The world was "in the depths of a dark abyss of world depression" when the 1932 Olympics rolled around according to the official post-Games report. With that classic Depression-era ingenuity, the 1932 Games were kept affordable. A unique features of these Games was the Olympic Village. Athletes had never been housed dorm-style together, though the Village became a recurring (and increasingly hedonistic) feature of subsequent Olympics. Seeing as the Games would have been on right now (July 30 to August 14), we took a look at the Village, start to finish, and uncovered some of its secrets.
-It was decided early on that these Games would require a "special housing arrangement." The Village would allow for male athletes to be housed, fed, and given space to entertain themselves in a centralized place. The 126 female competitors were sent to the classy Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire.
-There were plenty of detractors to the idea of an Olympic Village. It was thought, says an August 14, 1932 LA Times piece, that men whose "races, beliefs, and ideals conflict" couldn't be housed in the same area without some kind of disastrous repercussions. But it was a total success, and in fact, many Olympians have fond memories of "trying to overcome the language differences" to make friends with other athletes.
-The penny-pinching required of everyone during these Depression-era Games created plenty of challenges for the managing director of the Olympic Village, H.O. Davis, who had to work with a tight budget. How tight? The money the Olympians paid would go back toward breaking even on the construction, but the Committee had agreed to charge just $2 a day per athlete during their stay.
-Complicating matters, Davis told the Times in that same August 14, 1932 article that prior to and during construction, he couldn't get an estimate on how many athletes were coming. "About all we could do was guess." In the end, he decided to built 500 bungalows for competing athletes.
-The site of the Olympic Village was not announced until fairly late in the game. It turns out, five locations were being scouted as possible Olympic Village sites. Baldwin Hills was chosen because it was found to be on average 10 degrees cooler than the four other contenders, and Olympic planners anticipated a steamy summer.
-The village had, in addition to the bungalows, five miles of streets through it, but ince the property had to eventually be completely devoid of any trace of any development (as was the agreement with the landowner loaning the site), creating paved streets was out of the question. The solution was to have water wagons travel around "night and day" to spritz down the roads and minimize dust.
-The adorable pink-and-white bungalows had two 10-by-10-foot rooms, and were furnished with curtains, plus four beds and wicker chairs. They were made to be taken apart easily, and were built with the idea in mind that they'd be carted off after the athletes left.
-Grass was laid around each little cottage and rows of flowers were planted leading up to the door (50 acres of grass and seven acres of flowers in total). Olympic Village overseer H.O. Davis wanted to give the athletes more than a crash pad: he'd hoped to make the Olympians feel at home.
-Another creature comfort added to the Village: in anticipation of complaints from athletes about having to eat weird American food, the village had five dining rooms, and every team was invited to bring its own chef.
-Post-Games, when nearly all the athletes had left, the clubhouse became a salesroom; one of the salesmen working from the new office was Hec Dyer, a member of the 400-meter relay team that took the gold in the just-finished Games, says an LA Times article from August 25, 1932. The houses weren't the only things that sold out of the office: blankets, spoons--"things that were used by champions"--were hot commodities.
-The Olympic bungalows could be purchased alone or in a group; a furnished one cost $215, but unfurnished they sold for just $140.
-One of the first homes to sell went to Jean Hersholt, a Danish-born actor who worked and lived in the US. He personally paid most of the expenses for the Danish team to participate, and bought one of the houses to display in Copenhagen, covered in pictures of Danish Olympians, for a fee that would go back to deferring costs of getting there in the first place.
-Other homes bought early on were shipped to Hawaii, Japan, and Berlin. The plan was to sell and ship them all off, leaving the land as though the Village never existed. A dozen were shipped to Palm Springs, where it seems like at least one is still standing.
-By the time a February 3, 1933 LA Times article was penned, only two of the original little houses were still standing on the land in Baldwin Hills. Others had been sold, some had been knocked down and sold for salvage.
· 1932 Olympics Official Report [Official site]
· The First-Ever Olympic Village Was Built in Los Angeles [KCET]