Baseball

The Stolen Land Under Dodger Stadium

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Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between, by Eric Nusbaum, PublicAffairs, 331 pages, $28

On July 24, 1950, the city of Los Angeles sent a letter to the residents of the Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop neighborhoods. Their homes would soon be purchased by the city, and their neighborhoods, which would come to be known collectively as Chavez Ravine, would be demolished to make room for a public housing project. This was made possible by the expanded eminent domain powers provided to municipal housing authorities by the Federal Housing Act of 1949.

While the city's housing authority cajoled the area's residents—predominately Mexican-American, largely poor and working-class—into selling their homes for prices well below market value, the political winds in Los Angeles shifted against public housing, leading to a 1952 citywide referendum banning such projects. But the Los Angeles Housing Authority still controlled the future of Chavez Ravine; soon, many civic leaders became convinced the area would be a good place for a professional baseball team.

Throughout the 1950s, the authorities waged a series of legal and political battles with the remaining residents of the area, most notably the Arechiga family, who held out at 1771 Malvina Avenue until county sheriffs forcibly evicted them on May 8, 1959. In the end, the city sold Chavez Ravine to Walter O'Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had moved his team to L.A. in 1958. Four months after the Arechigas' eviction, O'Malley broke ground on Dodger Stadium, a sleek, modernist $23 million ballpark that became the envy of the Major Leagues.

Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between tells the story of how a cluster of longstanding Mexican-American neighborhoods in Los Angeles was destroyed through the exercise of newly expansive state powers. The author, sportswriter Eric Nusbaum, demonstrates the caprice with which municipal leaders used that power, shifting their priorities rapidly from a project aimed at expanding the city's housing stock to one aimed at assuring its big-league status. Nusbaum employs the well-known story of Dodger Stadium's origins to craft a compelling social, political, and cultural history of postwar Los Angeles. The result is a cautionary tale about the dangers of eminent domain, and of municipal authorities' power to reshape communities in the name of grand civic enterprises.

The appropriation of Chavez Ravine was an early example of a trend that reshaped the relationship between cities and professional sports. In the decades after World War II, many municipalities decided to become both landlords and financiers to the big leagues. As in Los Angeles, most of these efforts were made to lure a professional sports franchise to town. This was particularly common in the emerging metropolises of the American South and West, whose civic leaders yearned for the amenities enjoyed by residents of more established cities in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

That said, the earliest example of this pay-for-play strategy took place in Wisconsin. In the early 1950s, Milwaukee County provided land for the construction of a baseball stadium along state Highway 175. It then floated $5.9 million (approximately $57 million in 2020 dollars) in municipal bonds to finance construction. In 1953, after the team had spent 82 years in Boston, Milwaukee County Stadium became the home of the Braves.

It was Major League Baseball's first franchise shift in 50 years. The same 16 clubs had played in the same 10 cities since the Theodore Roosevelt administration, but now a seemingly unending series of moves and expansions began, much of them subsidized by city, county, and state taxpayers.

The Braves themselves were on the move again just 13 years later. Suitors from Atlanta lured the team's new overlords, a group of absentee owners from Chicago whom the press called "the Rover Boys," with a new municipal stadium and promises of a regional broadcast media network that stretched across the Southeastern United States. The city's mayor, Ivan Allen, had campaigned on making Atlanta a "Major League city," and the Braves were just one part of the plan. From 1966 to 1972, Atlanta lured franchises from all four major professional sports leagues to the city by building a municipally funded stadium on top of a repurposed urban renewal site and a municipally financed indoor arena. Atlanta had upped the ante on granting subsidies for professional sports, and this in turn gave such cities as San Diego, Tampa, and Phoenix a model to follow.

But the seeds of the subsidies had been planted earlier. By the end of the 1950s, most stadium deals involved more public money than private. In 1950, fewer than half of the fledgling National Basketball Association and National Football League playing facilities were publicly owned, along with just two Major League Baseball stadiums and no National Hockey League arenas. By 1970, nearly 70 percent of the venues that hosted professional franchises in the four major sports leagues were publicly owned, a figure that grew to more than 80 percent by the early 1990s and hovers around 90 percent at present.

The stadium deal in Los Angeles was something of an outlier, since the Dodgers paid for the land on Chavez Ravine and paid for the construction of Dodger Stadium. But Stealing Home shows the dangerous precedent that was set when Los Angeles used its eminent domain authority for something as profoundly inessential as a baseball stadium. The city destroyed those neighborhoods in Chavez Ravine and paved the way for abuses of power to come. The team owner's gain was the homeowners' and taxpayers' loss.

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  1. You monster… sounds like you just want to push grandma off a cliff/let poor people starve/leave children illiterate/have us all die of food poisoning/allow roving gangs to rape our women/keep minorities in chains… We’re all in this together, Tovarisch.

    1. ???

      This was supposed to be a reply to a previously posted comment. Not sure what happened.

      1. Did you reply to any of the 3 spam messages I just flagged? Looks like someone else may have flagged them too, because when the comments refreshed after my other comment, the flagged spam had vanished.

        1. No, Jerryskids had posted a comment, and that was the only one on the board. Though, the beginning of his comment had a funny, spam-like ring to it. So maybe it was cleared with others.

          1. So ABC flagged Jerryskids post. Nice.

            1. Flagging actually does something? It’s only hidden those messages when I refresh the page.

              Bummer for Jerryskids.

              1. “and nothing of value was lost”

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            2. No. They were classic spam.

              1. I flag the spam messages, as far as I’ve ever known it only hides them on your feed, it doesn’t remove them. Maybe it takes some critical amount of flags?

                But when I posted my comment, there were only spam posts here so I started off my comment with a spam-like comment, something to the effect that I found an easy way to make money by just getting the government to steal other people’s money and hand it over to me.

                The balance of the comment had to do with the astronomical growth of government such that virtually everything under the Sun is now considered a legitimate function of government. I’m pretty sure our Founding Fathers would have scoffed at the idea that it was government’s job to build stadiums for billionaires, but here we are. The government’s job is to protect our rights, and that’s it. 90% of what the government does is stuff that should be done by private charities or non-profits – if you think something should be done about Problem X, go to it! Just leave me out of your plans because I don’t think it’s any of my business. Once upon a time, that’s how shit got done in this country. It wasn’t government that funded all these public works, it was the public that directly funded libraries or parks or zoos or museums or whatever.

                1. So he did flag your comment. Seems an apology is in order!

                2. Well said.

                  (sarcasm free response)

                3. I’m always uncomfortable when someone invokes the opinions of the long dead. Someone can change their ideas a lot in 25 years, so imagine how much someone’s ideas might change over 250 years, and that’s before you even take into account how demented a centuries-old person would likely be.

                  And it’s also not realistic to in effect freeze them while the world changed around them. Our situations are not remotely comparable. Back then the idea to scoff at would’ve been the very existence of billionaires. Sports like baseball were played on the town green: a piece of land that was probably owned by the sovereign only because it was treated as effectively unowned and unownable except by the superior title of sovereign.

                  1. The local landowners may have been conscripted for the upkeep of the green as they were for the common roads, except for those which may have been converted to or built as turnpikes.

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          1. I flagged this one ^

              1. Me three. Still there in all its glory.

                1. Me four. Now we’re at the center of a tootsie pop. How many more will it take?

                  1. *CRUNCH!*

                  2. Me seven.

    2. No, he just wants grandma to not have a local major league team to cheer on.

      1. Wrecker and Kulak!

    3. What a lovely article, get me updated on https://letjamz.net/

  2. Three comments, all spam. I wonder if it is government-financed spam trying to take over the site?

    1. Monty Python meets the New Deal?

    2. My email spam is just a fraction of what it was just a month ago. Perhaps spammers are repurposing their workforce.

  3. You can read White Jazz, the final part of James Ellroy’s L.A. quartet for background if you are interested in the events discussed in the article.

    http://93.174.95.29/fiction/F8AB216A72FF9F763748D08A4AFB2C90

    The L.A. quartet is fine, but I prefer the Underworld USA trilogy which is set in the 1960s and is not centered on Los Angeles

    1. The Demon Dog is a national treasure. I have had the pleasure of meeting him 3 times on book tours.

  4. Hey maybe reason can write an article on why the cretins at teen vogue are arguing against private property rights. Nah I doubt reason wants to go toe to toe with their intellectual superiors.

    1. Link? Not that I don’t believe you (quite the contrary), I just apparently feel like pissing myself off.

    2. This the all-time weirdest bitching about Reason comment ever.

  5. So as reparations, L.A. should seize Dodgers Stadium under eminent domain, demolish it, build a model urban community, and give it to the descendants of the people who were displaced. Seems in keeping with the area’s Progressive zeitgeist.

    1. Complete with organic, artisanal shanties?

    2. (1) DON’T GIVE ‘EM ANY IDEAS
      (2) Given how MLB is self-destructing by disrespecting the American Flag and supporting BLM, the club COULD go under and leave Dodger Stadium as a deteriorating hulk. Which would suit me just fine.
      (3) The land had ALREADY been “stolen” via the eminent domain process (further Gov’t theft of private property for strictly economic rather than “public works” being sanctioned by the 1994 Kelo SCOTUS decision) before O’Malley committed to moving to LA. He’d already pursued building a domed ballpark near Coney Island (they were the BROOKLYN Dodgers) designed by Buckminster Fuller and was frustrated by city fathers whom wanted a new ballpark in Flushing, on the site of a landfill, where Shea Stadium was eventually built and last from 1964 to 2008; CitiPark, home of the Mets, is now on the site. It was a question of getting another NL team to “Go West” with the Dodgers, since the three cities that had both AL and NL teams since 1901 had recently spun off one of them (Boston, 1953, Braves to Milwauke, St. Louis, 1954, Browns to Baltimore, Philadelphia, 1955, Athletics to Kansas City), the LA move almost didn’t come off, as jet travel wasn’t yet common, and the cross-town rival Giants were making plans to relocate to the Twin Cities as they had rights there with their AAA-team. O’Malley did a lot to persuade Giants owner Horace Stoneham to go with him, but being hornswoggled into that icebox by the Bay known as Candlestick was entirely Stoneham’s doing.

      1. (3) The land had ALREADY been “stolen” via the eminent domain process […] before O’Malley committed to moving to LA.

        I’m not sure this one is relevant. Typically, buying stolen property is not considered to grant one legitimate title to it.

        1. I assume you now live where once Native Americans did…

          1. Shit, I live where Native Americans still do!

          2. But more seriously, whether there is an ethical difference, there is certainly a traditional legalistic difference between what happened to the Natives (which was effectively a contest between nations, with the attendant fucking of property rights that tends to occur when you suddenly find yourself saddled with being in a new country whose borders just passed where you live), and what happened to the homeowners here. These homeowners were already a part of our system, they should have enjoyed the protections of it.

    3. I mean… at least it would (supposedly, if actually implemented the way you describe) actually be making reparations to the people harmed by that specific act. In, say, a way that “white people (who may not be descended from people who owned slaves, or, for that matter, even arrived in the country before the Civil War, or may well have fought on the side of the North) need to pay reparations for slavery to black people (who may not be descended from people who were enslaved in the US, or at all)” does not.

      1. Isn’t this already the case? And it’s even more perverse. They will also be taxing black people to repair black people, themselves included, presumably. The IRS doesn’t care about the color of the TP’s skin.

        1. My favorite version of this riff is asking what the reparations formula for mixed race people is.

          Considering that the average African-American has 25% European DNA, this is less academic than it seems. And also more hilarious.

          http://archive.vn/4k6x5

    4. The thing is, this was pretty common during the mid-20th century. Robert Moses and the NYC Planning Commission is the most notorious example, but these “urban renewal” projects were a nationwide phenomenon due to the 1949 Housing Act and its provisions. Their main purpose was to get suburban populations downtown to spend money.

      The entire Auraria Campus in downtown Denver was a former neighborhood with a very diverse, but mostly Hispanic, population that got bulldozed to build the campus. It was incredibly controversial and lot of the people who were kids during that time are still incredibly sore about it, with justification.

  6. The problem in the what passes for a brain in Conservatives, is that it is incapable of comprehending the fact that there are a lot of numbers (infinite actually if one does not want to restrict themselves to just whole numbers) between 0% and 100%.

    While eminent domain can be evil/abused, it can also be good/a needed tool depending on the circumstances.

    1. To expand on the above using a relevant to today example:

      While Maduro in Venezuela is one extreme, trickle-down/supply-side Satanomics, aka Conmanitalism, is the other extreme.

      BOTH systems, when confronted with a shock, end up with “bread lines”:

      https://www.rawstory.com/2020/04/hungry-jobless-americans-turning-to-food-banks-to-survive-pandemic/
      https://www.rawstory.com/2020/04/unforgettable-footage-of-endless-lines-of-cars-at-food-banks-illustrates-coronavirus-crisis-in-the-us/

      The problem in the what passes for a brain in Conservatives is that it has to be one extreme or the other, and is incapable of comprehending the fact that just because something isn’t trickle-down/supply-side Satanomics, aka Conmanitalism, it isn’t “Venezuela.”

    2. To expand on the above using a relevant to today example:

      While Maduro in Venezuela is one extreme, trickle-down/supply-side Satanomics, aka Conmanitalism, is the other extreme.

      BOTH systems, when confronted with a shock, end up with “bread lines”:

      www[DOT]rawstory[DOT]com/2020/04/hungry-jobless-americans-turning-to-food-banks-to-survive-pandemic/
      www[DOT]rawstory[DOT]com/2020/04/unforgettable-footage-of-endless-lines-of-cars-at-food-banks-illustrates-coronavirus-crisis-in-the-us/

      The problem in the what passes for a brain in Conservatives is that it has to be one extreme or the other, and is incapable of comprehending the fact that just because something isn’t trickle-down/supply-side Satanomics, aka Conmanitalism, it isn’t “Venezuela.”

      1. BOTH systems, when confronted with a shock, end up with “bread lines”: hungry-jobless-americans-turning-to-food-banks-to-survive-pandemic

        The reason people ended up in bread lines in the US wasn’t because of COVID but because state and local governments interfered in the market and forcibly closed businesses.

        After a century of progressivism, with 50% of the US economy explicitly controlled by government and the other 50% heavily regulated, the US ceased to be a free market-based country long ago. Europeans have more economic liberty than Americans.

        The cause of breadlines is always the same: government. Thanks for demonstrating it.

        1. No way do Europeans have more economic liberty. At least in American law, employment at will is the default assumption, with just some exceptions, while in most of Europe there needs to be a good reason for you to be fired (but, fortunately, not to quit your job). This is a huge factor in employment mobility.

      2. “Satanomics, aka Conmanitalism”

        Lol. Btw, I’m not laughing because this is clever. I’m laughing because you think it is.

      3. Third-way economies: The scenic routes to serfdom.

      4. WTF is this shit

        1. I’m guessing a teenager that’s been indoctrinated by a teacher.

          1. Yeah, someone is clearly regurgitating some shit from a college textbook.

      5. Instead of doing that weird [DOT] stuff, just archive the page via archive.is and paste the archive.is URL?

    3. Name one “good” reason for government to force someone to accept below market value for their home.

      1. Paul, if your “someone” is Peter.

    4. While eminent domain can be evil/abused, it can also be good/a needed tool depending on the circumstances.

      Conservatives and libertarians are well aware that correctly executed central planning (including eminent domain) yields more prosperity and more efficiency than free markets. That’s not the problem with central planning. The problem with central planning is that (1) it’s impossible to collect the necessary information to plan correctly, and (2) even if anybody did, they would abuse the machinery of central planning to advance their personal objectives. Since in the real world, societies always operate subject to constraints (1) and (2), free markets turn out to be better.

  7. Thanks for your article. Very interesting. The author is great. Good luck with your writing work.

  8. I just assume the government, whichever one is in power at the time, will find a way to screw me out of whatever and give it to someone that’ll keep them in power.

    1. ” will find a way to screw me out of whatever and give it to someone that’ll keep them in power.”

      They found it a long time ago. They exploit your attachment to and desire for money and wealth. Taxing the poor just doesn’t make sense. Adam Smith pointed this out in his famous book.

  9. An interesting side-note, I don’t know if it’s in the book:

    One of the housing officials who was assisting with the eminent-domaining, back when it was supposedly for public housing, was Frank Wilkinson, a “Fifth Amendment martyr.” Or to put it another way, he was in the Communist Party from 1942 to 1975.

    https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2006-jan-05-me-wilkinson5-story.html

    1. Interesting bit of history there.

    2. Here’s a link without the paywall.

      http://archive.is/0spFj

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  15. My father lived near Chavez Ravine in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had a paper route in the area, and has told me stories of the forced evictions. My father isn’t normally a touchy-feely kind of guy, but he has always thought that this was just plain wrong.

    He vowed never to attend an L.A. Dodgers game.

    1. Good for your father, I wonder if this is a more important story than the name of a team

  16. After governor Gavin “Art Fern” Newsom signs the legislation to change California’s name to Aztlan, they can use the stadium to play ollamaliztli.

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  18. Third-way economies: The scenic routes to serfdom. https://eapolyent.com/

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