Walter O’Malley and his Landscape for Dodger Stadium

By Steven Keylon

In the early 1960s, the metropolis of Los Angeles was booming with unbridled abundance, optimism and growth, working to transform itself into a cosmopolitan “super city.” Massive redevelopment projects were reshaping the city not only culturally, but also physically, as a handful of far-sighted citizens were literally moving mountains to attain their extraordinary goals.

At Bunker Hill a colossal Civic Center project was changing the topography, as Dorothy Chandler used her steely determination to create a world-class Music Center - a modern monument to high culture in a beautifully landscaped setting. The designers of the Music Center were Welton Becket and Associates, architects; Cornell, Bridgers and Troller, landscape architects.

An overhead view of Dodger Stadium and its newly-formed parking lots, which were functionally built to enable fans to enter the stadium on the same level on which they parked. This would minimize the need for vertical transportation and escalators, although those were added later.

Los Angeles Times Collection, UCLA Library Special Collections

On a nearby hill another monument, this one to popular culture was being planned as Dodger President Walter O’Malley used his own formidable power and forward-thinking vision to transform a hilltop at Chavez Ravine into his dream of the “most modern baseball temple in the world,” nestled in a “cathedral of trees.” https://www.walteromalley.com/dodger-stadium/comprehensive-history Accessed February 11, 2014

The soaring architecture of Dodger Stadium “helped popularize a particularly evocative image of Los Angeles, one filled with palm trees and sunshine and charismatic contemporary design.” “That Home Edge Field,” Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2005.  Much of the beauty of the stadium came from its vast and thoughtfully designed landscape, ample credit for which should be attributed to Walter O’Malley himself. Passionate about this enterprise, he wanted the stadium, considered at the time “the largest private enterprise garden in California,” to be a great civic asset, another Southland tourist destination like Disneyland, the Farmer’s Market, Marineland or Olvera Street. “Agenda and Notes for Meeting with Walter O’Malley, August 29, 1962,” Walter O’Malley archives.  Dodger Stadium would be only the second privately funded stadium for the Major Leagues, (the first being Yankee Stadium in 1923), and the first baseball stadium anywhere to be extensively landscaped. Of the project’s $23 million cost, O’Malley dedicated $3 million to the landscape alone in the first two seasons of operation.

Growing Orchids is Much Easier Than Running a Ballclub

Walter Francis O’Malley (1903-1979), often called the most powerful man in baseball, had rarely played the game as a boy. After getting his law degree from Fordham University, he quickly rose to prominence using a combination of talent and drive, good timing, as well as family and personal connections. Interested in engineering, he became a public works contracting entrepreneur and eventually moved into an executive position with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, taking control of the team in 1950. He married Katherine “Kay” Hanson (1907-1979) in 1931; the couple had two children, Therese and Peter.

Lush Dodger Stadium plantings, including in the “champagne bowls”, add to the beauty of the grounds.

The O’Malleys were avid horticultural hobbyists, and active members of the Brooklyn Botanical Society. Their primary passion was the cultivation of orchids, many of them exotic varieties. O’Malley began each morning with at least 30 minutes in his large greenhouse tending to his prized pets, which included a “wide variety of 350 plants from all over the world.” The hobby gave him an opportunity to relax with Kay, shedding the headaches and responsibilities of the work week. When his passion for orchids was revealed in the press, O’Malley predicted “I’m in for some ribbing. It’s been a pretty well-kept secret up to now,” and further quipped that one benefit of orchids was that unlike ballplayers “not a single plant will expect a salary check!” “Green Thumb and More,” https://www.walteromalley.com/dodger-history/short-stops/green-thumb-and-more. Accessed February 22, 2014.

Walter and Kay O’Malley at the family greenhouse in Amityville, New York, where the Dodger President enjoyed spending time cultivating exotic orchids.

O’Malley was proud of the vast Dodgertown spring training facility he was beginning to build in Vero Beach, Florida, where he took a hands-on approach to the landscape planning and planting. Dressed in baggy casual pants and golf cap, he drove around the facility in a golf cart, getting out at intervals to place stakes in the ground to indicate where trees should be planted. “The King of the Jungle,” Sports Illustrated, April 18, 1966.  Just before Holman Stadium opened in March 1953, the local newspaper reported that “we spied an extra workman among the ground crew working on the infield the other day. The fellow was busy raking the soil part of the new infield. He looked familiar to us and he rightly should... He was Walter F. O’Malley, president of the Dodgers.” Bob Curzon, The Dodger Bullpen, Vero Beach Press-Journal, March 12, 1953. From https://www.walteromalley.com/dodger-history/short-stops/who-was-that-man, accessed February 20, 2014

Dodgertown became a horticultural destination, its exuberant collection including 300 hybrid hibiscus, 200 kumquat trees, 150 cocktail orange trees, 10 acres of fruit groves with pink and white grapefruit, tangelos, oranges, and tangerines, as well as “periwinkle, poinsettia, Mexican flame vines, Bougainvillea, cocoanut palms, Australian pines, Tifton grass (from Tifton, GA, U.S. Agriculture Dept.), petunias, banana trees and perhaps some more...” O’Malley even found ways to incorporate his beloved orchids, including one superb Cymbedium specimen which had more than 150 blooms. O’Malley himself climbed the 50 stunning Royal palm trees surrounding Dodgertown’s Holman Stadium to plant Cattleya orchids high on the trunks, hoping they would grow. Roscoe McGowen, The Sporting News, March 16, 1955

The Los Angeles Dodgers

The Brooklyn Dodgers had played at Ebbets Field since 1913, and the stadium was showing its age. With only 700 parking spaces available to an increasingly suburban fan base, O’Malley began dreaming of a new and spectacularly state-of-the-art facility. In 1955 he engaged the radically visionary designer Buckminster Fuller, telling him “I am not interested in just building another baseball park.” Letter from Walter O’Malley to Buckminster Fuller, May 26, 1955 https://www.walteromalley.com/media/buckminster-fuller/letter-from-walter-omalley-to-buckminster-fuller-on-19550526/  Because O’Malley had calculated that he lost $200,000 for every rained out game, Fuller drew up plans for a stadium with a retractable domed roof, which besides being a strikingly majestic design would have the practical benefit of allowing for year-round games.

O’Malley sold Ebbets Field in 1956, but leased it back for a three year period while trying to get a new stadium built in Brooklyn. He was stymied by local politicians in his attempts to assemble and pay for the required parcels of land, and finally in 1957, after a 10-year and concerted effort, his negotiations with New York officials fizzled out.

“Champagne bowls” with colorful flowers add to the beauty and enjoyment of Dodger Stadium.

In May of 1957 O’Malley met with officials in Los Angeles who were anxious to have a major-league baseball team. He was flown in a helicopter (with the doors removed) to survey various locations officials had in mind. Flying over Chavez Ravine (“I was never so scared in my life.”), O’Malley was captivated by the site, appreciating the fact that it was conveniently surrounded by freeways, and in close proximity to the city center. Walter O’Malley biography, https://www.walteromalley.com/biographies/walter-omalley-reference-biography/1957-part-1/. Accessed February 22, 2014.

Chavez Ravine had been 99 percent cleared several years before it was shown to O’Malley. This rare example of bucolic country life just moments from downtown had been labelled a “vacant shantytown” and eyesore, and was earmarked as a prime location for redevelopment by the City of Los Angeles. In July, 1950, the entire Chavez Ravine community received letters notifying the residents that they would have to sell their homes to the city, which, using the power of eminent domain, was planning an enormous public housing project for the site. With federal funds from the Housing Act of 1949, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) hired architects Richard Neutra and Robert E. Alexander, who, in collaboration with landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, planned the massive but controversial public housing project, to be called Elysian Park Heights.

A few residents resisted the orders to sell, and were labeled “squatters.” Soon Chavez Ravine became a ghost town – the Los Angeles Fire Department even burned houses there for training purposes. Public support for the project soon dissipated, and the City of Los Angeles purchased the property from HACLA at a drastically reduced price, with the stipulation that the land be used for a public purpose.

In September, 1957, the City of Los Angeles agreed to provide 300 acres of land in Chavez Ravine to O’Malley in exchange for Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, as well as his pledge to privately fund and build a 50,000-seat stadium on the site. Wrigley Field worth $2.2 million  Forever changing the course of the game, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in conjunction with the Giants move to San Francisco, would become the first major league teams west of the Mississippi. Until the stadium could be built, O’Malley negotiated a deal to lease the Los Angeles Coliseum for two years for $600,000 plus $300,000 to convert the field for baseball use. The Dodgers were soon drawing more than two million fans a year. Walter O’Malley biography by Brent Shyer, https://www.walteromalley.com/biographies/walter-omalley/. Accessed February 20, 2014.

Designing the Stadium

O’Malley recognized that transforming Chavez Ravine – a network of washes, gullies and gulches – into a sports arena would be a difficult project, as elevations within ranged from 400 to 700 feet above sea level. He called on his trusted friend, engineer-architect Captain Emil Praeger, who had created the O’Malley’s Dodgertown spring training stadium in Florida. Captain Praeger, senior partner of the New York City firm Praeger, Kavanagh and Waterbury, had an unparalleled reputation as an authority on bridges, foundations, and parkways. In the 1930s, as chief engineer for the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation (working under director Robert Moses), Praeger had surveyed all the City parks, creating architectural drawings, descriptions, and taking extensive photographs. This Works Progress Administration project exposed Praeger to all aspects of landscapes for leisure. http://brooklynhistory.org/blog/2011/05/13/green-spaces-and-moody-places/, accessed February 13, 2014  Like O’Malley, Praeger, who had served as consulting engineer on 1949 renovations for the White House, was a stickler for details, believing that if you “skimp on the little things … the big thing won’t be a success. That’s engineering.”

Walter O’Malley spent $1.5 million in a beautification project for Dodger Stadium prior to the 1963 season.

With their shared backgrounds in recreational landscapes, both O’Malley and Praeger understood the importance of adding a competent landscape architect to the design team at the earliest stage. Praeger consulted his collaborative partner of thirty years, landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, who in turn recommended Arthur G. Barton (1907-1980). Clarke had gotten to know Barton during the time Clarke was President of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) “After Many a Summer: The Passing of the Giants and Dodgers and a Golden Age in New York Baseball,” Robert Murphy, Sterling Publishing, 2009; also an email from landscape architect Jerrold Mitchell, August 21, 2013. Gilmore D. Clarke was President of the National ASLA from 1949-51, and presumably met Barton during the first West Coast National meeting of the ASLA in Ojai in 1950. Barton served as Vice-President of the National ASLA from 1955-59. .

Glendale-based Barton, a 1929 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, spent his first few years in the field of landscape architecture working for California native plants specialist Theodore Payne. This had a lasting impact on his later work, as he would use native plants extensively in his landscape designs After working a few years for native plants specialist Theodore Payne, Barton survived the remainder of the Great Depression working for the National Park Service at the San Francisco Regional office, and later with the Los Angeles County Parks Department as Assistant Superintendent of Parks . Opening his own office in 1940, Barton had an active practice designing residences, parks, public buildings, libraries, schools and corporate campuses. A dynamic and respected member of the profession, Barton was instrumental in the State of California requiring licensure for landscape architects beginning in 1953 (Barton himself received license #362). Barton served several terms as President of the Southern California Chapter of ASLA, and was elected Vice-President of the National ASLA, serving two terms (1955-59). “Professional Qualifications and Experience of Arthur G. Barton,” Two page typewritten memo, dated October 1, 1961. Walter O’Malley archives.

Working in close collaboration, Praeger and Barton began by tackling the basic requirements of the site. To take full advantage of the borrowed but breathtaking views of the hills of Elysian Park in the foreground, and the dramatic San Gabriel Mountains in the background, they designed the stadium to fit into one of the natural bowl-shaped valleys in the hillside. In order to prepare the site, eight million cubic yards of earth had to be moved to level the hillside; cuts and fills up to 150 feet were shaped, the hill graded with sculptured land forms contrasting with large flat areas required for extensive parking. “Dodger Stadium - - Los Angeles, California. Landscape Development. Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, Engineer-Architect, New York. Arthur G. Barton, Landscape Architect, Glendale, California.” 3 page typewritten press release, 1962, Walter O’Malley archives.  To make the transition from freeway - to parking lot - to stadium a streamlined experience (essential in a car-centric city like Los Angeles) no traditional single main entrance or plaza was planned. Instead, many separate entrances were provided, all at grade and easily accessible from specifically dedicated parking lots on multiple terraced levels. This innovative feature eliminated the need for people to climb stairs or ramps, making entry and exit maximally efficient.

It was decided to leave Dodger Stadium open on the ends rather than completely enclose.

The design team developed a very novel idea for the overall site plan, using the Seal of the City of Los Angeles as their inspiration. O’Malley found it “fitting that the City which invited the Dodgers to move west should permanently have its official seal as a living motif.” “Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine – Definitive Statement,” document ca. 1961 in Walter O’Malley archives  The shield within the seal would be represented by the stadium itself, while the rosary and border surrounding the seal would take the form of two roads at the circumference. For the devoutly Catholic O’Malley, this solution also conveniently surrounded his stadium with a rosary for luck, each bead represented by a Dawn Redwood tree (Metasequoia), one of the oldest trees in the world. After the Dodgers began a winning streak for the 1956 World Series, O’Malley wore that same suit, shoes and tie to all subsequent games in the Series. “Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles,” Michael D’Antonio, Penguin, 2009.  O’Malley, who had unsuccessfully attempted to breed the Dawn Redwood to grow in Florida, called on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to locate these rare specimens, and working with Max Watson, a noted arborist and eucalyptus specialist with a nursery in San Jose, California, obtained the trees from several sources. Dodger Stadium - Los Angeles, California. Landscape Development. Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, Engineer-Architect, New York. Arthur G. Barton, Landscape Architect, Glendale, California.” 3 page typewritten press release, 1962, Walter O’Malley archives. This ancient tree was believed to be lost for many centuries and was found growing in a remote mountain area in China. This tree, with feathery fern like foliage, is a living fossil from prehistoric days. Max Watson, originally from San Diego where he witnessed the eucalyptus boom of the early 1900s. Watson grew to love the tree as a boy, and as a young man, Watson opened a nursery in San Diego and planted many thousands of seedlings with his own hands. “His nursery business brought him to the San Joaquin Valley where he continued planting trees. He took a great interest in people especially those who needed help. In his lifetime, Watson was a social worker, probation officer, and vocational arts teacher. Through an agreement with California prison authorities, he was able to hire prisoners to work in his nurseries and plant trees. Watson retired to San Jose where he opened still another nursery and an arboretum.”(from “The Eucalyptus of California,” by Robert L. Santos, 1997. O’Malley trying to breed Dawn Redwood trees – from “Jim Murray, An Autobiography.”  Enclosing all of this, the outer ring of the Los Angeles City Seal would be represented by a large circle of mature olive trees.

Barton developed a long-term master landscape plan for the site, with an incremental implementation strategy. With 120 acres of landscaped areas ultimately planned, the tremendous scale of the project required that the focus for the 1962 opening season would be on carefully planting the areas closest to the stadium. Working on the planting plan with Barton was his associate Jerrold Mitchell, a 1959 graduate of UC Berkeley, who explained that “our scope of work was from the perimeter circular road inward to the stadium,” as well as street trees, and planting areas at the outside areas of parking lots. Email to author from Jerrold Mitchell, August 12, 2013. Mitchell was an associate with Arthur Barton & Associates from 1959-65, and in addition to Dodger Stadium designed the landscapes for East Los Angeles College, Pacific Palisades High School, Pasadena High School, and the magnificent TRW corporate campus in Canoga Park.  For the remainder of the property, mostly banks and hillsides, temporary erosion control was provided by large masses of groundcover, including ladino clover, ivy geranium, low-spreading juniper, fig marigold and eight different shades of flowering ice plant. These sculptured banks of groundcover were enlivened with accent notes in the form of trees and specimen shrubs such as viburnum suspensum and viburnum japonicum. Letter to Mrs. Valley M. Knudsen, Chairman. Los Angeles Beautiful, Chamber of Commerce, from Walter O’Malley. February 4, 1963. Walter O’Malley archives.  Because of the steep incline of some of the banks, planting at the Stadium would be more difficult than most projects; the workmen had to be supported by a system of ropes and pulleys. “Exterior Landscape – Dodger Stadium,” Inter-Office Memorandum to Dick Walsh from Mitch Inamura, May 27, 1966. Walter O’Malley archives.

With Barton’s longtime affinity for using native plant materials, the emphasis was on species which would be drought-tolerant and hardy. Barton explained that “all varieties of plant materials have been chosen not only for effectiveness and beauty, but also to be as maintenance free as possible. For economy of maintenance and conservation of water, automatic sprinkler systems will be used in most of the planted areas.” “Dodger Stadium - - Los Angeles, California. Landscape Development. Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, Engineer-Architect, New York. Arthur G. Barton, Landscape Architect, Glendale, California.” 3 page typewritten press release, 1962, Walter O’Malley archives.  Even so, eighteen full-time maintenance men and gardeners would be required for ongoing care of the massive site.

Around the stadium, a “skyline” of sixty-seven mature palm trees, 40 to 75 feet tall, were strategically placed to frame “exciting” views of the city to the south, and to be silhouetted against the distant San Gabriel Mountains to the north. Planted originally by early California settlers, these fine palm specimens, threatened by municipal street widening plans, were saved from destruction by Barton; 40 trees came from Santa Monica, the remainder from the entrance road to Glendale pioneer L.C. Brand’s residence. Barton believed that “Dodger Stadium thereby becomes historical in preserving much of the early California typical of this area.” Letter to Captain Emil M. Praeger from Arthur G. Barton, April 4, 1962. Walter O’Malley archives.

While Barton may have favored a somewhat restrained palette, O’Malley had much more robust horticultural passions. Famous for his strong opinions (it was said that O’Malley “virtually selects every blade of grass and plants it himself”), O’Malley’s vision was to have an arboreal world tour in place, and he wanted more trees that were decorative or flowering. From Asia came evergreen Chinese elm, liquidambar, purple-leaf plum, Evergreen flowering pear, as well as crape myrtle and orchid trees (both of which flowered in white, pink and lavender); Australia was represented by Pittosporum undulatum and three types of flowering eucalyptus; Brazilian pepper and Jacaranda came from Brazil, Akee from South Africa, Laurel from India, and Carob from the Mediterranean. The United States offered various pines and Arizona ash. “Stadium Baseball’s Showcase, Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, June 14, 1966; also “Dodger Stadium - - Los Angeles, California. Landscape Development. Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, Engineer-Architect, New York. Arthur G. Barton, Landscape Architect, Glendale, California.” 3 page typewritten press release, 1962, Walter O’Malley archives.

Barton’s design offered a feast for the senses, paying particular attention to variety in form, and texture in foliage, for a rich overall impression. Barton searched for specimen trees with “artistic trunking or branching,” with the most fragrant examples planted where fans would be able to experience them. Special care was taken to ensure color in all seasons of the year with flowers, foliage or berries. Letter to Captain Emil M. Praeger from Arthur G. Barton, April 4, 1962. Walter O’Malley archives. Also “Specifications for Specimen Tree Planting,” memo from Praeger and Barton dated March 12, 1962.

The colorful “champagne bowls” and greenery in the Dodger Stadium parking lots were a major part of the beautification project prior to the 1963 season.

High-maintenance flowering annuals were confined to 149 raised concrete planters of varying heights and sizes. These whimsical planters, known as “champagne bowls” because of their distinctive shape, cascaded down the terraced hillsides. “Dodger Home of Tomorrow,” 1959 Brochure, Walter O’Malley archives; also “Dodger Stadium - - Los Angeles, California. Landscape Development. Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, Engineer-Architect, New York. Arthur G. Barton, Landscape Architect, Glendale, California.” 3 page typewritten press release, 1962, Walter O’Malley archives.  Champagne bowls in parking areas were planted with petunias and other annuals in colors which matched the admission ticket, giving fans an easy way to find their appropriate parking lot. Inside the stadium, the colors of the seats, level by level, also corresponded to the ticket colors, with pastel yellow on the ground level, then orange, green and blue at the highest level. Praeger’s rationale was that the colors would go “from the land up to the sky.” Once seated, fans had a view of a “red and green field,” the emerald green turf contrasting nicely with “dirt” consisting of finely screen crushed red brick.” Internal undated Dodgers memo, ca. 1963. Walter O’Malley archives.

Torrential rains in the months leading up to opening day delayed installation of the landscape, so Barton and his crews were still feverishly placing trees the day prior to the grand opening. Email to the author from Jerrold Mitchell, August 12, 2013  Even so, the designers would soon be congratulated for their “grand effort in shaping the terraced levels of Dodger Stadium into park-like magnificence. A look at the concrete champagne bowls filled with petunias demonstrate how truly the Dodger cup of beauty runneth over.” “Beauty Abounds at Stadium,” Flo Snyder, 1966 newspaper clipping, Walter O’Malley archives

On Opening Day, April 10, 1962, Kay O’Malley tossing the ceremonial first pitch, the enthusiasm of the fans in the column-free cantilevered levels affording an unobstructed view of home plate and the hills beyond, was surely one of Walter O’Malley’s proudest moments. “Dodger Stadium Groundbreaking,” https://www.walteromalley.com/biographies/walter-omalley/

Barton continued working through the season, planning Phase Two of the ongoing five-year implementation plan. In early summer 581 eucalyptus trees in 1 gallon cans were donated by eucalyptus specialist Max Watson. The 27 different fast-growing species, many of them rare and flowering, would be placed to screen unattractive views, to provide enclosure where desired, as well as offering a pleasing backdrop to more decorative plantings in the foreground. The gift was greatly appreciated by O’Malley, who wrote Watson telling him he was “delighted with the number of varieties of the eucalyptus. It goes without saying that when all of these trees are planted and matured, they will immeasurably enhance the beauty of the Stadium. I want to thank you very much for your generosity in donating the eucalyptus trees and for the thoughtfulness and care which you gave to this project. I fully expect that in the future all these trees will be a source of great pleasure for countless people.” Letter to Max Watson from Walter O’Malley, May 4, 1962 Also donated were 400 Navajo Willows, a gift from the ranch of Tom Bolack, owner of the Albuquerque Dukes minor league baseball team. “Navajo Willows Readied for Dodger Stadium,” San Gabriel Valley Times, February 11, 1963. Bolack was also Governor of New Mexico for 32 days in 1962-63. O’Malley bought the Albuquerque Dukes from Bolack in 1964 for $20,000. Walter O’Malley archives.  The nearly 1,000 trees waited on-site for irrigation to be installed on the hillsides.

Though partly unavoidable because of the weather delays in the spring, O’Malley grew impatient with what he perceived as Barton’s somewhat slow progress. Eager to impress, O’Malley intended to spend an additional $1.5 million for 1963, packing five years’ worth of planned projects into the single season. “1963: A SWEEPING SUCCESS,” https://www.walteromalley.com/dodger-history/1963-a-sweeping-success/, accessed February 11, 2014.  However, after submitting his final updated plans for Phase Two in June, Barton was fired by O’Malley in early August of 1962.

The 1963 Season

On November 8, 1962, Walter O’Malley sent a letter to landscape designer John T. Ratekin informing him the Dodgers would like to retain him as landscape consultant for the balance of 1962 and through 1964. John T. Ratekin (1914-1992). It is unknown where (or if) Ratekin studied landscape architecture. A member of the AILA, Ratekin, who had done the landscapes for several shopping centers in Southern California, had recently been the landscape architect at Hollywood Park racetrack, designing the seasonal flower displays. Walter and Kay O’Malley, who were good friends of Mervyn LeRoy, loved the landscape at Hollywood Park, so might have introduced Ratekin to the O’Malleys. Email from Peter O’Malley to the author, February 21, 2014.  Initially, Ratekin worked to finish the irrigation work and to plant the nearly one thousand trees that Barton had ordered. With the basic architecture of the landscape now established, Ratekin’s ongoing contributions were, for the most part, decorative, consisting of “over one million blooms.” Inside the stadium, at the rear outfield (and protected from baseballs by wire mesh, invisible from the stands) Ratekin installed half-moon shaped beds of red, white and blue petunias – the “Dodger colors.” He also placed large tubs of flowering hibiscus in the great halls and alleys of the interior of the stadium, which would be changed out every other week to optimize flowering. To ensure fans experienced all of this beauty at night games, Ratekin proposed lighting the flowering color “to give the maximum visual soft glow color effect to the entire premises outside the stadium” before and after games. “Agenda and Notes for Meeting with Walter O’Malley, “August 29, 1962, Walter O’Malley archives.  He added 56 clumps of towering Strelitzia nicolai (Giant Bird of Paradise), 300 clumps of the smaller Strelitzia reginae, as well as many other large-leafed and showy tropical plants to the terraced hillsides in the parking areas. Letter to Mrs. Valley M. Knudsen, Chairman. Los Angeles Beautiful, Chamber of Commerce, from Walter O’Malley. February 4, 1963. Walter O’Malley archives.

O’Malley and Ratekin’s most significant collaborative contribution, however, was the beautification of the hills of Elysian Park, which served as the stadium’s palm-silhouetted and picturesque backdrop. Ratekin had the hills, still scarred from the excavation work of construction, cleared of weeds and tilled, a network of 32 miles of irrigation and sprinklers installed. Wildflower “bullets,” each one containing seeds, fertilizer and hormones, were actually shot from special guns, covering one hillside with golden California poppies; the other hills a solid sea of blue and purple Lupin. Indian Paintbrush, Cockscomb, and other native California wildflowers covered neighboring hillsides. Letter to Mrs. Valley M. Knudsen, Chairman. Los Angeles Beautiful, Chamber of Commerce, from Walter O’Malley. February 4, 1963. Walter O’Malley archives.

Adjacent to the Elysian Park hillsides owned by the Dodgers, and visible from the stadium, was a covered reservoir belonging to the Department of Water and Power (DWP). With all the beautification going on nearby, a letter was sent by the city of Los Angeles to the Internal Manager of the DWP effectively shaming them into landscaping their site, directly pointing out that “it is quite obvious that unless the weeds are cleared and some landscaping done around your covered reservoir … this will stand out as an eyesore visible to the hundreds of thousands who visit the stadium development during the years.” Letter dated December 19, 1962, from Huber E. Smutz, the Chief Zoning Administrator for the City of Los Angeles, to Samuel Nelson, Internal Manager of the DWP. Walter O’Malley archives  The tactic worked, and the DWP site was soon landscaped with wildflowers.


On July 12, 1979, Dodgers First Lady Kay O’Malley passed away. Walter O’Malley died just twenty-eight days later, at age 75.

Longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully described the unique qualities of what is now the third-oldest stadium in baseball, saying that "when the sun sets at Dodger Stadium, I am impressed first of all with the mountains because, at this time of year, they are fully defined. Down on the field, a ballgame is just beginning. But the sunset becomes a major distraction because it’s so overwhelming it’s hard to take your eyes off it. And then the palm trees are defined against the sky, and they are turning colors with the sunset. You can’t see that anywhere else in a ballpark." “Now Playing in Left Field,” Vin Scully. Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2003  O’Malley’s ambitious dream was realized, and that dream recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. In refreshing the landscape recently, Mia Lehrer and Associates acknowledged the O’Malley heritage by restoring the blue and white petunias to the outfield. https://www.thinkbluela.com/index.php/2013/03/31/credit-walter-omalley-for-the-petunias-in-the-pavilions/, accessed February 20, 2014

Steven Keylon’s 2014 article “Walter O’Malley and his Landscape for Dodger Stadium” previously appeared in an edited version in “Eden” landscape journal (Spring 2014, Vol. 17, No. 2).