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Old Posted Jan 20, 2011, 6:42 PM
Sebisebster Sebisebster is offline
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Location: Girona, Spain
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The history of Chavez Ravine - Part One.

Located in a valley a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, Chavez Ravine was home to generations of Mexican Americans. Named for Julian Chavez, one of the first Los Angeles County Supervisors in the 1800s, Chavez Ravine was a self-sufficient and tight-knit community, a rare example of small town life within a large urban metropolis. For decades, its residents ran their own schools and churches and grew their own food on the land. Chavez Ravine’s three main neighborhoods—Palos Verde, La Loma and Bishop—were known as a “poor man’s Shangri La.”

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Aerial view of Los Angeles looking northwest, showing the Civic Center, Alameda St, and Union Station. At top right; Chavez Ravine (upper middle) before Dodger Stadium was developed.

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Photography by Don Nonmark, taken in 1949. It shows a view of Elysian Heights: a man follows the path, perhaps heading home.

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Bishop's road, circa 1950

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Palos Verdes school, Chavez Ravine.

The death knell for Chavez Ravine began ringing in 1949. The Federal Housing Act of 1949 granted money to cities from the federal government to build public housing projects. Los Angeles Mayor, Fletcher Bowron voted and approved a housing project containing 10,000 new units—thousands of which would be located in Chavez Ravine.

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Photography by Don Normark taken in 1949.

Viewed by neighborhood outsiders as a “vacant shantytown” and an “eyesore,” Chavez Ravine’s 300-plus acres were earmarked by the Los Angeles City Housing Authority as a prime location for re-development. In July 1950, all residents of Chavez Ravine received letters from the city telling them that they would have to sell their homes in order to make the land available for the proposed Elysian Park Heights.

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The residents were told that they would have first choice for these new homes, which included two dozen 13-story buildings and more than 160 two-story bunkers, in addition to newly rebuilt playgrounds and schools. Some residents resisted the orders to move and were soon labeled “squatters,” while others felt they had no choice and relocated. Most received insubstantial or no compensation for their homes and property.

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Photography by Don Donmark, 1949.

Using the power of eminent domain, which permitted the government to purchase property from private individuals in order to construct projects for the public good, the city of Los Angeles bought up the land and leveled many of the existing buildings. By August 1952, Chavez Ravine was essentially a ghost town. The land titles would never be returned to the original owners, and in the following years the houses would be sold, auctioned and even set on fire, used as practice sites by the local fire department.

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The plan for Los Angeles public housing soon moved to the forefront of a decade-long civic battle. The story of Chavez Ravine is intertwined with the social and political climate of the 1950s, or the “Red Scare” era. While supporters of the federal public housing plan for Chavez Ravine viewed it as an idealistic opportunity to provide improved services for poor Angelenos, opponents of the plan—including corporate business interests that wanted the land for their own use—employed the widespread anti-communist paranoia of the day to characterize such public housing projects as socialist plots. In 1952, Frank Wilkinson, the assistant director of the Los Angeles City Housing Authority and one of the main supporters behind Elysian Park Heights, faced questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was fired from his job and sentenced to one year in jail.

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Photo of witness Frank Wilkinson, L.A. Housing aide who has refused to tell the investigating court of any past ties he may have had with the Communist Party. Photo dated: August 29, 1952

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The picture above shows a sketch of the third proposed housing project of Chavez Ravine in Elysian park: two dozen 13-story buildings and more than 160 two-story bunkers, plus newly rebuilt playgrounds and schools. As the years goes by, in the middle of the historical "Red Scare" context, the project was totally abandoned.

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Two happy little girls, somewhere in Chavez Ravine.
Photo date: 1949 by Don Nonmark.

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Close-up view of three boys at the bottom of the steps of a slum home, in Chavez Ravine.

The Los Angeles City Council attempted to cancel the public housing contract with federal authorities, but courts ruled the contract legally binding. But by the time Norris Poulson was elected mayor in 1953, the project’s days were numbered. Poulson ran for office using the Chavez Ravine controversy as a platform, vowing to stop the housing project and other examples of “un-American” spending. After much negotiation, Poulson was able to buy the land taken from Chavez Ravine back from the federal government at a drastically reduced price, with the stipulation that the land be used for a public purpose. What do to with the land?

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Norris Poulson, major of Los Angeles from 1953 to 1961.

As a result, families simply mailed an eviction note. They were never consulted. They were about to loose almost everything they owned.

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Photograph caption dated August 21, 1957 reads, "Chávez Ravine family studies notice; Mrs. Aurora Vargas, 36, and daughters, Dolores, 10, and Rachel, 8. Parents, Mr. and Mrs. Manuel Arechiga


Last edited by Sebisebster; Jan 20, 2011 at 8:55 PM.
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