The Gates to Heaven Stand Here
It was 50 years ago today that groundbreaking took place in Chavez Ravine for what would later become my home away from home–Our Lady of Chavez Ravine, that is, Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who had moved the team across country from Brooklyn to the City of Angels the previous year, had scouted potential ballpark locations himself and chose this site, a canyon ravine just north of downtown L.A., on which to build his “Taj Mahal of baseball.”
For more pics of the actual groundbreaking, see Walter O’Malley’s website, http://www.walteromalley.com/biog_short_page11.php?lang=eng.
Some excerpts from that page follow–note the modeling of color and facility cleanliness after Disneyland, which was another very new Southern California site at the time. (And, not surprisingly, there are times Dodger Stadium is the “other Magic Kingdom” of SoCal.)
Finally, on September 17, 1959, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for Dodger Stadium and O’Malley knew that his longtime dream of building his own stadium would be fulfilled. He thought it would be achieved in 1960, but later had to push back completion until April 1962. Because of the extensive delays, the price tag had also increased by $2.5 million to a new total of $23 million (including construction, roads and land acquisition). The Dodgers were forced to remain in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for two more seasons, with less than favorable last-minute lease terms from the Coliseum Commission.
Dodger Stadium was as well-designed as any park before or since. Most of its success was in the detailed planning process by O’Malley, along with Vice President Stadium Operations Dick Walsh, architect Capt. Praeger and Jack Yount of Vinnell Constructors. Two of O’Malley’s closest financial advisors during this stage were Dodger Directors Sylvan Oestreicher and Jim Mulvey, husband of part-owner Dearie Mulvey and President of Samuel Goldwyn Pictures. Union Oil, the team’s first major sponsor, and Bank of America were key players in the financial aspects of Dodger Stadium construction.
During the complicated construction process, O’Malley was totally immersed in the project, as he resided in downtown Los Angeles at the Statler Hotel at 930 Wilshire Boulevard. He never wanted to be far away from the site. Almost every conceivable idea for the new ballpark was discussed and considered by O’Malley: ease of parking; transportation from the lots to the stadium; exclusive Club Level seating; lighting; colors; width of seats; concessions; landscaping; artwork; fountains; restroom availability; cleanliness; sightlines; escalators; fine dining; and a milk bar for kids, among others. When the Dodgers were in Japan in 1956, O’Malley noted the unique ground’s eye view provided from dugout box seats and he incorporated the concept into his new stadium. The influence of Disneyland for its layout, parking facilities and high level of customer service did not go unnoticed by O’Malley, who had his executives visit the Magic Kingdom and take notes.
…Fans were impressed by the beauty of the multi-colored levels and its symmetry, plus the stunning views of the San Gabriel Mountains and downtown Los Angeles. O’Malley was always interested in horticulture and spent an additional $1.5 million on colorful landscaping in 1963, including gardens and planting a variety of trees, making Dodger Stadium more than just a baseball park, but an oasis and showplace in Los Angeles.
Trees include 1,000 Eucalyptus, 1,000 Acacia, 750 Fiscus-Nitida, 150 California Peppers,
95 Olive, 85 Canary Island Pine, 75 Washingtonia Palms, 75 Brazilian Peppers, 36 Evergreen Ash, 34 Chinese Elms, 20 Orchids, 20 Jacaranda, 20 Date Palm, 12 Mediterranean Palms, 12 Evergreen Pear and 10 California Rosewood, in addition to 300 Olympic Rose bushes, according to 1990 “Dodger Stadium A to Z” brochure.
And so it was that a dream was on its way to becoming reality. A beautiful ballpark, envisioned by the man so often described as a visionary, finally started to become more than a concept–on its way to something real, tangible–on this day 50 years ago.