The L.A. Dodgers and Elysian Park

On Wednesday night, I was among the sold-out crowd of 58,000+ Angelenos who watched the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the NL West title with a 9-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants. It was an exciting game that featured a high-scoring sixth inning and a few fancy tricks by Dodgers standout pitcher Clayton Kershaw. As you can see from this photo, our parking spot was so far–and high up–from the stadium that you could barely see the stadium. But you do get a sense of just how vast the parking lot is, and how uneven the topography. To the trained eye (or should I say trained historian?), however, this picture offers a glimpse into the history of Dodger Stadium and its place in L.A.’s built environment. The photo shows the stadium lights at left. To the right you can just see the downtown L.A. skyline, all lit up. What you may not know is that the city’s largest public park, Elysian Park, hugs Dodger Stadium on three sides, and the well-traveled Stadium Way thoroughfare runs directly through the park.

The view from Lot 5 at Dodger Stadium. Wednesday, September 24, 2014. Photograph by Andrea Thabet. Copyright Andrea Thabet 2014

The view from Lot 15 at Dodger Stadium. Wednesday, September 24, 2014. Photograph by Andrea Thabet. Copyright Andrea Thabet 2014

Elysian Park is arguably the city’s least known park space, yet its central location means most Angelenos have passed through it without even realizing it. The 575-acre park is located just outside of downtown L.A., accessible by the 5 freeway and the 110 freeway, which literally passes through the easternmost section of the park. The park itself is composed of landscaped picnic and recreational spaces, surrounded by steep hills, rocky terrain, deep ravines, and overgrown hiking trails. It also offers stunning views of the city from several prominent vantage points.[1]

Most people believe that the downtown-adjacent neighborhood of Chavez Ravine was eradicated in order to build the stadium, but that is incorrect. Chavez Ravine was actually designated as one of the city’s first slum clearance and public housing projects in 1949 in connection with the passage of federal public housing legislation. However, the public housing project slated for the Ravine became embroiled in controversy amidst accusations of socialism–led by the powerful Los Angeles Times–which led to the cancellation of the project. In what I would call a bait-and-switch, prominent Angelenos and government officials lured the Dodgers to L.A. through a land exchange deal that transferred Chavez Ravine—land already cleared for the now-defunct public housing project—from the L.A. Housing Authority to city ownership. This allowed the land to be turned over legally to team owner Walter O’Malley to construct Dodger Stadium. The clearance of the Ravine and its eventual giveaway to O’Malley resulted in lengthy legal battles that divided the city. Historian Eric Avila calls this widely publicized use of slum clearance land, “baseball as urban renewal.” He argues that the relentless pursuit of a baseball team stemmed in part from feelings of inadequacy that the nation’s third largest city had no major league ball club.[2] As Avila points out, stealing the Dodgers “right out of New York under their own noses” was a great psychological “boost to Los Angeles and the West.”[3]

What few people realize is that Elysian Park also lost roughly thirty acres to the stadium, which helped reinforce the view by many city officials that park space was merely undeveloped land that could be successfully appropriated for non-park purposes. The adverse effects of the stadium’s construction included damage to Elysian Park’s irrigation system and the development of six-lane Stadium Way drive, which brought high-speed traffic through the park’s most popular valley.[2] Despite the challenges posed by baseball traffic and the neglect of park grounds, residents from nearby Latino and Asian communities continued to heavily patronize the park.

Just a few years later, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Samuel Yorty would support an effort put forth by the city’s elite businessmen to build a convention center in Elysian Park’s most popular valley and picnic grounds. In response, retired journalist Grace E. Simons founded the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park in 1965, and ultimately stopped the City Council in their tracks. I discuss her efforts at length in my dissertation. It’s a fascinating story, and I’ll share more about it in a future post. In fact, the view of downtown L.A. shown in the blog home page is taken from a trail in Elysian Park. If you’ve never explored Elysian Park, I recommend spending a few hours hiking in the park and taking in the views. You won’t be sorry.

*You can read more about Elysian Park in an article I recently published: “Elysian Park: A Century of Municipal Neglect.” Eden, Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society, 17:2 (Spring 2014): 3-9.

[1] Elysian Park: New Strategies for the Preservation of Historic Open Space Resources (Los Angeles: UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, June 1990), VI–3; “ Elysian Park: History and Current Issues,“ May 1990. Elysian park was initially 550 acres, had grown to 600 by 1937, and is now 575 acres, although continued threats jeopardize its acreage. The park is approximately 1.2 miles northwest of downtown.

[2] Neil J. Sullivan, The Dodgers Move West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Eric Avila, “ Suburbanizing the City Center: The Dodgers Move West,“ in Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight. Sullivan calls attention to the fact that a sizable Chinese-American community also thrived within Chavez Ravine prior to the relocation of the Dodgers. See also Sitton, Los Angeles Transformed, 157–160, 165–69; Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, 156. Chavez Ravine was cleared between 1952 and 1953.

[3] Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, 160.

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2 thoughts on “The L.A. Dodgers and Elysian Park

  1. Pingback: The L.A. Convention Center in Elysian Park? The Importance of Studying ‘Never Built’ Projects | Remaking Los Angeles

  2. Pingback: The Day Angelenos Lost Elysian Park…Almost | Remaking Los Angeles

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