This Day in History

May 8, 1959: Mexican American Communities Evicted

Time Periods: Cold War: 1945 - 1960
Themes: Economics, Latinx, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity, Sports

The close-knit Mexican American communities of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop were located on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles. The residents were forcefully evicted and the villages destroyed in the 1950s to make way for the Dodger Stadium, as described in the film trailer below.

Home to generations of Mexican Americans, Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop were founded in the 1840s. They grew into strong communities, with more than 300 families running their own schools and churches and managing their own land, representing a small town life within a major urban center.

Yet the tranquility of these communities changed by 1949. With the passage of the 1949 Federal Housing Act, 10,000 new low-income houses were approved to be built in Los Angeles, and Mayor Norris Poulson chose Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop (often referred to by government officials as Chavez Ravine) as the sites of the new houses.

The Mexican American citizens living in the town were promised first selection of the new houses, so they initially agreed to see their beloved village razed to the ground. But another major event occurred a few years later in 1958—Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers were relocating to Los Angeles, and the new baseball stadium was to be built on the communities of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop. The residents decided to fight until the end as a unified resistance group.

The representative from the L.A. Housing Authority who came to the defense of the families, Frank Wilkinson, was targeted and jailed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Stealing Home: Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, and the Loss of Community (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

Aurora Vargas is carried by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies on May 8, 1959, after her family refused to leave their home. Source: Hugh Amott, Los Angeles Times.

Manuel Arechiga, a citizen of whose family had lived there for generations, remarked that:

My family and I fought every way we knew how to stay in our home in Chavez Ravine. Police had to carry my daughter, Aurora Vargas from our house… we lost our home and our land, but we didn’t lose our pride because we fought with everything we had.

Given no compensation for their displacement, the citizens of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop were forced to flee and find housing elsewhere, while the Brooklyn Dodgers’ stadium was constructed on the historic site of a now destroyed Mexican American community.  

Learn more at Buried Under the Blue.

Teach about this history with Linda Christensen’s lesson “Stealing Home: Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, and the Loss of Community.” Listen to the story of Chavez Ravine in the bilingual record by Ry Cooder. Find many more photos in the UCLA IMLab Chavez Ravine Media Archive.