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Chavez Ravine Residents Make Peace With Dodgers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 40-year rift between former residents of Chavez Ravine and the Los Angeles Dodgers was symbolically mended Saturday as the two sides broke bread together and extended olive branches to each other.

“It’s time to heal--we want to move forward,” said Virginia Pinedo-Bye, a former resident of the ravine’s Loma neighborhood, where hundreds of homes were bulldozed in 1959 to make room for Dodger Stadium.

As a 15-year-old, Pinedo-Bye protested the Dodgers by tossing ripe tomatoes over the fence and into the outfield on opening day in 1962.

On Saturday, she hugged Dodgers President Bob Graziano, took communion with him and helped distribute tiny olive branches to him, other former Chavez Ravine residents and Dodger Senior Vice President Derrick Hall.

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For his part, Graziano praised those evicted from Chavez Ravine for “not forgetting the past, but forgiving the past.”

For four decades, those living in the mostly Latino neighborhood have seethed at the destruction of a close-knit community by outsiders.

The reconciliation effort occurred during a ceremony at San Conrado Catholic Mission to honor the late Rev. Thomas Matin. During the 1930s and ‘40s, he served as a priest at a chapel at what is now a stadium parking lot.

When the chapel was closed in the early 1950s to make way for a low-income housing project that was never built, Matin helped establish the San Conrado church in the Solano Valley, just over the hill from the current stadium.

Dozens of former residents of the ravine’s Loma, Palo Verde and Bishop neighborhoods were among the 175 who watched as a bust of Matin commissioned by them and sculpted by Monterey Park artist Pedro Rios was unveiled.

Old-timers in the crowd described Matin as a gentle man who could be stern with those who violated the tranquillity of the 315-acre Chavez Ravine.

And the hidden community of 600 or so homes was indeed a peaceful place to live, recalled Chuy Ramiriez, who was born and raised on Bishop Street.

“It was beautiful. . . . People had chickens and they would have barbecues and everybody around would come,” said Ramiriez, now a 60-year-old retiree who lives in Glendora.

Ramiriez and his wife, Virginia, were standing with Raul and Gloria Fierro Aguiler of Eagle Rock and studying photographs taken by photographer Don Normark that are included in his book, “Chavez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story.”

Normark, of Seattle, also attended Saturday’s gathering. He explained how he was a 20-year-old aspiring photographer when he stumbled upon Chavez Ravine by accident in the fall of 1948.

“I climbed this hill to get a shot of downtown Los Angeles for a Christmas card I wanted to make. I looked on the other side of the hill and there was this neighborhood,” recalled Normark--who returned 16 times the next year to photograph the people who lived there.

After Nellie Arechiga’s family was evicted and their home was bulldozed in 1959, they camped in front of the rubble for a week.

“My mother-in-law was the last one to leave. She didn’t want to sell. She came out with a shotgun when the police came,” said the 77-year-old Echo Park resident.

Alicia V. Brown, who has lived in the Solano Valley area since 1939, said city officials falsely tried to depict Chavez Ravine as a slum and preceded the evictions with a crackdown on such things as plumbing violations.

Sal M. Veas, a 75-year-old water and power supervisor who lives in Highland Park, said the city’s insistence on trying to low-ball the purchase price of homes during the condemnation process created much of the unrest.

Geneva Williams, who has lived on a hill above Chavez Ravine since 1935, made a point Saturday of assuring Graziano that she doesn’t blame the ball club for what she described as “really, a tragic event.”

“The Dodgers are not the bad guy in this,” Williams told him.

Graziano thanked everyone “for helping us understand the community--the history of the community.”

But, he added: “I was 2 months old when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. I just want to clarify that.”


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