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The Biography of Walter O'Malley

O'Malley's Challenges
On June 1, 1958, the Dodgers aired a live, five-hour Dodgerthon on KTTV, from the studios and then from the airport as the Dodger team plane arrived, explaining the advantages of supporting the contract and the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Numerous noted celebrities including Dean Martin, George Burns, Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, Debbie Reynolds, Joe E. Brown and Jackie Robinson partook in the festivities favoring the Dodgers. Every major business leader and association supported Prop B.
Two days later, the Referendum received 351,683 yes votes and passed by 25,785 votes. It was the largest non-Presidential election turnout in Los Angeles history, with over 62 percent of the city’s 1,105,427 voters casting ballots. O’Malley was about to start the groundbreaking of new Dodger Stadium, when once again legal challenges arose. The opposition appealed to two different State Superior Courts on the grounds that the city’s granting of the land use did not follow a “public purpose” clause in the Federal government sale to the city. A favorable ruling was immediately appealed by the city to the California State Supreme Court, which overturned both lower courts’ decisions. The unanimous first decision (7-0 vote) was on January 13, 1959 and the refusal to reconsider followed on February 11. In the meantime, California Governor Edmund G. Brown pledged to sell 36 acres of state-owned land in Chavez Ravine to the city of Los Angeles to complete the agreement on the stadium site for $170,780.9
After additional attempts to appeal to the California State Supreme Court in April, 1959 by attorney Phill Silver, who represented the opponents of the city’s contract with the Dodgers, the court upheld the constitutionality of the agreement. The complaint eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where an appeal request was not heard and was finally dismissed on October 19, 1959. The long process and expensive legal wrangling was over. In the meantime, while O’Malley was preparing by contract to exchange Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, valued at $2.25 million for the rough, hilly terrain of Chavez Ravine, which was valued at just over $2.28 million, another battle began, as a few remaining residents illegally living on the hills refused to leave, even though they had been ordered to years before and asked to voluntarily leave on March 9, 1959 before the eviction.10
Residents were paid for their houses, but many felt that they should not have to leave, despite the property belonging to the city. O’Malley had acquired the land by contract with the city and was obligated to privately build Dodger Stadium on a portion of the land. But, what was the city’s stance of looking the other way on the area which was nearly dormant for six years, turned into O’Malley’s latest headache, even after he spent $494,200 to purchase 12 properties at greatly inflated prices. Records show the appraised total was $85,750, when the owners refused the city’s best and last offers in 1960. O’Malley had all legal right and title to the land, but nevertheless the remaining residents held it against him and not the federal government, Housing Authority or city officials. The fact remains, however, that no property owners should have been there after 1951-52 and the City Housing Authority’s edict to vacate.

9 Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1959
10 Los Angeles Examiner, May 12, 1959

As legal challenges presented themselves, the previously signed contract between the Dodgers and the City of Los Angeles went to voters for their approval on June 3, 1958. In preparation for this “Proposition B” voting, a live, five-hour Dodgerthon was televised on June 1 on KTTV Channel 11. Dodgerthon host Joe E. Brown, the Chairman of the Taxpayers’ Committee for “Yes on Baseball” is in the studio set.

Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

At a news conference, O’Malley points out features of the proposed new Dodger Stadium, which will be built once L.A. voters pass the “Proposition B” measure on the June 3, 1958 ballot. O’Malley was ready to design, privately finance and build Dodger Stadium.

Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson (right), an instrumental leader in bringing the Dodgers to the West Coast, stands and views barren land in the hilly area known as Chavez Ravine with Los Angeles Examiner sportswriter Bob Hunter on Aug. 28, 1957.

AP/Wide World Photos

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