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Ballot Referendum Nearly Stopped Dodger Stadium

It was a big day when the Dodgers finally arrived in Los Angeles. The town turned out for a tickertape parade. But team owner Walter O'Malley's dream of a gleaming ballpark in Chavez Ravine, the reason he'd come west, was still several years off. First, he'd have to navigate his way around lawsuits, a nasty eviction, and a ballot referendum. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde continues her series about how the Dodgers came to L.A.

["Take Me Out To The Ball Game" plays]

Kitty Felde: In October of 1957, the L.A. City Council approved a land swap with Walter O'Malley that would allow the Dodger owner to build a ballpark in Chavez Ravine. But opposition to the plan didn't die once votes were counted in City Hall. One of those who opposed the deal was a city councilman named John Holland. Former city councilwoman Roz Wyman says her colleague made a prediction the night of the vote in City Council.

Roz Wyman: John, the one thing he said, is this would go to referendum. Which we never understood how he could say it because one, referendums take money to get signatures. And he said this before any referendum was ever– I mean, once the vote was taken. But we never could understand how he knew at the end that there was gonna be a referendum. And he did have some help with money. And we heard that it was Smith's money.

Felde: Smith was John A., or "Black Jack" Smith, the owner of the San Diego Padres minor league club. Minor league owners feared major league baseball would kill off their popular and profitable Pacific Coast League. Supporters of the land swap with O'Malley say Smith was the moneyman behind the campaign to keep the Dodgers out of Los Angeles.

A public relations firm helped collect 50,000 signatures in 30 days, and with that, a referendum on the Chavez Ravine land swap with O'Malley was set for June 3rd, 1958. But six weeks before the referendum, on April 18th, the city was not thinking about politics. It was cheering baseball on the Dodgers' opening day at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

["D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh, Really? No, O'Malley)" by Danny Kaye plays]

Jim Hahn: I got to be involved in Opening Day.

Felde: Former L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn is the son of the late county supervisor Kenneth Hahn, the man who helped bring the Dodgers to L.A.

Jim Hahn: So I had a little Dodger uniform, as you can see in some of these pictures. And my mom sewed the number 4, went to the sporting goods store to get a 4 to sew on the back, 'cause Duke Snyder was my hero, and we rode in the parade of Edsels down Broadway.

Felde: Former L.A. city councilwoman Roz Wyman, who'd run for office on the promise of bringing big league baseball to town, was determined to ride in that tickertape parade. She'd just given birth to her first child a few days earlier, but she still climbed into a car with pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

Wyman: I sat down below in the car, and they sat up above, 'cause it was a convertible, and I asked the news people to just say, don't mention that I was in the parade. I said, my doctor will kill me. And I had snuck out and gone in the parade. And I'll tell you, to us in Los Angeles, it was the biggest parade of our history.

And Sandy Koufax's remarks were just absolutely the best. Don was at least from this area, and he knew we didn't do much in parades. Sandy had come from the east and had lived in New York, etcetera, and he said more people show up just crossing the street in New York at noon than have come out here.

And we thought it was the biggest thing that had ever come to Los Angeles, with the tickertape, I mean, with the confetti and all this stuff coming down. We were so excited with it, but Sandy's remarks were really kind of classic at that point.

Felde: After the parade, thousands of fans, dozens of dignitaries, and seven-year-old Jimmy Hahn gathered for the first big league pitch at the Coliseum.

Jim Hahn: I had, again, been slightly misled by my dad, that I was gonna be the first batboy on opening day. Well it turned out I was the honorary batboy on opening day.

Felde: Hahn may have been disappointed, but the National League record crowd of 78,000 wasn't. The Dodgers held on to beat the Giants, 6-to-5. And with that, O'Malley turned his attention to his next big battle: the June 3rd vote on the land for the stadium he'd come west to build. Next week: L.A's Proposition B... "B" for baseball.

["D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh, Really? No, O'Malley)" by Danny Kaye plays]