Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story

Don Normark's haunting photographs evoke a lost Mexican-American village in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, razed to build Dodger Stadium.

Film Signature Image
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
June 7, 2005
30 minutes
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2005 Internet Scout Project-Internet Scout Report Pick
  • Producer

    Jordan Mechner

    Mechner has written and directed two award-winning short films, Waiting for Dark and Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story. He is also one of the world’s best-known videogame creators. His games — including Karateka, Prince of Persia, The Last Express, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time— have sold millions of copies and received worldwide critical Show more acclaim. Mechner is currently working on a big-screen adaptation of Prince of Persia for producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Pictures. He received his B.A. from Yale University. Show less


    Don Normark

    In 1949, Normark, a freelance photographer, made the still photographs that illustrate Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story. The film dramatizes the events related in his book Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, published by Chronicle Books. Normark’s photographs of Chavez Ravine, as well as his more recent work, will be exhibited at the Santa Barbara Show more Museum of Art in the summer of 2005. Normark has illustrated many books, and thousands of his travel and garden photographs have filled the pages of Sunset and other magazines. His photographs reside in the permanent collections of several museums. Show less


    Andrew Andersen

    Andersen has 20 years of experience as a director of photography shooting independent feature films, commercials and television documentaries. He has shot for The Learning Channel, The History Channel, A&E Biography, Lifetime Intimate Portraits, MTV, VH-1, and The Disney Channel, as well as for NASA, the Kennedy Space Center, Amgen, the EPA, Show more Dupont Chemical, the World Health Organization, and the American Cancer Society. Andersen first worked with Jordan Mechner as director of photography on The Last Express. Show less


    Mark Moran

    Moran has worked in various capacities on a wide range of films, including Bee Season (Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche), BASIC (John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson), Secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal, a 2002 Sundance winner), Sweet Home Alabama (Reese Witherspoon) and Novocaine (Steve Martin). Prior to his film career, he designed and programmed Show more cutting-edge computer games. He started his first company at age 17, which led to his working with Jordan Mechner on the award-winning CD-ROM game The Last Express. Moran graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in literature and writing. Show less

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    The Film

    In 1949, photographer Don Normark visited Chavez Ravine, a close-knit Mexican American village on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles. Enchanted, he stayed for a year and took hundreds of photographs documenting community life. But little did Normark know that he was capturing the last images of a place that was about to disappear—within a few short years, the entire neighborhood would be gone. Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story tells the story of how this Mexican American community was destroyed by greed, political hypocrisy, and good intentions gone awry.

    During the early 1950s, the city of Los Angeles forcibly evicted the 300 families of Chavez Ravine to make way for a low-income public housing project. The land was cleared and the homes, schools, and the church were razed. But instead of building the promised housing, the city—in a move rife with political controversy—sold the land to Brooklyn Dodgers baseball owner Walter O’Malley, who built Dodger Stadium on the site. The residents of Chavez Ravine, who had been promised first pick of the apartments in the proposed housing project, were given no reimbursement for their destroyed property and forced to scramble for housing elsewhere.

    Fifty years later, filmmaker Jordan Mechner explores what happened, interviewing many of the former residents of Chavez Ravine as well as some of the officials who oversaw the destruction of the community. Narrated by Cheech Marin and scored by Ry Cooder and Lalo Guerrero, Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story combines contemporary interviews with archival footage and Normark’s haunting black-and-white photographs to reclaim and celebrate a beloved community of the past.