Southland Parks — Exploring Dodger Stadium Without Baseball

Southland Parks

I don’t like baseball. Despite that fact, I have for some time entertained the idea of visiting and exploring Dodger Stadium. Dodger Stadium has long struck me as one of Los Angeles‘ greatest examples of monumental architecture, and I’m not completely sure why it’s not more of an establishing shot cliché for films set in Los Angeles, on par with the Hollywood Sign, Venice Boardwalk, Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, and Chinese Theater. When presented with the opportunity to explore it without the distraction of baseball, I stepped up to the plate, as it were.

Dodger Stadium
Dodger Stadium

The tour was organized by deLaB, and the small number of spots were snapped up in about twenty minutes. I initially felt something like guilt for no doubt scuppering the opportunity for some blue-bleeding Dodger fan to possibly realize a lifelong dream. I attempted to absolve myself after being asked by another tour-goer if whether I was an architect or Dodgers fan. How many people that go to Hoover Dam do so because they’re superfans of hydroelectricity? I enjoyed myself greatly, so it’s also my hope that fellow non-fans of baseball will consider visiting the stadium themselves.

Historic plaque
Historic plaque

Before the existence of Dodger Stadium, the hills and valleys there were home to three Mexican-American neighborhoods — Bishop, La Loma, and Palo Verde — situated on land owned by Julian Chavez known as “Chavez Ravine.” In 1951 the city announced their intention to displace and destroy the community (although not in those words) and to subsequently house them in projects designed by Richard Neutra. By 1953, housing projects were routinely besmirched as “socialist,” the planned projects were abandoned, and the city purchased Chavez Ravine. In 1957 the Brooklyn Dodgers announced that they were moving to Los Angeles and the remaining residents of Chavez Ravine were forcibly evicted in 1959.

Dodger Stadium was constructed between 1959 and 1962. It is now still sometimes referred to as Chavez Ravine, even though the ravine itself was filled in, because it was also once home to another baseball team: the Los Angeles Angels. When it was announced that the Dodgers were coming to Los Angeles, the city already had two professional ball teams: the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Stars, who played in Fairfax‘s Gilmore Field and South Central‘s Wrigley Field, respectively. Dodger Stadium was designed by Emil Prager and Thomas Christian Kavanagh — two civil engineers known for their projects in New York and elsewhere.

To get to Dodger Stadium I first walked through Echo Park. Right before entering the park, the sidewalks come to an abrupt end. Though this literal shortcoming stands out as odd today, it’s certainly not completely unexpected for a semi-public Los Angeles space that opened between the two years separating the end of operations for both the Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway. Seeing no designated entrance or pathway for pedestrians, I walked up the eight-lane road.

Vast parking lots
Vast parking lots

There is no mistaking the fact that despite its recent renovation, Dodger Stadium remains almost exclusively oriented toward automobilists. The stadium itself is dwarfed by a vast, dry sea of parking spaces. In fact, the parking lot alone is larger than the adjacent neighborhood of Chinatown. However, unlike Chinatown, Dodger Stadium resembles a community only when cars are present. Surrounded by acres of concrete, there stands -surrounded by trees — a 76 Station that opened alongside the stadium and the building of which was partly financed by Union Oil (then the owner of 76).

The newly renovated stadium now includes seven bike racks (compared to 16,000 parking spaces for cars). Anyone who’s ever found themselves in a nearby neighborhood like Solano Canyon or Victor Heights on game day has seen the parking lot spread to their streets, effectively making them feel like they’re under automotive siege.

There are alternatives to gridlock, cycling and walking up the sidewalk-less roads. The Metro operates a bus, the Dodger Stadium Express, which travels back and forth between the venue and Union Station. From there transit riders can take Metro, Metrolink, Amtrak or other means of transit home and avoid the gridlock. In recent years, the Angeleno Heights Trolley attempted to raise funds to restore a Birney trolley car that serviced Angeleno Heights from 1920-1946 as part of the Los Angeles Railway’s “yellow car” system. The trolley would have connected the Angeleno Heights, Echo Park, Chinatown, El Pueblo, Civic Center, and Victor Heights neighborhoods with Dodger Stadium.

Retired numbers and the view of Downtown
Retired numbers and the view of Downtown

The tour started near the gift shop. Although it’s not uncommon to hear people complain about Downtown‘s skyline, the view of it from Dodger Stadium is stunning. My first thought was that the stadium must’ve been built with the vista in mind. However, it was quickly pointed out that most of Bunker Hill and the Financial District‘s skyscrapers weren’t erected for a two or three decades after the opening of the baseball stadium. 32-story City Hall was the tallest building until 1964, with the rest of downtown’s buildings topping out at thirteen stories.

View of the Elysian Hills and San Gabriel Mountains
View of the Elysian Hills and San Gabriel Mountains

Entering the stadium’s upper deck there affords another breathtaking view — one that eloquently refutes the frequent characterization of Los Angeles as an overly horizontal city. From here the view is dominated by the Elysian, Monterey, Repetto, San Rafael, and Verdugo Hills, and beyond them, the San Gabriel Mountains. What other supposedly vertical cities can complete with Los Angeles’s chains of hills and mountains?

Bobble heads
Bobble heads
Dodger Dog mural
Dodger Dog mural

Having not lived in the 1960s and having never visited Dodger Stadium before its renovation (or any other baseball stadium, for that matter), I’m not sure of how different it feels from its pre-renovation look. If I loved an institution I can imagine being distressed by heavy-handed changes, but to me the new Dodger Stadium looks and smells like a building from the early ’60s. Some renovations were pointed out and though there were unmistakably modern touches, such as a cartoon image of Psy shilling-soju, the ballpark has a space age charm. Even the giant bobbleheads and new murals have a uniformly retro aesthetic.

Playground
Playground

Among the new additions are playgrounds for visitors who demand more excitement than baseball affords them. I was particularly taken with the landscaping, which has an unmistakably modern look with its emphasis on drought tolerant plants.

Planters
Planters

The succulents and other hearty plants simultaneously look strange and fitting in the concrete 1960s saucer-pod planters. Many of the other renovations are hidden from fans’ sight, and we were asked not to take pictures of the clubhouse.

View of the baseball diamond
View of the baseball diamond
24 - Gym-thumb-600x447-52665
The Dodger gymnasium
23 - Hot tubs-thumb-600x447-52663
The Dodgers hot tubs

As the sun set and I took in the view of this amazing venue I surprised myself by thinking that I might actually come back to attend an event and experience the space filled with a crowd. I imagined bicycle races, croquet matches, or kite battles as suitably engaging alternatives to baseball games or rock concerts. Not long after, it was announced that soccer will be coming to the stadium for the first time in its history when Real Madrid, Everton, Juventus, and Los Angeles Galaxy will play.

The Short Stop
The Short Stop

To keep the baseball theme going I ended my visit by stopping in at the Short Stop, a bar long popular with Dodgers fans and formerly the LAPD’s notorious (and disbanded) CRASH unit. Though there are still gun lockers, off-duty cops are vastly outnumbered today by civilian barflies. The walls, however, are still covered with framed Dodger memorabilia.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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3 thoughts on “Southland Parks — Exploring Dodger Stadium Without Baseball

  1. Hello. Thank you for not being a baseball fan. It makes your blog post a lot more interesting to me. I am a bit of a baseball fan although it’s no longer a favorite leisure time activity to me. It’s further down the list these days.

    It’s not because my grandparents and their 5 children were evicted from Chavez Ravine, not entirely by a long shot anyway.

    In fact your fascination with the stadium kind of matches my own – when I was 10 or 11 years old. I didn’t know anything about baseball then but I wanted to see the stadium. So I rode my stingray style bike all the way from the valley between Mt. Washington and Montecito Heights to Stadium Way, walking my bike most of the way up that steep hill to the Golden State Gate – just to gawk at the empty stadium from the locked chain link. Hey I was young and…

    Ok now to your article. This passage:

    ‘the hills and valleys there were home to three Mexican-American neighborhoods — Bishop, La Loma, and Palo Verde — situated on land owned by Julian Chavez known as “Chavez Ravine.” ‘

    It’s better to say “once owned” and even that is not true by a longshot to my understanding. The following article tries to set the record straight:

    http://www.solanocanyon.org/blog/whose-land-was-it-anyway

    Your observations about the automobile-centric nature of the stadium site are well taken. It’s pretty horrific to me to see pictures of that parking lot completely filled to capacity with cars. It really puts me off. To me, Dodger Stadium is not situated where a major league ballpark should be situated. I live in Seattle and Safeco Field is just south of downtown. A Seattle downtown office worker can walk to the game – on sidewalks even. I live in North Seattle and have only driven to the game once and I had a free parking voucher. All the other times our family has ridden the bus.

    But the contradiction is indeed the stunning location of the site. If you look around at the surrounding hills and the views – it is easy forget the bad and the shameful. I’m sorry to say that was my experience when I took in a Dodger game last July.

    And the bad and the shameful is that the old neighborhoods of Palo Verde and Bishop lie under the parking lots. It’s amazing that la Loma (the land and some ruins, mind you) is relatively intact save for the carving out of the Academy Gate. All the rest is buried.

    Here’s some more on that:

    http://www.chavezravine.org/blog/10-things-every-true-blue-dodger-fan-should-know-about-chavez-ravine

    When I took in that game, my car expertly guided to an available parking slot and joined my extended family emerging from their cars – I couldn’t help but think, I’ve come to a place where people come to have a good time.

    To forget their troubles and pass the time. It’s a place of forgetting.

    Like

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