Sunday, April 10, 2016

This Day in Los Angeles History: April 10, 1962—First Game at Dodger Stadium

Racing for Seats on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, April 10, 1962 
Photograph by John Malman/Los Angeles Times; 
It wasn’t the Dodgers’—or Los Angeles’s—first Major League Baseball game on the West Coast. But the match between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds on April 10, 1962, marked a new beginning for the transplanted New York team: the first game at their newly built Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine north of downtown Los Angeles.

52,564 spectators attended, kicking off a season that drew 2.7 million fans, the most in baseball history up to then. Still, despite the city’s excitement over the new stadium, that auspicious start was tainted by earlier events leading to an entire community’s dissolution.

Chavez Ravine
The stadium’s new location was named for Julian A. Chavez (1810–1879), a Mexican-born landowner and one of Los Angeles County’s first supervisors, serving three terms, in 1852, 1858, and 1861. In 1844 he was granted a plot of 83 acres north of downtown, which became known as Chavez Canyon, later Chavez Ravine.

Drawing of Chavez Ravine, c. 1870 
California Historical Society at USC Special Collections
By the 1950s, the rural-like area was home to small homes, some of them ramshackle dwellings, unpaved roads, and roaming livestock. A largely Mexican American population lived in the neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop.

Panoramic View of a Residential Community in Chavez Ravine, c. 1952 
Housing Authority Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
In the early 1950s, using eminent domain, the city began evicting Chavez Ravine residents to provide land for a federally funded public housing project. Though the project was never built, by 1957 only twenty families remained.

Welcome Dodgers!
In October 1957 Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley announced he would relocate his Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles on a tract of land in Chavez Ravine. Boosters, politicians, and baseball fans alike rallied behind the team’s move to Los Angeles. On April 13, 1958, Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson proclaimed “Welcome Dodgers Week” in preparation for the Dodgers’ game against the San Francisco Giants five days later.

Crowds lined Broadway in downtown Los Angeles on April 18 to cheer the Dodgers as they rode in a motorcar parade en route to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the city’s first Major League Baseball game.

Dodgers in a Motorcar Parade to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (detail), April 18, 1958 
Courtesy of Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
 Vintage Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium Pin, 1958–1961
Courtesy of the New York Times Store
Here, at the team’s first West Coast home from 1958 to 1961, a crowd of 78,672 fans turned out—a major-league, single-game attendance record at that time—to see the Dodgers defeat the San Francisco Giants, 6-5. The Los Angeles Mirror News and the Los Angeles Examiner brought out souvenir editions to celebrate the event.

“Welcome Dodgers!” Souvenir Editions, Los Angeles Mirror News and Los Angeles Examiner, April 18, 1958 
Courtesy of
Blue Heaven

So eager was the city for the Dodgers to build a stadium that it successfully fought an earlier stipulation to use the land in Chavez Ravine for a public purpose only. On June 3, 1958, the matter was brought to the voters, who approved a Taxpayers Committee for Yes on Baseball referendum granting the Dodgers 352 acres of Chavez Ravine in exchange for a privately funded new stadium. Eight million cubic yards of earth would be moved from the hills of Chavez Ravine for the $23 million, 56,000-seat stadium.

On May 9, 1959, the last residents of Chavez Ravine were forced out of their homes. Well publicized was the removal of Aurora Vargas, who had vowed “They’ll have to carry me out,” and who was fined and briefly jailed for her resistance.

Eviction of Aurora Vargas, May 9, 1959 
Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library
Almost a half century later, artist Ben Sakoguchi chose the event for his series of orange crate labels that address politically charged subject matter.

Ben Sakoguchi (Artist), Chavez Ravine Brand, 2005 
Courtesy of The Baseball Reliquary
On September 17, 1959, the city held a groundbreaking ceremony for Dodgers Stadium. And the rest, as we say, is history.

Birdseye View of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine (detail), 1962
California Historical Society at USC Special Collections
Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


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