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The Biography of Walter O'Malley

Where to Play?
Many ideas, from a zoo to a cemetery, had been discussed by city officials about how to use the Chavez Ravine land, but nothing materialized. Walt Disney also considered the land for his Disneyland project, but rejected it.8 The city had purchased the land back from the federal government after the aborted public housing project of 24 13-story and 163 two-story buildings, which had been designed by famed architect Richard Neutra. Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, youthful City Councilwoman Wyman and County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn were the influential leaders in bringing Major League Baseball to L.A., along with Los Angeles Examiner sports columnist Vincent X. Flaherty, who had been a longtime advocate of the idea. Flaherty had corresponded with O’Malley since 1953 suggesting that the Los Angeles market was ready for the majors and enthusiasm had never been higher. However, O’Malley would reply that he wanted to stay in Brooklyn and build a domed stadium there, leaving Flaherty the impression that he was chasing a real long shot.
Dissenters and owners of the San Diego minor league club, who didn’t want to lose a grip on the old Pacific Coast League, challenged the approved city contract with O’Malley. By late 1957, the naysayers amassed enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum to be voted on by the city’s populous in June of 1958.
In the meantime, O’Malley and club attorney Henry J. Walsh had to negotiate a place to play for the 1958 season on an interim basis while his dream stadium was to be built. After seriously considering the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and team-owned Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (capacity of 22,000), the Dodgers struck a lease deal with the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission to play games in the 100,000-seat Memorial Coliseum. O’Malley’s “Three a.m. Plan” as it was named, because it came to him in the middle of the night, allowed for minor modifications to be made to the shared facility (Los Angeles Rams, UCLA, USC, among others) and shoehorn the baseball field into the existing area. O’Malley’s idea was to lay out the field from the closed end with left field only 251 feet from home plate, but with a bizarre 42-foot high screen. That unusual dimension brought criticism from the press, but O’Malley knew it was a temporary solution until Dodger Stadium could be built. O’Malley’s new plan also mitigated the concerns of other Coliseum tenants who disagreed with the initial idea of changing the football playing surface or seating areas just to accommodate baseball. O’Malley paid $600,000 in rent for a two-year lease at the Coliseum, plus an initial $300,000 to convert the field for baseball use.
It would be in question whether the deal that the city had struck with O’Malley would be valid until a vote of the people on June 3, 1958. A yes vote on “Proposition B,” as the referendum was titled, meant that the contract with and approved by City Council should be allowed, while a no vote meant the agreement would be rejected by the voters. The major provision was that O’Malley was bound to build a 50,000-seat stadium on the property. The city would receive, in exchange, Wrigley Field at 42nd and Avalon from the Dodgers, plus putting the Dodger Stadium property on the tax rolls at some $345,000 per annum. In addition, the Dodgers would pay up to $500,000 for a recreational area for public use on 40 acres of the land located in the hills above the stadium. The Dodgers would also pay a maintenance cost for the recreation area at an additional $60,000 a year for 20 years. The Dodger Stadium land would also be restricted by its conditional use permit.

8 Cary S. Henderson, Los Angeles and the Dodger War, 1957-62, Southern California Quarterly, Fall 1980, page 286

Walter O’Malley, (from l-r) engineer John Waterbury, Amos Buckley, in charge of maintenance of the Dodgers’ installations and Warren Giles, National League President, reviewing plans and field drawings on Jan. 7, 1958 for the possible use of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as a temporary home for the Dodgers, while Dodger Stadium is to be built.

The “3 a.m. Plan” emerges from Walter O’Malley’s lack of sleep as he wrestles with options for where the Los Angeles Dodgers would play in the 1958 season. The plan enabled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to be used with minimal disruption for the other tenants. The baseball diamond was to be shoehorned in the closed end of the Coliseum, giving home plate a north-east orientation. The plan called for a short 251-foot fence in left field, but with a 42-foot high screen to prevent an onslaught of home runs.

Walter O’Malley surveys the mammoth Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for temporary use by the Dodgers beginning with the 1958 season. On January 15, 1958, he is standing where he believes home plate would be located. Ultimately, the Dodgers would play four seasons in the Coliseum until O’Malley’s dream ballpark, Dodger Stadium, opened on April 10, 1962.

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

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