Many of us non-Angelenos think of L.A. as a fairly flat place, but it's taken serious manpower to build this sprawling city on such rugged terrain. Among the more Sisyphean projects was the construction of Dodger Stadium—which, as Southland shows us today, required 19 earthmovers to excavate eight million cubic yards of earth.
They literally moved mountains to create Dodger Stadium. Between 1959 and 1962, an army of construction workers shifted eight-million cubic yards of earth and rock in the hills above downtown Los Angeles, refashioning the rugged terrain once known as the Stone Quarry Hills into a modern baseball palace.
Controversy surrounds the stadium's origins. First, a never-realized public housing project erased an entire Mexican American community from Chavez Ravine. Later, the city of Los Angeles enticed Walter O'Malley's Dodgers to the site with what council member Ed Roybal called a "sweetheart deal." But once ground was broken on September—a project overseen by O'Malley and architect Emil Praeger and executed by Alhambra-based Vinnell Constructors—was a relatively straightforward project of muscle and machinery.
Workers met their greatest challenge in the site's topography. Steep slopes and deep ravines had long sheltered the Elysian Hills (also called the Stone Quarry or Rock Quarry hills) from intensive development. In 1883, the city set aside the northern half of the land, then considered worthless, as Elysian Park. The other half eventually became home to the bucolic neighborhoods of Bishop, La Loma, and Palo Verde.
But the rough terrain was no match for modern industrial technology. In a little less than 31 months, nineteen giant earthmovers relocated eight million cubic yards of earth, flattening hills and filling in gullies across the 300-acre site. At the highest point, a 726-foot promontory variously called Mount Lookout, Silverwood Hill, and O'Malley Hill, they amputated the peak and carved an amphitheater into the mountainside that would serve as the stadium's foundation. (The landform named Chavez Ravine remained intact. Stadium Way runs through it today.)
Above: The groundbreaking ceremony for Dodger Stadium on September 19, 1959. [USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection]
Above: Excavation work for Dodger Stadium surrounds a Chavez Ravine house. The peak above is Mount Lookout, into which was carved the stadium's amphitheater. [Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive – UCLA Library]
Above: Grading work for Dodger Stadium, 1960. [Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library]
Building the 124-foot grandstand was almost as herculean a task as the grading. Some 40,000 cubic yards of concrete, including 78 precast frames, and 13 million pounds of reinforcing steel went into the structure. Because the largest precast pieces were too big to move by truck, Vinnell built a six-acre casting yard on the site. To assemble the pieces, the contractor imported a $150,000 crane from Germany that was then was the largest in North America.
At the project's peak, Vinnell employed 342 workers on the site. Total costs ran close to $23 million, including $4.47 million in city and county subsidies.
Dodger Stadium nearly missed its scheduled opening date after spring storms twice dealt major delays to construction crews. A month before its planned opening, the right field pavilion had yet to rise from the ground. But the workers rallied, and on April 10, 1962, 52,564 fans enjoyed the modern conveniences of O'Malley's new ballpark.
The grandstand's cantilevered design meant that each spectator enjoyed an unobstructed view of the action—a departure from older stadium designs that placed support structures between fans and the field. And because it was built into the hillside, the grandstand offered easy access from each of its four tiers to the terraced parking lots behind it, minimizing the need for long climbs up stairways.
While the stadium's fresh, modern design might have made a statement on Opening Day 1962, the team didn't. They fell to the Cincinnati Reds, 6 to 3. But the following day, Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax stepped onto the stadium's clay mound and, standing before the bowl-shaped amphitheater that had only recently been carved from a mountainside, hurled a four-hit complete game. The Dodgers won, 6 to 2.
Above: Early work on the Dodger Stadium grandstand, seen here on November 17, 1960. [USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection]
Above: 1961 aerial view of Dodger Stadium construction. [Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library]
Above: A closer 1961 aerial view of the stadium under construction. [Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library]
Above: Another 1961 aerial view of Dodger Stadium construction. [Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library]
Above: Dodger Stadium construction on July 25, 1961. [USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection]
Above: 1962 view of a nearly completed Dodger Stadium. [Herald-Examiner Collection – Los Angeles Public Library]
Above: Spring storms delayed the completion of work on Dodger Stadium's field, seen here on February 23, 1962. [Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library]
Above: 1962 view of a completed Dodger Stadium during a ballgame. [Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive – UCLA Library]
Top image: Dodger Stadium under construction on May 25, 1960. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection.
Southland is made possible by a partnership between Gizmodo, the USC Libraries, and the member collections of L.A. as Subject. Written by Nathan Masters, the series explores the urban past of Los Angeles, including the lost landscapes and forgotten infrastructures that continue to influence the city we know today. This post previously appeared on KCET.org as "They Moved Mountains to Build Dodger Stadium."