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Chavez Ravine Arboretum - Elysian Park - Los Angeles, California

Chavez Ravine is a shallow L-shaped canyon in Los Angeles, California. It sits in a large promontory of hills north of downtown Los Angeles, next to Major League Baseball's Dodger Stadium. Chavez Ravine was named for Julian Chavez, a Los Angeles councilman in the 19th century who originally purchased the land in the Elysian Park area.



Chavez Ravine was named for Julian Chavez, the first recorded land owner. He was born in New Mexico and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1830s. He quickly became a local leader. In 1844, Chavez purchased 83 acres of the long, narrow valley northwest of the city. There are no records of what Chavez did on his land, however during the 1850s and 1880s there were smallpox epidemics, Chavez Canyon, was the location of a "pest house" which cared for Chinese-Americans and Mexican-Americans suffering from the disease. The land was very rugged which prevented much development of the area. However the area did provide an important watershed and part was used by the Los Angeles Water Company for a canal bringing water from what is now Griffith Park and storing in a reservoir (today called Buena Vista Reservoir) in Reservoir Ravine. Some of Chavez Canyon and the surrounding hills became Elysian Park in 1886. That same year the two brick manufacturers moved into Chavez Ravine and began blasting operations in the hillsides.


By the early 1900s, in the hills above and around the ravine, a semi-rural Mexican-American community had grown up. Eventually, three distinct neighborhoods formed: Bishop, La Loma and Palo Verde, mostly on the ridges between the neighboring ravines. In 1913 a progressive lawyer named Marshall Stimson subsidized the movement of around 250 Mexican-Americans to these communities from the floodplain of the nearby Los Angeles River. There was a local grocery store, a local church, and Palo Verde Elementary. There was a nearby brick factory which caused local problems from the smoke and dust released. In 1926 the residents of Chavez Ravine organized to shut the company down. On August 20, 1926, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance prohibiting the blasting and zoned the area around Chavez Ravine for residential use.


Chavez Ravine was made up of the three mostly Mexican-American communities of La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop. In the 1940s, the area was a poor, though cohesive, Mexican-American community. Many families lived there because of housing discrimination in other parts of Los Angeles. With the population of Los Angeles expanding, Chavez Ravine was viewed as a prime, underutilized location. The city began to label the area as "blighted" and thus ripe for redevelopment. Through a vote, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, with the assistance of federal funds from the Housing Act of 1949, was designated the task to construct public housing, in large part to address the severe post-World War II housing shortage. Prominent architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander developed a plan for "Elysian Park Heights." The city had already relocated many of the residents of Chavez Ravine when the entire project came to a halt. Fear of communism was sweeping the United States and loud voices in Los Angeles cried that the housing project smacked of socialism.


The land for Dodger Stadium was purchased from local owners/inhabitants in the early 1950s by the City of Los Angeles using eminent domain with funds from the Federal Housing Act of 1949. The city had planned to develop the Elysian Park Heights public housing project which included two dozen 13-story buildings and more than 160 two-story townhouses, in addition to newly rebuilt playgrounds and schools.

Before construction could begin, the local political climate changed greatly when Norris Poulson was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1953. Proposed public housing projects like Elysian Park Heights lost most of their support. Following protracted negotiations, the City of Los Angeles was able to purchase the Chavez Ravine property back from the Federal Housing Authority at a drastically reduced price, with the stipulation that the land be used for a public purpose. It was not until the baseball referendum 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. (The Dodgers, from 1958 to 1961, played their home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.)

Los Angeles-based author Mike Davis, in his controversial, often polemical history of the city, City of Quartz, describes the process of gradually convincing Chavez Ravine homeowners to sell. In his book Davis asserts that with nearly all of the original Spanish-speaking homeowners initially unwilling to sell, "developers" representing the city and its public housing authority resorted to offering immediate cash payments, distributed through their Spanish-speaking agents. Once the first sales had been completed, it is said that remaining homeowners were offered lesser amounts of money, some speculate to create a community panic of not receiving fair compensation, or of being left as one of the few holdouts. Some residents continued to hold out, despite the pressure being placed upon them by such "developers," resulting in the Battle of Chavez Ravine, an unsuccessful ten-year struggle by a small number of remaining residents of Chavez Ravine to maintain control of their property, after the substantial majority of the property had been transferred to public ownership, during the period in which the city intended to use the land for the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.

In the end, the project died. A few years later, the city made the controversial decision to trade the land to the Brooklyn Dodgers and their owner Walter O'Malley, in exchange for land around the minor league park Wrigley Field, in a move to provide incentives for a migration to Los Angeles.

Later years

During the years when the Los Angeles Angels were tenants of the Dodgers (1962 through 1965), the Angels referred to the stadium as "Chavez Ravine Stadium" or simply "Chavez Ravine". Los Angeles City Council designated the property as "Dodgertown" in October 2008. The United States Postal Service assigned postal code "Dodgertown, CA 90090" in April 2009.

A number of structures from Chavez Ravine were spared demolition and sold by the developers of Dodger Stadium to nearby Universal Studios for one dollar apiece. Universal moved the structures to its back lot where they subsequently appeared in various Universal productions, most notably the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird. The house of Atticus Finch, for example, was an erstwhile Chavez Ravine home.


Most of Chavez Ravine remains in Elysian Park where the The Chavez Ravine Arboretum still stands. The arboretum was founded in 1893 by the Los Angeles Horticultural Society where trees were added to through to the 1920s. Most of the Arboretum's original trees are still standing and many are the oldest and largest of their kind in California and even the United States . Further south in the ravine is Barlow Respiratory Hospital which was founded in 1902 and continues to treat patients today. At the open end of the ravine immediately adjacent to Dodger Stadium is the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center which was built in 1937 but is today a training facility, Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center, for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

Chavez Ravine is mentioned in The Mescaleros' song "All in a Day" in their 2003 album Streetcore.

Chavez Ravine,1949: A Los Angeles Story (1999) collects interviews and photos by Don Normark documenting the Ravine's culture at the time. Chávez Ravine is an album recorded by Ry Cooder in 2005, as a soundtrack to a PBS documentary directed by Jordan Mechner. The film makes use of the Normark photos in telling the story of how a Mexican American community was destroyed to make way for a low-income public housing project.

"Chávez Ravine: A Record by Ry Cooder" is the twelfth studio album by Ry Cooder. It is the first concept album and historical album by Ry Cooder which tells the story of Chávez Ravine. Sung in Spanish and English, Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, Lalo Guerrero, Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. Chávez Ravine was nominated for "Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album" in 2006.

A portion of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a mural by Judith F. Baca in the Tujunga Wash Drainage Canal in San Fernando Valley, California, is titled "The Division of the Barrios and Chavez Ravine." It depicts families separated by freeways and the Dodger Stadium in the air like a spaceship.

In 2003, the Urban Performance Troupe Culture Clash, comprising three writers and performers Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza, premiered a stage show titled Chávez Ravine at the Mark Taper Forum.

The 1952 crime drama film Without Warning! has several scenes that take place in Chavez Ravine.

During Dave Dameshek's "Number One Sports" segment on The Adam Carolla Show, Dodger Stadium was often humorously referred to as Chavez Ravine.

At the end of the Twilight Zone episode "The Whole Truth" (1961) Rod Serling says "be particularly careful in explaining to the boss about your grandmother's funeral when you are actually at Chavez Ravine watching the Dodgers."

"Chavez Ravine" was mentioned as a suspect during a "minute mysteries" segment of the 1960s TV show Fractured Flickers.

A group of American Indians gathered overnight to booze, dance and sing on a Chavez Ravine hilltop in the 1961 movie "The Exiles".

The urban renewal conflict is the subject of the folk song "Preserven el Parque Elysian" by M. Kelian, recorded by Pete Seeger on the 1966 album God Bless the Grass.

"Chavez Ravine" is mentioned in the TV police drama "Southland" (Season 4 Episode 3) when a fraud victim describes how he was "born on home plate" and lived in his family home in Chavez Ravine until May 9, 1959 when the city came in and bulldozed his home to make way for Dodger Stadium.

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