Like several hundred others who still honor the memory of a lost community, Aurora Fernandez will pack up a lunch and some relatives Saturday and head for Elysian Park, near Dodger Stadium, to attend the Ninth Annual Palo Verde-Loma-Bishop Cultural and Historical Assn. picnic.
But unless she breaks a record of almost three decades, she will not lay eyes on the stadium itself.
Fernandez will be a star attraction of sorts at the picnic by her former neighbors, who still remember her as the Molly Pitcher of “the battle of Chavez Ravine.”
The association that sponsors the picnic was formed by people who were forced to move from three mostly Latino communities to make way for construction of the baseball stadium.
Fernandez and her parents, Manuel and Avrana Arechiga, were among the most prominent figures in the fight against the evictions. On May 9, 1959, sheriff’s deputies moved in to haul them away. Newspaper pictures and television film coverage of the confrontation featured Fernandez--at that time a slim, 38-year-old war widow named Vargas--kicking and screaming at the deputies.
To this day, she denies that she kicked the deputies, as she denied the charge at her trial in 1959 on three counts of battery and one of disturbing the peace. But the judge was convinced--she got 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Once the deputies had taken her outside her house, a city bulldozer smashed into it, destroying the home where she had lived since she was 1 year old. Her father set up a tent in the ruins, insisting that he would never move, but eventually gave up and in 1961 accepted $10,500 the city had offered him.
The end of Chavez Ravine began in 1951, when the city Housing Authority condemned the land for construction of public housing. That plan fell through and the Housing Authority turned the land over to the city, which offered it to the Dodgers.
The inhabitants protested, arguing that the land should have been returned to the original owners when the housing project was abandoned.
Vargas remarried and today lives in Pico Rivera. Her parents are dead and her brothers and sisters live in the Echo Park and City Terrace areas and in Santa Fe Springs. But she still fondly recalls Palo Verde, as the inhabitants called the cluster of modest houses in Chavez Ravine.
It was a closely knit community in which residents all knew each other, left their doors unlocked and cared for each others’ children, said Lou Santillan, who also grew up there. Residents kept animals. The children rode homemade carts on the now-bulldozed hills and learned how to use the swimming pool at the nearby Police Academy with the aid of a friendly officer.
Santillan maintains that he was born where third base is now. “There is an old Mexican tradition that you bury a baby’s umbilical cord where he is born. I hate home runs because every time those guys round third, my stomach hurts,” he said, laughing.
Fernandez has never been in the stadium. “I’ve never even seen it,” she said, but she also insisted, “I don’t have any grudge against the Dodgers.
“My grandchildren go to the games. . . . The Dodgers are my favorite team. But I just can’t go in that stadium.”