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‘Stealing Home’ is the definitive origin story of Dodger Stadium

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A review of Eric Nusbaum’s book, a detailed history of Chavez Ravine

From ‘Stealing Home’

Eric Nusbaum wrote a book about how Dodger Stadium came to be situated at Chavez Ravine, and the lives of those affected by decades worth of decisions in Los Angeles.

Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between is a treasure trove of city politics, baseball history, community building, and how it took a series of events over several years for the ballpark to even exist.

“It’s almost hard to grasp, even for me after writing the thing, how broad and how all-encompassing the failure was that led to Dodger Stadium,” Nusbaum told True Blue LA last week.

Nusbaum artfully navigates between stories of Abrana Aréchiga, a Mexican immigrant whose family found their way to Los Angeles in 1922; Frank Wilkinson, a central figure in the housing authority that sought to build public housing in Chavez Ravine; and Walter O’Malley, who was looking for alternatives as his efforts to build a new stadium in Brooklyn were rebuffed.

Though pitted against one another in the fight for public housing that predated the Dodgers moving west, Wilkinson and Aréchiga were similar in some ways.

“They came from opposite places in society. Frank had every privilege and Abrana had none, but I would say they were both extremely determined people,” Nusbaum explained. “They were both completely fighters for what they believed in.”

These are the main characters of the book, but there are several others mixed in to its 76 chapters.

“I really felt the story needed to be sprawling and sweeping to resonate and make sense,” Nusbaum said. “It was important to me that I captured the intimate lives and raw pain, to the extent that I could, of the people who were experiencing this.

“One of the problems with how the story has been told in the past, and that frustrated me, was the lack of context. It was always sort of incomplete, and felt condensed. … I wanted to give a sense of how these lives fit in to the bigger forces at work, and how they were swept along, and what happened when they tried to swim against the tide.”

Chavez Ravine evictions, 1959
May 8, 1959: Aurora “Lola” Vargas, daughter of Abrana Aréchiga, is physically dragged out of the home at 1771 Malvina Avenue, which is now part of the parking lot well beyond left field at Dodger Stadium, near what is now Academy Road.
Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

The Aréchiga family was evicted from their home in the community of Palo Verde on May 8, 1959. You might have seen various photos of this over the years, most notably Abrana’s daughter Aurora being physically dragged down the steps by multiple officers.

These are the indelible images of a family displaced for the sake of building a ballpark, but Nusbaum’s book does a great job in showing how things aren’t that simple.

The seeds of this book were planted when Nusbaum was a junior at Culver City High School in 2003 when Wilkinson was a guest speaker in his class and said, “Dodger Stadium should not exist.”

For Nusbaum, who grew up a Dodgers fan, this rocked his world.

“My wife tells me I talked about writing this book to her when we were in college, when I was 19 or 20,” Nusbaum said. “I don’t think I thought about it intellectually that much, but I felt a strong connection and was drawn to the story.”

This book is a quick read. I got through the 300 pages less than 24 hours after I started, thanks to Nusbaum keeping things interesting by interweaving everything together so seamlessly.

Dodger Stadium’s origin story doesn’t have a binary good vs. evil arc. Stealing Home does a great job explaining just how complex the process was, and paints a compelling picture of Los Angeles history.

Chavez Ravine before Dodger Stadium was made up of the communities of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop, which were often ignored and marginalized, but thanks to Nusbaum’s book they will not be forgotten.

Stealing Home is available now. Eric Nusbaum also writes a newsletter called Sports Stories.