The book: “City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles”
The author: Jerald Podair
The vital statistics: Princeton University, 384 pages, $32.95, released April 4, 2017
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website
The pitch: It’s our dream someday to board a monorail — just something other than a Metro Rapid bus that slogs over from Union Station and up Sunset Blvd. through traffic and just ties up the lanes others could be using — and join fans by the thousands in a communal procession to Dodger Stadium.
If you’ve ever got that experience in Boston, or New York or Chicago, there’s nothing quite like the anticipation. And lack of frustration from having no where to go in line of single cars entering a parking lot.
For reasons that are much political as logistical, it hasn’t happened in the 55 years since the stadium was built in Chavez Ravine above the downtown L.A. skyline, and we don’t expect anything to magically be in place anytime soon. Just something again to ponder as the Dodgers get to open the 2017 season at home, on a day game, off Vin Scully Ave.
It again comes to mind while talking this walk through a book that may be shelved under political social science, politics and government or public affairs and urban planning. That’s the theme repeated — probably too much — by out-of-towner Podair, a professor of history and American studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc., who decided to take on how and why Dodger Stadium set the tone for how the rest of L.A., especially the downtown area, moved forward during a critical time in its history.
“Dodger Stadium made downtown Los Angeles possible,” he writes on page 304. “Downtown Los Angeles in turn made modern Los Angeles possible.”
So while the L.A. Aqueduct (1913), City Hall (1928), the Coliseum (1923) and Union Station (1939) gave that central core specific definition, Dodger Stadium’s opening on April 10. 1962, with its modernistic form and accessibility, “began the process of change … the gateway that transformed downtown.”
It’s a premise we can buy into, having lived through the period and otherwise perhaps having no real reason to ever visit the downtown area unless it involves work.
That one-affects-the-other note is replicated in so many ways, and with earnest, as the pages go on recounting the history that redundancy sometimes sets in.
While we consider ourselves to have something of a solid foundation on what led to Walter O’Malley moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn in 1957 when he couldn’t get land for a stadium he wanted to build – and L.A. could provide him opportunity, even if had to displace some people who wouldn’t move. (See: Chapter 7, including a photo of the Arechiga family sitting outside their home after a 1959 eviction and painted O’Malley as an opportunist), this really does dig deeper than most any other project we’ve come across, aside from the Andy McCue’s 2014 book on O’Malley called “Mover and Shaker” (and the first book review we launched in that year’s series because of its importance)
There is far more said in this book about a Dodgers history that pivots on decisions by L.A. mayor Norris Poulson and City Council members John Holland, Ed Roybal and Roz Wyman, who navigate the system as it pertains to property values and the L.A. Housing Authority, the mixed cultures and urban renewal.
A theme also carried through in how this private undertaking by O’Malley was challenged as something that many insisted would become a public asset.
All these years later, we can see how that did happen.
Podair admits in the acknowledgment that he got the idea for the book after having a discussion with a friend about what individual had the most affect on the history of America’s two most important cities. Podiar’s answer was Walter O’Malley, and then it became more of a Los Angeles-based story. Podair also admits that the help of Peter O’Malley and his associates Brent Shyer and Bob Schweppe were primary contributors to his book project.
If you happen to get a seat in the upper deck behind home plate, one with the view of the mountains and everything else, you can still take Podair’s words to heart: “Dodger Stadium was indeed the first line of civic undertaking that would transform the identity of Los Angeles from a neighborhood city to a world metropolis … the new ballpark served as the reflection of an ambitious and modern city.”