“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing…”

—Henri Cartier-Bresson

Don Normark photo of Chavez Ravine
Don Normark photo of Chavez Ravine

In 1948 20-year-old photographer Don Normark walked up a hill in Los Angeles looking for a good view. Instead he found Chávez Ravine, site of three ramshackle Mexican-American neighborhoods tucked into Elysian Park “like a poor man’s Shangri-La,” he thought. He spent much of the next year photographing this uniquely intact rural community. Accepted by the residents, he returned often with his camera to witness a life that, though limited by poverty, was lived fully, openly, and joyfully.

In 1950 the people received letters telling them that they must sell their homes to the government and leave the ravine to make way for a low-cost housing project. As soon as they were constructed, the letter promised, “you will have first chance to move back into the new residences.” But once the people were removed, the next city government, citing “creeping Socialism,” cancelled the program. Later, the city gave 300 acres of Chávez Ravine to Walter O’Malley, who demolished the last of the houses and built Dodger Stadium.

In 1997 Normark found many people from the destroyed neighborhoods. Ties of family and friendship have held them together over the years, so that although widely scattered, they are still a group. They call themselves Los Desterrados, the Uprooted.

On the Web

Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles story – PBS Independent Lens

Information on the film Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles story – Bullfrog Films

Don Normark exhibition at WSU Museum of Art :: Oct. 2-Dec. 19, 2009.