Far and Near: Images of Chávez Ravine

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00031398, 1952. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Once upon a time there was a Los Angeles area called Chávez Ravine, a tightly knit group of three small neighborhoods made up largely of Mexican-Americans families and a few Caucasian bachelors. They farmed garden plots, raised chickens and goats, shopped at a local bodega, and attended mass at at Santo Niño Church.  There was a tortilleria and a woman who sold nopalitos. The children attended nearby Palo Verde Elementary School.

Goats grazed on the hillsides.

We raised chickens, rabbits, goats. We used to take the goats up the hill when the mama goat had little babies, so they could run around. We’d take formula in a bottle with a nipple and we fed them in the hills. We had a lot of good times. (Sally Anchondo)

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033673, 1950. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Weddings were celebrated.

When I got married I walked all that street of La Loma in my bridal gown and veil. I was an outsider, but it was like a family. Everybody came to the wedding. Everybody ate. They all knew each other. That night I was so tired I went into the home of one of his aunts. The women helped me with my dress and put me to bed so I could rest for the dance. And when they were looking for me, “Where’s the bride?” She was asleep in the house of someone she didn’t even know! That’s how people were. (Delia Aguilar)

Bridesmaids and best man at a wedding party in Chávez Ravine, Shade of L.A.: Mexican American Community, Image #00002754, 1929.

Children played in the dirt streets.

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033695, 1950. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

It shows the way we used to live. Kids nowadays, they wouldn’t let them play like that. People were rougher then, even the kids. (Reyes Guerra)

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033702, 1949. Don Normark, photographer.

The neighborhood overlooked, and was overlooked by, downtown Los Angeles, one mile to the south.

Housing Authority Collection, Image #00008229, 1949. Don Normark, photographer.

View Finders

Chávez Ravine found itself in the eye of the photographer several times for a variety of reasons.

Gilbert Rosales and his grandmother, Doña Martina Ayala, head to the family store where she sold chickens, home-made Mexican cheese, beans, and household essentials. Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033701, 1949. Don Normark, photographer.

Don Normark (1928-2014) stumbled onto the communities of Chávez Ravine in 1949 as a young photography student:

I was looking for  a high point to get a postcard view of Los Angeles. I didn’t find that view, but when I looked over the other side of the hill I was standing on, I saw a village I never knew was there. Hiking down into it, I began to think I had a found a poor man’s Shangri-la. It was mostly Mexican and certainly poor, but I sensed a unity to the place, and it was peacefully remote. The people seemed like refugees — people superior to the circumstances they were living in. I liked them and stayed to photograph. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in Chávez Ravine. (Don Normark)

Of Normark’s hundreds of photos, five were displayed in a1950 exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of  Art. A few made their way into the files of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). The rest were largely forgotten for many decades

In the mid-1990s, Normark returned to Los Angeles, this time seeing out the desterrados (the uprooted) from Chávez Ravine and collecting memories spurred by his photographs. The result was a 1999 book and a 2004 documentary narrated by Cheech Marin, both titled Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story. In 2013 his photographs were included in an exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum titled “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990.”

The Navarro family, Housing Authority Collection, Image #00033696, 1951. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Leonard Nadel (1916-1990), a freelance photographer and journalist, was hired by HACLA in the late 1940s to document neighborhoods under consideration for housing projects. In the years 1950 to 1952, just on the heels of Normark, his work brought him to the neighborhoods that made up Chávez Ravine where he photographed both the structures and the people. Nadel went on to some fame documenting the Bracero Program for the Ford Foundation. His photos were featured in a 2009-2010 exhibit at the National Museum of American History titled ” Bittersweet Harvest.”

It should be noted that HACLA used the photos of both Nadel and Normark to promote its agenda — captioning them with buzzwords such as “slum,” “derelict,” “country-like,” “run-down,” and “ramshackle.”

Veteran William Nickolas with three of his six children in a home he and his wife share with her parents. Housing Authority Collection, Image #00062033, n.d. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Residents of several low-income communities meet with L.A. Mayor Norris Paulson (at left) urging him to reverse the plans of the housing authority to raze their homes. In fact, Mayor Paulson worked to scale back the plans for housing projects, but too late to save Chávez Ravine. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00055873, July 20, 1953.

Remove and Replace

The post-war urban planning models called for slums to be cleared and replaced with planned communities of towers and garden apartments. The well-intentioned proposals of the urban planners often faced off against established, if indeed ramshackle, communities. The fight between social reformers and advocates of the status quo is one that continues today.

In July 1950 HACLA announced plans to build several housing projects in neighborhoods throughout the city, including Chávez Ravine. The 300-plus families inhabiting the hillsides were mailed notices, in English, informing them that they would need to sell their properties to the city or they would be taken by eminent domain. They were told they would be first in line for the new units once built.

Most families chose to comply after some initial protests proved ineffectual. People packed up and moved out; bulldozers moved in. By 1953 only a couple of dozen families remained on the dusty hillsides.

A man identified as “Julian” bids farewell to his friends in Chávez Ravine. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00041360, May 14, 1951.

The Hold-outs

But things were not so simple. Over the next several years plans for model subsidized housing faced a backlash from social conservatives, who, in the McCarthy Era, saw “creeping socialism” in them. Ultimately, housing projects across the city were scaled back and the plans for Chávez Ravine scrapped.

But the city still owned the bulk of the land. The death-knell for the dying community came in 1959 when the city handed the area over to the Brooklyn Dodgers for a new baseball stadium in a complicated business deal which brought the team to Los Angeles. The last few families in Chávez Ravine were sent eviction notices. Even then, a few tried to hold out. Led by the Arechiga family, they vowed to fight to the bitter end, leading to a field day for area reporters and photographers who sensed a cause célèbre.

On Friday, May 8, (“Ocho de Mayo“),  residents, along with their pets and belongings, were roughly removed from their dwellings as TV cameras rolled and cameras snapped. Even as bulldozers arrived to level the remaining homes, a number of neighbors camped out in makeshift tents from where they had to be evicted a second time. The story was picked up by the A.P. wire service under the headline “Dodger Victims.”

L.A. County Sheriff personnel carry Aurora Vargas-Arechiga from her home, May 8, 1959. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00041424.


News crews thronged the hill to document the eviction. Note the doghouse from where the Arechiga’s chihuahua was evicted. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00041423, May 8, 1959.


Members of the extended Arechiga family and supporters camped out on the property for a number of days following eviction. Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00050956, May 8, 1959.

After leaving, it was sad going back to visit. There were fewer and fewer places. Bulldozers working and trucks hauling stuff away. Weeds growing, streets going to hell. Abrana Arechiga, still holding out, would yell at us out her window, “What are you doing here? You abandoned us.” (Lou Santillan)

Herald-Examiner Collection, Image #00081495, 1959.


Today the tale of Chávez Ravine is seen as a classic case of “urban removal,” albeit one with a twist. Four months following the final evictions, a groundbreaking was held, not for new housing but for a 23-million dollar stadium. As the hillsides were leveled for the stadium, nothing was left of the communities that had once occupied the land; even the street names were erased, the school building buried under tons of fill. Only the name, Chávez Ravine, survives as an access road to the stadium and in an occasional dateline about baseball.


Dodgers owner Walt O’Malley displays a ceremonial groundbreaking shovel with the words “Dodgers: Chávez Ravine.” Herald-Examiner Collection, #00055863, 1959.


Housing Authority Collection, Image #00017632, 1952. Leonard Nadel, photographer.

Selected sources

All quotations taken from Dan Normark, Chávez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999).

“Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story,” video produced by Jordan Mechner, Bullfrog Films, 2004.

Elaine Woo, “Don Normark, who photographed Chávez Ravine residents, dies at 86,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2014.

Nathan Masters, “Chávez Ravine: Community to Controversial Real Estate,” KCET.org, L.A. as Subject, September 13, 2012.

AP Wire Service, “Dodger Victims: Homeless Huddle at Campfires,” May 9, 1959.

The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

children of rodger young village

The Small Town in a Big City – Life at Rodger Young Village

During WWII, thousands of men and women left Southern California to serve their country wherever they were needed. Thousands more men and women came to Southern California to work in factories supporting the war effort. As raw materials were needed for weapons, aircraft, and other related goods, construction of new housing ceased during the war. This created a housing shortage for veterans returning to the area after the end of WWII. This housing shortage spurred a housing boom, but veterans needed housing immediately. The Los Angeles City Housing Authority responded by building housing projects that offered affordable yet temporary housing for veterans and their families.

Rodger Young Village (also referred to as “RYV”) was one such public housing project. Built in Griffith Park and dedicated on April 27, 1946, RYV was named for Rodger Wilton Young, an infantryman in the U.S. Army killed during World War II. Rodger Young Village consisted of 750 Quonset huts, with most residents being young couples with children. RYV boasted a market, drug store, and theater plus delivery service for milk, diapers, and baked goods. Telephones were located outside throughout the village; a ringing phone would be answered by the nearest bystander who would then fetch (or get a kid to fetch) the intended recipient of the call. Churches came to conduct services in the theater (with the Catholics bringing their own kneelers), the Fuller Brush man made rounds throughout the compound, RYV had its own firefighters. Perched inside a park, it offered children plenty of space to play and explore.

Open to veterans of all races and branches of the military, Rodger Young Village was one of the most diverse communities in Southern California at the time. Adults and children befriended their neighbors with little regard to their ethnic background, educational levels, or personal beliefs. (One exception was the couple of Sidney and Libby Burke. There were evicted as it was determined that Sidney did not hold the proper veteran status but also because Libby had distributed supposedly communist literature.) Such acceptance of diversity helped end the practice of racial segregation in many local restaurants. (RYV residents often went to nearby eateries to dine with their neighbors. If a restaurant refused to serve someone in their party, the entire group would leave and often never return. Restaurants, faced with losing business, dropped discriminatory policies.)

As veterans bought homes or found housing elsewhere, the Rodger Young Village began to lose residents. RYV was demolished in the early 1950s. The parking lot for the Los Angeles Zoo and part of the Autry Museum now occupy the site where returning WWII vets and their families lived while waiting to move into their dream home. No physical trace of this housing project exists on the grounds today, but the photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library can help you see how life was in this small town inside a big city.

With housing scarce and veterans returning en masse to the Los Angeles area, construction (conducted by William Radkovich Company and Zoss Construction Company) of Rodger Young Village was made a top priority by the Housing Authority.

The building of a Quonset hut is seen here.

building of quonset hut

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Edwin Eichelberger on April 22, 1946.

While no huts had individual telephone service, all homes in Rodger Young Village had electricity. Here we see an electrician connecting wires to the Quonset hut homes.

construction of rodger young village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen (no date given).

The main entrance for Rodger Young Village was on Riverside Drive, with the Santa Monica Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop for the housing project.

rodger young village in griffith park

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Edwin Eichelberger on April 22, 1946.

An aerial view of Rodger Young Village shows its size and layout.

Shades of L.A.: Mexican American Community, photo taken by
White’s Studio circa 1940.

The dedication ceremonies for Rodger Young Village were held on April 27, 1946. Here we see a map showing how to get to the festivities.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection (photographer and
date of photograph unknown).

Many new and prospective residents attended the dedication festivities.

post-war veteran housing

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen
on April 26, 1946.

Mrs. Nicholas Young, the mother of Rodger Young (the war hero for whom the housing project was named) attended the Village’s dedication ceremony as well as then-Mayor Fletcher Bowron.

mrs. nicholas young

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed on April 26, 1946.

Each family would occupy one-half (front or back) of a Quonset hut, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen in their living space. Single veterans or childless couples would share a Quonset hut with each having their own bedroom but sharing the rest of the hut.

A family lounges in a model unit of the newly-built Quonset huts to see if it meets their needs.

post-wwii los angeles

Herald-Examiner Collection, photographed by Howard Ballew on April 26, 1946.

A model unit also showcases a child’s bedroom in a housing unit in Rodger Young Village.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Otto Rothschild on February 21, 1950.

While RYV was designed as temporary housing, residents took pride in their surroundings, planting gardens to add a homey touch.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on July 19, 1950.

John Barnes and his family pose outside their home (Unit 606) in Rodger Young Village.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on February 4, 1952.

Mrs. Lourdes Benigno and her children gather by the garden at their home (Unit 1147) in Rodger Young Village.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on February 4, 1952.

Mrs. John Breslin, a German war bride, helps her children dress for the day in their home at Unit 1279.

life in Rodger Young Village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel in 1952.

As most residents of Rodger Young Village were young families, children were everywhere – playing by their homes, in the park, at the zoo, and at events organized for them. Here we see kids playing outside their homes, having fun and making friends in their temporary neighborhood.

children of rodger young village

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Leonard Nadel on November 16, 1951.

Children always enjoy dressing up for Halloween, and the kids at Rodger Young Village were no different.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed in October of 1947
(photographer unknown).

Santa Claus knew there were plenty of children in RYV, so he flew (via helicopter!) to visit them and their parents.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen
on December 21, 1948.

Adults also had plenty of activities to attend at Rodger Young Village. Here, Bette Davis confers with Rodger Young’s mother during a luncheon at RYV.

Bette Davis at Rodger Young Village

Security Pacific National Bank Collection, photographed by
Floyd McCarty (date unknown).

People mingle and look at exhibits during a Negro Week program held in RYV.

negro week

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen (date unknown).

Negro Week (also referred to as Negro History Week) at Rodger Young Village also included a firefighters’ parade that featured a marching band.

Housing Authority Collection, photographed by Louis Clyde Stoumen (date unknown).

The arrow in this photo points to Rodger Wilton Young, the war hero for whom Rodger Young Village was named. This is the last photo taken of him before he died on July 31, 1943, in the Solomon Islands. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Herald-Examiner Collection, photograph dated 1946 but
taken in 1943 or earlier (photographer unknown).