Don Normark, who died last week, was just 19 and a budding photographer in the 1940s, when he took a set of now-iconic photos of Chavez Ravine, the Mexican-American community in Elysian Park that was infamously cleared out in the name of affordable housing, but ended up instead as the home of Dodger Stadium. His work was incredible, and an essential document of a neighborhood completely wiped out in a very short time. The vibrant community had three distinct neighborhoods, roads, and an elementary school, says Nathan Masters over at KCET, but its proximity to Downtown and abundance of open space made it "an ideal site" for Elysian Park Heights, a 3,600-unit public housing project with low- and high-rise towers, garden apartments, and lushly landscaped public spaces, helmed by architects Robert E. Alexander and Richard Neutra.
LA's housing authority used eminent domain to buy up property in Chavez Ravine in the 1950s, but the project stalled and lost public support after opponents (including the LA Times and private builders) painted it as socialist housing. But by 1957, Chavez Ravine was just about abandoned anyway; only 20 families still called it home (some in defiance of eviction orders). Once the housing project was off, the land stayed in limbo until the opportunity came along to build a home for the Dodgers, and the last residents were evicted in 1959—just 10 years after Normark came through with his camera. Normark's striking photographs of the place he called "a poor man's Shangri-la" were eventually collected into a book, Chavez Ravine, 1949: A Los Angeles Story.