavez Ravine.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not a crusader, and I suspect that there is no way anyone is ever going to drop the term 'Chavez Ravine' from their vocabulary to refer to the three destroyed neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop; but as an historian, it is important to me to understand the dynamics that were in play that resulted in something so wildly inappropriate as the term 'Chavez Ravine' to refer to the neighborhoods that were destroyed during the 1950s, ultimately to make way for the construction of Dodger Stadium.
About the Author
Bouett is a retired research scientist and registered professional
engineer who now conducts historical and genealogical research
full-time. A ninth-generation Californian, he is particularly interested in the displacement of the nearly 1,100 families that lived in the Chavez Ravine communities of la Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop to make way, ultimately, for the construction of Dodger Stadium. His ancestors arrived in California with Portolá in 1769 and came to Los Angeles with the founders on September 4, 1781.
"Thank you for such an informative site which highlights the plight of those relocated from Chavez Ravine. My stepfather was a happy child growing up in the Palo Verde area. He had many stories about living in the area and working at the [Ayala] store."