In July of 1950, nearly eleven hundred families who lived in the three Los Angeles neighborhoods of Palo Verde, LA Loma and Bishop, received notice their homes would be cleared for the construction of a public housing project called Elysian Park Heights. The predominantly Mexican and Mexican American residents of Chavez Ravine first settled in the area now commonly referred to as Chavez Ravine in the 1910s. By the 1950s, they became casualties of public officials’ dreams to build the first “city without slums.” The Housing Authority designated Chavez Ravine, along with ten other Los Angeles areas as blighted, a term used to condemn areas predominantly occupied by racial and ethnic minorities. For Housing Authority official Frank Wilkinson and architect Richard Neutra, Chavez Ravine would be the crown jewel of mid-century modernist housing dreams.
By the summer of 1952, the majority of residents left their beloved family homes and neighborhood. The notice they received promised that those “eligible for public housing” would have top priority to move into the newly constructed Elysian Park Heights. It is unclear how many of those losing their homes would have actually qualified for public housing. When residents resisted the move or disagreed the city’s appraisal of their home, Wilkinson and the Housing Authority invoked the power of eminent domain against them. By 1953, after most residents sold or were forced out, the public housing project was scrapped due to fears of “creeping socialism.” When less than two dozen families remained, the city negotiated a sweetheart deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers and forcibly removed the last families. The destroyed barrios became home to Dodger Stadium.
The massive transformation of Palo Verde, Bishop and La Loma over the course of the 1950s represents one of the most egregious examples of racist urban renewal practices and the displacement of communities of color. Through collaboration, Chavez Ravine: An Unfinished Story documents this critical history by centering the voices of residents and their descendents so that their stories may be preserved for generations to come.