In 1975, after climbing America’s music charts, Elton John stepped onto a stage at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium to a crowd of over 50,000. In the audience for one of the two sold out shows was my mother-in-law, and last week she got to do it all over again, as her, Patrick and myself went to see Elton John perform his final show in the United States.
Perhaps one of the things that made the performance so memorable was that Elton John wore a custom made sequin Dodger uniform made by legendary designer Bob Mackie. After over 50 years and literally thousands of shows later, Elton John bid farewell in a glittering robe inspired by that iconic outfit and it was a true delight to see.
Speaking of outfits, I spent weeks trying to come up with one, and literally just four days before the concert I found this spectacular suit at Buffalo Exchange. It screamed needing a blue satin shirt under it, and sadly I couldn’t scrounge one up at nearby stores, and ultimately ended up getting one off of Amazon. After pairing the suit and the satin shirt together the day before the concert, I was realized that the 45 sleeve of “Rocket Man” had been sitting there in my subconscious, in which he wears a yellow satin shirt under a sparkly Nudie suit, and I immediately decided I needed to recreate the blue star cowboy hat that not only has graced the head of Elton John, but Gram Parsons and Monkees member Mike Nesmith as well. So, frantically in the late hours of the night before the concert I glued on stars and rhinestones to a hat I already had.
The night was absolutely amazing, and even included a few guest appearances, including Brandi Carlile, Kiki Dee, and Dua Lipa. I’m thrilled we were able to attend, and we can even relive the event, as Disney+ decided to livestream the performance, and it is available to rewatch.
Despite being the third oldest continually used baseball park in the major leagues, it’s relatively new, compared to the game of baseball itself, as it opened in 1962, but not after one of Los Angeles’ darkest moments, and I think it’s disingenuous to talk about Elton John’s historic concert, without talking about the history of Dodger Stadium.
Prior to the arrival of Dodger Stadium, the area contained three neighborhoods, Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, with roughly 1,100 to 1,800 (depending on the source) mostly Mexican-American families calling the area home. Collectively, the area is often referred to as Chavez Ravine, named after Julian Chavez, an early Los Angeles politician, who once owned the land. The ravine was one of the few areas around LA that Mexican-American citizens could buy and own property, due to redlining and racist land covenants in house contracts, which prohibited non-white people from owning certain homes.
Many who lived in the area called it a “beautiful community” and a “nice neighborhood.” One man who grew up there even called it the “Garden of Eden.” The area was “semi-isolated” and very rural, with many residents growing their own food, and raising animals. There was even a bilingual newspaper. But all of that changed as World War II came to a close. Like many areas, LA had a population boom after WWII, and the city began to identify areas that they classified as “blight” or “slums” to be replaced with public housing projects. Chavez Ravine was the first “blighted area” selected for urban renewal, and in July of 1950 the residents of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop were given their formal notice to vacate, as the city used eminent domain to reclaim the land, paying the residents what the city deemed a fair price, but was really a fraction of what the homes were worth. Plans were drawn up for Elysian Park Heights, which offered apartments, townhomes, and shopping. The city told the residents that they would get first choice of the new apartments being built, but many asked why? Why move back to an apartment when they had home ownership (a key element in climbing the social and economic ladder) and a yard for their children?
Some residents tried to fight back, but ultimately it was a lost cause. By 1951 two-thirds of the residents were gone, many crying as they left and the bulldozers arrived. Former residents said they simply felt “helpless, hopeless.” Those who remained still had their homes, but had lost their community.
Private real estate groups didn’t much care for the government encroaching on their business with public housing, and began labeling such projects as “communist” and “un-American.” These headlines, when placed in the setting of the McCarthyism and the Red Scare, caused the tide to turn against public housing projects. The mayoral election was the final nail in the coffin, when Norris Poulson was elected as mayor of Los Angeles in 1953, after running on an anti-public housing platform. Within a week of being mayor he abandoned the public housing projects, including Chavez Ravine, and the area sat nearly vacant, with a handful of residents remaining, for years.
Meanwhile some 2,700 miles away in Brooklyn, New York, Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodger baseball team, was frustrated by the small stadium his team was playing in. He wanted to build a new stadium, but the city officials wouldn’t provide any funds. So O’Malley looked westward, and soon he and Mayor Poulson came to an agreement, with LA providing the land of Chavez Ravine as the location for a brand new stadium.
On Friday, May 8, 1959 the last residents of Chavez Ravine were forced out. Police arrived to remove some residents, and the Los Angeles Times described the removal in heartbreaking detail.
a screaming, kicking woman (Mrs. Aurora Vargas, 38, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Manual Arechiga) being carried from the house…children of the family wailing hysterically as their sobbing mother, Mrs. Victoria Angustian, 29, struggled fiercely in the grasp of deputies…the 72-year-old matriarch of the family, Mrs. Avrana Arechiga, hurling stones at deputies as movers hustled away her belongings…an obstreperous former neighbor, Mrs. Glen Walters, screeching defiance at the deputies and finally being forcibly ejected from the battleground, handcuffed, and taken to a squad car…Mrs. Vargas was the last to leave — making good her threat that “they’ll have to carry me.”
After the last of the homes were demolished, there was the ceremonial groundbreaking to build the brand new Dodger Stadium, and on April 10, 1962 Dodger Stadium welcomed baseball fans. For those forcibly removed from their homes and not given proper monetary compensation, a bitterness and anger lingered, with many vowing never to go to a game. And why bother? Because on top of being the site of their former homes, for years the Dodgers lacked a Latinx player. It wasn’t until 1980 with the arrival of Fernando Valenzuela that the team had a Latinx player, and has since welcomed many more, and winning the World Series in 2020.
For further understanding, including interviews with former Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop residents, and footage of the May 8 removal of residents, I recommend checking out some of the links below.