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.
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."