This is the face of eminent domain in the real world. Three neighborhoods that eventually became something entirely different and the forcible eviction of a thousand impoverished and working class families. This, my friends, is the distilled essence of what the Supreme Court signed off on last week.
Stunning as it was, the Kelo decision didn't represent a radical departure from what went before. Local governments have been bulldozing for fun and profit for decades. We always knew that despite any long standing precedent the City of Cypress never had the moral or legal right to take church property and hand it to Costco. Stuff like that was just wrong and it was a given that the Supers would concede the point and put an end to this crap.
Early last century, many Mexican nationals fled the violence and bloodshed of the Mexican revolution that began in 1910 with the overthrow of Don Porfioro to permanently settle in the US. One such enclave was in Los Angeles and was known as Chavez Ravine.
Although the Ravine is well known today as the home of Dodger Blue, few remember the neighborhoods of La Loma, Bishop, and Palo Verde, which officially and forever vanished on May 8, 1959 when LA County Sheriff’s deputies kicked in the door of the Arechiga family home, and forcibly removed the last remaining family in Chavez Ravine from their residence of 36 years. An hour later, courtesy of a waiting bulldozer, all that remained was a pile of splintered kindling.
This altogether fascinating story is rather more complex than this, but in its essence it began with a few well-connected and powerful politicians making arrogant decisions about how and where others should live (for their own good, of course).
After a decade long battle that saw one future president on the right side of the barricades, after the flushing of untold taxpayer dollars, and after a hearing before the California Supreme Court, the land that comprised Chavez Ravine was transferred to the Dodger organization. Unsuccessful at persuading New York City to underwrite a new stadium for the Dodgers, Walter O’Malley had better luck in LA. This is the same schmuck who wouldn't install drinking fountains at the stadium because it might cut into the Coke and Bud revenue.
Today, Dodger Stadium, like some odd and surrealistic tombstone, is the legacy of the interred neighborhoods where babies were weaned and children once played above the traffic of the Pasadena Freeway. Much is made of the fact that Dodger Stadium was privately financed but precious little is said about the lineage of the land upon which it stands.
It is an engaging and certainly not an isolated story, and the Wine Commonsewer regrets that he has not done it justice.
The lesson isn’t about the inevitability of progress. It isn’t about trading Don Porfioro, ultimately, for the PRI (meet the new boss, same as the old boss). It is about 400 acres of land where real people sweated and worked to own a piece of the American Dream and were subsequently informed by their betters at city hall that it was in their best interest to sell out to the city. Not asked. Told. Like the mafia, the city offered a fair price for the sweat and dreams of a lifetime. Unlike the mafia nobody was killed for refusing, but the end result isn’t a whole lot different.
Genaro’s Liquor Store (click the photo to enlarge), with its prominent sign advertising Santa Fe Wines (America’s Finest, a frightening claim to be sure) is long buried, but worse, they ripped the roof from the Palo Verde School, where the kids learned the English they brought home to their parents, and simply crammed the classrooms full of dirt and debris scraped from the surrounding hillsides. The school’s new roof is the pavement of the parking lot at Dodger Stadium.
It wasn’t Little Pink Houses, but it was America.
The Wine Commonsewer