Reference Biography: Walter O’Malley

1957 - Part 1

On January 4, 1957, O’Malley purchased a twin-engine Convair model 440 metropolitan airplane for the Dodgers. “This is the first time a major league club has bought an airplane,” said a proud O’Malley of the $734,908.96 acquisition. “We tried a plane once before experimentally to transport our farm clubs but the DC-3 we used was too small and we decided to get a bigger plane.” The 44-passenger seat plane was not only used to move the major league Dodgers from city to city, but the minor league teams from Montreal, St. Paul and Ft. Worth, as well. Asked by members of the media if the purchase meant the team was headed to the West Coast to relocate, O’Malley said, “If any club should go to the West Coast, it would have to fly and it would have to own an airplane. But our future for the time being is in Brooklyn.” Associated Press, January 4, 1957

From left, Chairman of the Board of Eastern Air Lines Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, Bud Holman, Walter O’Malley and Dodger stockholder James Mulvey hold a Convair model plane.

The Dodgers purchased a twin-engine, Convair (Model 440) plane on Jan. 4, 1957.

O’Malley wrote a January 8 letter to Dodger stockholder Jim Mulvey stating, “Thomas Brothers of 2560 Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles sells a booklet of Los Angeles County maps for three dollars. On page 35 of that booklet in the lower right hand is shown Elysian Park and at the bottom of the page you will find the name Chavez Ravine. You will note that this is the general area where Hollywood Freeway crosses Harbor Freeway and ties up with Santa Ana Freeway and San Bernardino Freeway. Also there are quick connection roads to Sunset and Glendale Boulevard. On page 44 of the booklet just to the right of the center on the top you will find Chavez Ravine Road. This particular map shows the freeways more clearly. There are about four hundred acres of sandy hills and undeveloped land in this area behind the Police Barracks...I wish you would drive out to the location at your convenience and study it. This happens to be the only spot immediately adjacent to one freeway but within a short distance of the intersections of the remaining highway. When you return to New York, we will have some interesting observations to compare...”

Chavez Ravine would provide a spacious, but challenging construction site for the new Dodger Stadium.

The Brooklyn Sports Center Authority was reviewing land on the opposite side of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues from where the Dodger President had wanted his new ballpark. However, he was prepared to buy $4 million in first mortgage bonds (and in an internal memo dated January 29, 1957 he might have added another million) to assist in the project’s funding and would not have had major objections to building the new stadium on either his preferred location at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues on the site of the Long Island Rail Road, the same plan recommended by engineering firm Madigan-Hyland, or becoming a tenant (if that was the only way to stay in Brooklyn) on the opposite side of the street, which had been recommended by the engineering firm of Clarke and Rapuano. As long as it was in Brooklyn and had potential for transportation and parking, O’Malley would have embraced either plan, although he always reiterated that he wanted to build, own and maintain a new stadium.

Also prior to the 1957 season on February 21, O’Malley made an important swap with Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate and owner of Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and the L.A. Angels. O’Malley acquired the Pacific Coast League ballclub, territorial rights and Wrigley Field in exchange for the Fort Worth team of the Texas League in the Dodger minor league system. Wrigley was a proponent of major league expansion to the West Coast. He understood the landscape was changing for his PCL team and, if Major League Baseball were to come to Los Angeles, his Angels would be worth much less. The Dodgers contracted to sell La Grave Field in Fort Worth with a lease-back. This stadium was built by the Dodgers in the winter of 1949-50.

L-R: Dodger Vice President Dick Walsh, L.A. Angels Business Manager Bill Heymans, Chicago Cubs Vice President Clarence Rowland and Dodger Scout Harold “Lefty” Phillips. The Dodgers exchanged their Ft. Worth, TX club to the Cubs for the Pacific Coast League’s L.A. Angels and Wrigley Field on February 21, 1957.

“Our long range plans has caused us to take these steps to accumulate enough of our own dollars with which to build a new Dodger Stadium, preferably in Brooklyn,” said O’Malley in a Dodger press release in February 1957. “In buying Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, we are reinvesting baseball dollars in baseball. There is an element of protection for the future in this action.”

Indeed, O’Malley still had to figure out whether the Dodgers could potentially play at a renovated Wrigley Field or if there were other sites available in Los Angeles. Later, O’Malley and the Giants would pay a $900,000 indemnification to the PCL for relocating in its original territory, a fee that was divided in equal shares to the remaining clubs in the league.

On February 21, 1957, Mylod told the New York World-Telegram and Sun, “Soon after Messrs. Blum and Allen and I were appointed by Mayor Wagner, we set up offices opposite the Long Island Rail Road terminal on Flatbush Avenue. But we have not been able to send very much out of those offices. We asked the Board of Estimate for $278,000 with which to conduct a thorough survey. As you know, this request was turned down and we were told we could have $25,000. We asked for a grant and we were informed that any money we got would have to be considered a loan.

“The board then appropriated $100,000 to be given outright to a five-man committee which would take up all the problems which come under the jurisdiction of the Sports Center Authority.”

Walter O’Malley in a filled Dodgertown Lounge tells sportswriters of the Dodgers’ transaction with the Chicago Cubs, exchanging the Ft. Worth (TX) franchise for the Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels and Wrigley Field in Los Angeles on Feb. 21, 1957.

According to the Sun, “When the interviewer said it looked very much as if the Board of Estimate did not want a stadium in Brooklyn, Mr. Mylod replied, ‘Draw your own conclusions.’” Dan Daniel, World-Telegram and Sun, New York, February 21, 1957

For the 1957 season, the Dodgers announced they were going to again play games — this time eight — at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ. It was a call for attention from O’Malley, but not one that received much play from officials.

Certainly, O’Malley’s intent was to stay in Brooklyn, but to ignore the offers from Los Angeles would have been foolish for any intelligent businessman. While the New York politicos were in a high stakes card game with O’Malley, he eventually played the ultimate trump card, which may have surprised them.

New York Mayor Robert Wagner sends an optimistic telegram to Walter O’Malley on April 1, 1957.

On March 1, 1957, New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner sent O’Malley a telegram in Vero Beach which stated: “Dear Walter: Each year together with millions of New Yorkers I look forward to the opening of the baseball season. I am therefore deeply disturbed by recent reports indicating that the management of the Dodgers is seriously considering removal of its team from our city.

“Baseball is a part of American life which has always had an important influence on our youth. New York City has always been a great sports center. It still is and I am confident that it will retain its position as such. The Dodgers are uniquely identified with this city. It would be a great loss to the community if any one of its three major league teams departed.

“I realize that the problem of appropriate facilities poses serious problems for the Dodger management. As you know I have been deeply concerned with the problem. I am hopeful that the city administration will be able to aid in its solution. Concrete and constructive suggestions are under consideration. All possible efforts to arrive at a satisfactory solution in the best interest of the community will be made. Kindest regards.

“Robert F. Wagner, Mayor,

“City of New York.”

To that wire, O’Malley replied: “On the eve of a special stockholders and directors meeting we are pleased to receive official word from Mayor Wagner that ‘all possible efforts’ are being made. The Mayor, Borough President Cashmore and Commissioner Robert Moses have been concerned for some time about our problem. We trust they will have full support as time is running out.

“Walter F. O’Malley,

“President, Brooklyn Dodgers.”

Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, County Supervisor Hahn and City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman carried the torch to bring baseball to Los Angeles. Wyman had corresponded with O’Malley as early as September 1, 1955, explaining the interest that Los Angeles had in exploring the possibility of bringing the Dodgers westward and her desire to meet with him while on a business trip in New York. O’Malley declined, as he was entirely focused on finding a solution in Brooklyn, but he undoubtedly made note of the opportunity.

Dodger official Dick Walsh (right) views Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, owned by Walter O’Malley, as a possible home field for the Dodgers in 1958. Cubs’ Vice President Clarence Rowland (center) and Angels’ General Manager Bill Heymans is on the far left.

On March 6, 1957, Poulson, John Gibson, president of the City Council; Samuel Leask, city administration officer; Hahn; John Leach; and Milton Arthur, chairman of the county recreation commission met with O’Malley at the Dodgers’ progressive spring training complex, Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, FL and tried to persuade him that they were indeed ready to bring the major leagues to the city of Angels.

While O’Malley was undecided but obviously intrigued by the Los Angeles proposal, a very optimistic Mayor Poulson scored hometown headlines as he said to reporters, “Now, I am convinced that the Dodgers will bring big league baseball home to us.” Stan Wyman, Brooklyn Daily, March 8, 1957  Los Angeles officials made many promises that were not able to be kept (such as 500 acres of land in Chavez Ravine) in later official negotiations, but the important Dodgertown meeting got the initial dialogue off and running.

Sensing the sincerity of their interest, O’Malley scheduled a May trip to Los Angeles to view potential sites to build his dream stadium. It was to be a head-spinning year for O’Malley, as he sought and ultimately found a solution to his stadium problems. Again, he was not asking for a handout, just a handshake on a location for the ballpark.

Not surprisingly, Mylod, head of a three-man committee and chairman of the stalled Brooklyn Sports Center Authority, urgently announced on March 6 that “finally the ball is rolling” and it appeared that “I am proceeding on the basis that an all-purpose sports center can be developed.” Bard Lindeman  This contrasts with Mylod’s December, 1956 newspaper statement when he said, “The Sports Center is a dead issue and everybody knows it. There isn’t anything to look forward or back on. I was as disappointed as anybody. Our report was prepared and submitted to the Board of Estimate. It is now up to the elected officials — the Mayor and the Borough President — if anything is to be done for this area of Brooklyn.” Bard Lindeman

The Board of Estimate was comprised of Mayor Wagner; Lawrence E. Gerosa, comptroller; Stark, president of the City Council; and Borough Presidents Hulan E. Jack, Manhattan; James J. Lyons, Bronx; Cashmore, Brooklyn; James A. Lundy, Queens; and Albert V. Maniscalco, Richmond.

O’Malley was prepared to put his money where his mouth was, as he had $4 to $5 million ready to invest in proposed Sports Center Authority bonds, having sold Ebbets Field to Kratter and his Montreal Royals’ (Triple-A) stadium and real estate.

“There still is a short time before we could be forced to take an irrevocable step to commit the Dodgers elsewhere,” O’Malley said. “We have done our part. We want to remain in Brooklyn and we should be allowed to continue there.” Dominic Peluso and James Desmond, New York Daily News, December 12, 1956

O’Malley also had reason to be disenchanted with government officials, who placed a five percent admission tax on baseball tickets beginning in 1954. This added up to a hefty sum for the city, O’Malley once stating that the Dodgers had to pay some $165,000 in one year for this new tax, in addition to traditional property taxes.

Walter O’Malley meets with Los Angeles elected officials during spring training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL on March 6, 1957. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn is on far left, while Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson is sitting third from left. Dodger center fielder Duke Snider sits on the lap of the famed clown Emmett Kelly, who was entertaining crowds during spring training.

Stark, president of the New York City Council, supported and proposed another wild idea on March 25, 1957, a baseball stadium on part of the Parade Grounds in the Prospect Park section of Brooklyn, which left O’Malley nearly speechless. Stark made the proposal through the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority. He supported the new idea because “the city could deed to the Sports Authority nine and one-half acres on which could be built a 50,000-seat stadium, with underground parking facilities.” Stark objected to the Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues site because “of the exorbitant cost of the land.” The Sporting News, April 3, 1957

“I am disappointed to learn of Mr. Stark’s new idea,” said O’Malley from his Dodgertown headquarters in Vero Beach. “Of late he seemed to show some interest in the Dodgers’ plan.”

On March 31, 1957, O’Malley wrote a personal letter to editor Frank D. Schroth at The News in Brooklyn stating, “Chester (Allen) has been a tremendous disappointment — not only as President of the Chamber of Commerce but also as a member of the Sports Center Authority. For your personal information, I have given up of ever getting the politicians and the saboteurs together. My efforts from now on will be quite seriously in the direction of a move. My guess is that he is trying to cover his back-trail against possible adverse publicity should the matter flop...To this day he has not even taken the trouble to look at the (stadium) model or plans. If (Robert) Moses has Parade Ground ideas, would he feel the same way about the Fort Greene Park? Now you see the inconsistency of the Irish mind. In one paragraph, I am sailing to a distant port and in the last above one, I am still trying to keep my anchor in Brooklyn.”

On April 11, 1957, O’Malley wrote an internal memo that addressed his thoughts on a number of issues: “While I was at a conference with Commissioner (Ford C.) Frick at his office Robert Moses called and I suggested that I drop out to his house later in the afternoon. I met Bob at his home in Babylon and we frankly discussed the general political apathy toward the new stadium in Brooklyn. Bob said there was not a chance of the Atlantic & Flatbush site being approved. Market men presented a problem and perhaps more important was the Borough President’s determination that the site was wrong. Borough President (John Cashmore) shows some interest in the site on the other side — the one which Clarke & Rapuano recommended. I told Bob that either site would be acceptable to us although we did prefer the LIRR one. Bob suggested that I be realistic and appreciate that the political implications were such that we just could not work out a solution in Brooklyn unless we were interested in the Parade Grounds. We discussed this quite frankly and we both can see many objections to it, minimum rapid transit facilities and also minimum parking. I then suggested that inasmuch as Bob was willing to give up park land which up until this point I thought was “verboten” would he then consider letting us build our own stadium on a lease basis in Ft. Greene Park. He told me that this could not be done — that the topography was against it and also Park Department needs. I told him that if the Dodgers would have to go out of Brooklyn any site would have to be weighed against such available locations such as Los Angeles. In other words, the Brooklyn Dodgers would not be Brooklyn anywhere else.”

Walter O’Malley surveys the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for possible use by the Dodgers. Prior to the Dodgers’ arrival in 1958, the venue was used primarily for professional and collegiate football games and track meets, plus it was the site of the 1932 Olympic Games.

When the Dodgers pondered where they would play on the West Coast during the construction of their new ballpark, one of the potential sites was the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Walter O’Malley, (from l-r) engineer John Waterbury, Amos Buckley, in charge of maintenance of the Dodgers’ installations and Warren C. Giles, National League President, review field drawings for the famous football stadium on Jan. 7, 1958.

Kenneth Hahn, along with Pepperdine College baseball coach John Scolinos, who was later named the NCAA Division II Coach of the 20th Century, surveyed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1957 to see if the mammoth structure could be used for baseball. The Coliseum was originally built in 1923 and later was the site of the successful 1932 Olympic Games hosted by the city. It was used primarily for track and field events and football. Playing baseball in this large oval with its nearly 90 rows rising from the surface seemed questionable, at best. But, the diligent Hahn and Scolinos, with measuring tapes in hand, determined that the Coliseum could be used to lay out a baseball diamond, with some extreme modifications.

But, this did not deter the city’s aggressive approach and willingness to do whatever it took to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles. When O’Malley learned of the plan, he embraced it. When it appeared the Coliseum’s other tenants (Rams, USC, UCLA) would have scheduling difficulties and renovation issues with the Dodgers, O’Malley spent time considering an alternative plan of using the vast Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which was built in a preferred north and south direction, as opposed to the Coliseum’s east-west orientation. That was a key concern because of the batter’s box facing into the sun. But, it was determined that the Coliseum could be used if the diamond was facing toward the north-east. Of course, O’Malley recognized that as a temporary home of the Dodgers while his ultimate stadium was being built, he would have to settle for the makeshift arrangements. Some Pasadena residents opposed the Rose Bowl plan due to traffic concerns in their Arroyo Seco neighborhoods, as well as the number of home games that a baseball team plays. In the meantime, what would become the future home of Dodger Stadium was also starting to take shape.

Flaherty wrote a letter to O’Malley in 1957 in which he outlined possible sites for a stadium in Los Angeles. Interestingly, he placed 21 numbered areas on a Los Angeles City map by Union 76 to the areas he considered feasible. One of his comments on the list was number six “Chavez Ravine...smog basin plus enormous traffic congestion. It is my guess you would need big six-lane one way roads in and out, and with a system of feeder roads fanning out from them.” He preferred two areas — one was County property bounded by Jefferson Boulevard and La Cienega. He wrote, “If a portion of this massive property can be made available it would be the best possible spot for a stadium.” His second choice was an area just south bounded by Centinela Avenue and east of Sepulveda Boulevard. Flaherty wrote, “It is not far from the Harbor Freeway, marked 18...This area is flanked by big, fast arteries. Spots marked 2 and 14 (which I consider the very best locations) are in Kenneth Hahn’s District. Hahn represents the largest District — over a million people.”

Like Flaherty had before them, city officials also suggested hilly Chavez Ravine, located to the north, high atop the downtown area. Many ravines traversed the area, but Chavez Ravine was well-known from the time that New Mexican pioneer Julian Chavez settled in Los Angeles in the 1830s. Chavez purchased the land for ranching purposes from the City Council and established Mexican-style corrals on the land. Chavez would later be active in Los Angeles city politics, holding many offices, including councilman.

The July 24, 1950 letter from the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles to residents of Chavez Ravine regarding a public housing development to be built on the site for low-income families.

As he arrived for a visit to Los Angeles on May 1, 1957 the good-natured O’Malley was wearing a lapel pin that read, “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” to which Supervisor Hahn kindly removed in a friendly tussle with him. O’Malley was intrigued with the Chavez Ravine site because, on a 50-minute sheriff’s helicopter tour on May 2, he could view the many freeways that converged near the area. With his keen knowledge of engineering, O’Malley instantly envisioned the possibilities that existed with the little-used rugged and hilly terrain, which at one time had been designated as a Federal Public Housing project in the early 1950s, before the plug was pulled due to the charge of “creeping socialism” by key real estate interests and newspaper editorials. The aborted public housing project was comprised of 24 13-story and 163 two-story buildings, which had been designed by famed architect Richard Neutra.

Originally, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles had sent a letter to all residents on July 24, 1950 informing them that “a public housing development will be built on this location for families of low income...It will be several months at least before your property is purchased. After the property is bought, the Housing Authority will give you all possible assistance in finding another home.” Residents were later offered independently assessed valuation for the properties and were evicted. The 169 acres had been sold by the federal government back to the City of Los Angeles in 1953 for $1,279,204 with the proviso that it be used for a “public purpose.” This did not have to include housing.

In fact, Mayor Poulson, who had run his 1953 campaign against the housing project and ousted supporter Mayor Fletcher Bowron, said a zoo, an opera house and a cemetery were considered by city officials, but nothing had materialized before the stadium project emerged. In O’Malley’s view, it was an ideal location as fans could easily access a stadium built on the site from any direction due to the confluence of freeways. It might have been the scariest ride of his life in a helicopter with an open door, but it was also the most important.

“I swear that I was sitting part in the machine (helicopter) and part out of it,” said O’Malley, recalling the mechanics removed the side door, and the pilot tilted the helicopter to give him a complete view of the topography. “I remember thinking, ‘I hope the seat belt holds.’ I was never so scared in my life.” Sid Ziff, The Inside Track, Los Angeles Mirror News, 1957

On May 2, 1957, Walter O’Malley takes a 50-minute helicopter ride to view prospective sites for Dodger Stadium. From left is Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, Undersheriff Peter Pitchess, Del Webb, co-owner of the New York Yankees, O’Malley, and pilot Capt. Sewell Griggers at Biscailuz Center.

An airborne Walter O’Malley described the helicopter ride to view Los Angeles area land on May 2, 1957 by stating, “I was never so scared in my life.” The door on the side of the helicopter had been removed so that O’Malley would have an unobstructed view of the ground and possible sites for Dodger Stadium.

© Getty Images

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn welcomes Walter O’Malley at the Los Angeles International Airport on May 1, 1957. O’Malley is wearing a pin that states, “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” which is subsequently taken off his lapel in a friendly tussle by Supervisor Hahn.

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

O’Malley was able to accurately estimate the amount of earth that would have to be moved to build his stadium at nearly eight million cubic yards.

While some Chavez Ravine land, trod by goats, was used for limited oil exploration, there were a handful of residents who remained there illegally, despite being told repeatedly by city officials to relocate.

O’Malley declared in the Long Island Press on May 7, 1957, “If we pull up our roots in Brooklyn, it won’t matter whether we go five miles or 50 miles away. So it’ll be Los Angeles or some place like that before it’ll be Queens.” Asked about Moses’ proposal to build a Dodger ballpark in Flushing Meadows, O’Malley replied, “I have not asked anybody, at any time or place, to build me a stadium. There is no appreciable change in the situation since Vero Beach (March 6 meetings with Los Angeles officials).” He said that he was willing to spend $8 million for a ballpark at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Jack Lang, Long Island Press, April 7, 1957