Reference Biography: Walter O’Malley

1959: A Year of Change - Part 1

The transplanted Dodgers finished a woeful seventh place (21 games off the pace) in their first season in Los Angeles, trying to adjust to their new city, new stadium surroundings and new home. But, in 1959, everything would turn around for the organization trying to regain its footing in virgin territory.

In a seemingly never-ending battle, a series of lawsuits were filed to block the approval of the city’s contract with the Dodgers, further delaying construction of Dodger Stadium. One suit eventually went to the California State Supreme Court which overruled the lower court and voted unanimously (7-0), siding with the city’s and O’Malley’s position on January 13, 1959. The decision stated that the city could “hold harmless” the “public purpose” clause of the Housing Authority agreement deed restrictions. The State Supreme Court reaffirmed its opinion in a refusal to reconsider on February 11 of that same year. 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. Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1959  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. But, Silver then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging that the city denied due process to residents of Chavez Ravine, who had not adhered to the repeated orders to leave the land and were illegally living there. The appeal request was not heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and was dismissed on October 19, 1959.

Roy Campanella never had a chance to play in Los Angeles. The Hall of Fame catcher was paralyzed after suffering injuries in a Jan. 28, 1958 automobile accident in New York.

Copyright © Los Angeles Dodgers, Inc.

A special exhibition game against the New York Yankees was held to pay tribute to paralyzed Dodger catcher Roy Campanella on May 7, 1959. His car slid off an icy road and crashed into a light pole on January 28, 1958 leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Immediately, O’Malley visited him at Glen Cove Community Hospital in Long Island, NY.

O’Malley worked for a long time in formulating the concept of a series of exhibition games with the Yankees. Originally, the game was suggested by the Hearst Newspapers in New York. Later, O’Malley and Yankees’ owner Del Webb, along with executives E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi, Dan Topping and George Weiss, worked out arrangements to play a game in Los Angeles. O’Malley agreed to pay the Yankees their travel expenses and approximately $85,000 for the trip. He also provided Campanella with one-half of the proceeds from the game, setting up an account with the three-time MVP catcher’s attorney to monitor the funds.

A special ticket with the photo of catcher Roy Campanella, who was honored during an exhibition game between the Dodgers and New York Yankees on May 7, 1959. A then major league record crowd of 93,103 attended the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In a tough travel schedule, the Dodgers played a regular-season game on the afternoon of May 7 in San Francisco, defeating the Giants, 2-1 at Seals Stadium, flew back to Los Angeles to play the night exhibition contest, losing to the Yankees, 6-2 and then returned to San Francisco for the next night’s game.

A major league baseball record crowd of 93,103 attended “Roy Campanella Night” in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Dodger team captain, Pee Wee Reese, pushed the wheelchair in which Campanella was seated out to the area behind home plate as the fans cheered. In the middle of the fifth inning, there was a pause in the game as the stadium lights were turned off and the crowd was asked to light a match in tribute to Campanella, who had never played a game in Los Angeles. The sparkling lights from the matches made it appear as if there were thousands of fireflies in the stadium. It was one of sport’s truly memorable moments. On the radio, Vin Scully asked the fans to say a prayer for Campy’s well-being. The game and tribute were considered a huge success. An appreciative Campanella once called O’Malley “a true pioneer who to me was like a father when I first came into the Dodger organization. He stood by me, and after my injury he stood by me and helped me through all of my crises.” Roy Campanella Comments, Dodger Line Drives, Special Edition, 1979

Walter and Kay O’Malley with Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella. O’Malley organized a special exhibition game in Los Angeles with the New York Yankees to honor the three-time National League MVP.

Presentation made by Mrs. Rosalind Wyman, Los Angeles City Councilmember (at microphone in center of photo) on May 7, 1959, the tribute game for Roy Campanella. The game drew a then record crowd for a baseball game with 93,103 in attendance.

A major league-record crowd of 93,103 attends “Roy Campanella Night” at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a special exhibition game between the Dodgers and the New York Yankees on May 7, 1959. The teams played in honor of Campanella, the three-time National League MVP, who was paralyzed from the neck down in an automobile accident on Jan. 28, 1958. Fans attending may forget the Yankees won, 6-2, but they will always remember each person being asked to light a match in unison to pay tribute to “Campy.”

AP Photo

While O’Malley was preparing by contract to exchange Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, valued at $2.25 million for Chavez Ravine, which was valued at just over $2.28 million, another battle began, as a few remaining residents living on the hills refused to leave, even though they had been ordered to eight years before and asked to voluntarily leave on March 9, 1959 before the eviction was to take place on May 8.

One such family, the Arechigas were among the most vocal when time came to be evicted by the sheriffs from their property, as they had ignored the two months’ advance notice to voluntarily leave. A Housing Authority check for $10,039 had been sitting and waiting for them as compensation for their property since 1953 according to the Los Angeles City Attorney and was still available to them from the clerk of the Superior Court. After making a dramatic scene for the still photographers and on live television, as they were forcibly removed and stating that this was their home and land, it was later revealed that the Arechigas family owned 11 other dwellings throughout Los Angeles. Even as Manuel Arechiga refused to leave the land and slept in a trailer for 10 days on site, the truth came out in the press. Sympathy for the Arechigas dissipated.

One other longtime resident, Ruth Rayford, a trained actress who studied at the Perry School of Dramatic Arts in St. Louis, had been instructed to look upset by the eviction. Los Angeles Evening Mirror News, May 14, 1959  “The television man told us to look fierce, and I thought it would be fun, so I raised my cane and did the best I could. We knew the time would come when we would have to move, so we didn’t mind too much. We should have done it sooner, and then we would have been settled by now,” she told the Los Angeles Examiner on May 15, 1959. Another resident who resisted moving until she was forced out was Alice Martin. According to the Mirror News, Martin “named four men as advisers in her resistance against eviction...She displayed a small book with the names and telephone numbers of J.A. (Blackjack) Smith, C.A. Owen, John Loyd and Jerome Murphy. She identified them as men ‘working with Councilman John Holland.’

“(Blackjack) Smith is a shipbuilder, canner, banker, oil producer and rancher. He also has an interest in the San Diego Padres baseball club. Murphy is a businessman here and has been active in politics. She said today that Murphy ‘told me not to surrender. Let them break in. Mr. Murphy told me that if they let Chavez Ravine go they will take the whole city.’ Owen was chairman of the Citizens Committee to Save Chavez Ravine for the People and Loyd was identified as a tape recording technician who was active with the anti-Dodger forces during the campaign against Proposition B.” Los Angeles Examiner, May 15, 1959

Councilwoman Wyman, who had contributed to the collection for the families, said, “Naturally I was surprised to learn that the Arechigas had extensive land holdings. It was represented to City Council that these people were not only homeless, but very poor.” Los Angeles Examiner, May 14, 1959, “City Council Reactions” sidebar

California State Attorney General Stanley Mosk praised Mayor Poulson for his “forthright statement” on the handling of the evictions. Mosk added, “The spectacle created was a disgraceful reflection upon the City of Los Angeles and those responsible for creating the illusion that public officials are ruthless when they enforce the law and court orders have done a disservice to our nation and to its fundamental concept of justice.” Los Angeles Examiner, May 19, 1959

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.