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Cal Poly Pomona architecture students produce Chavez Ravine Project with Neutra VDL House

By Anais Hernandez, Apr. 26 2022

Neutra VDL House launched a new exhibition in collaboration with LANZA Atelier architects titled “A Table for Hundreds,” where Cal Poly Pomona architecture students showcase the story of the Chavez Ravine through various creative mediums.

“A Table for Hundreds” is an exhibition that tells the story of hundreds of Mexican Americans who were displaced and forcefully removed from their homes, due to a residential complex project that the Los Angeles City Housing Commission planned to execute with the help of Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander.

CPP architecture students enrolled in the Neutra VDL Docent Program had the opportunity to study and participate in this project led by two architects, Isabelle Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo from LANZA Atelier architecture firm based in Mexico City.

Abascal, stated that “as a Mexico-based studio, we wanted to work with something related to the Mexican American community…we wanted to focus, not on one of Neutra’s well-known successes but one of his, let’s say, failures to try to broaden the knowledge we have about his career and lifelong interests. We worked through Zoom with the Cal Poly students throughout four months, I believe, and they did a lot of research and exhibition material production.”

Courtesy of Leilani Gonzalez

Students researched this topic and created various visual representations that symbolized the historical event of the Chavez Ravine. Their assignment was to produce an artifact, model, photograph or interview that showcased the complexity of this story and its history.

The Chavez Ravine occurred after architects Neutra and Alexander signed up for a housing project where they were going to design homes in the communities of Bishop, La Loma and Palo Verde. Unfortunately for the architect duo, the housing project fell through, and the three communities were sold, displacing hundreds of families from their homes. Within time, that same property became the infamous Dodgers Baseball Stadium.

The purpose of the workshop and project was to preserve the memory and history of the three communities. This exhibition consisted of a long table that hosts the artifacts, models and photographs curated by students. “A Table for Hundreds” is a long table that navigates throughout the interior of the VDL house and the outside garden and is a homage to the Chavez Ravine.

Neutra VDL House Director Noam Saragosti mentioned that “the architects we invited were very ambitious. They both had the students learn how to fabricate and source some of the materials that we got donated from a construction company. Students were involved in the whole process. So, they learned all kinds of different skills and learned about this story and how to produce an exhibition.”

Students produced artifacts that represented the communities. Some of the artifacts were fruit that symbolized the growing of crops, electrical telecommunication lines, embroidery and a model of a typical traditional home.

Leilani Gonzalez, fourth-year architecture student, created a house model inspired by photographs taken during the displacement of Mexican Americans to make her idea a reality. The majority of the elements used to generate the mustard yellow house contain objects found in traditional Mexican homes.

“This (artifact) is as close as you can get to an actual home depiction. Being Latin American, I wanted to bring my own home into it. For example, the conchas (sweet bread), the picture of ‘la Virgen,’ these are elements that make us who we are as a culture and I wanted to represent that,” stated Gonzalez.

Another Neutra docent, Veronica Arevalo Peña, created a cross-stitching embroidery representing the three neighborhoods where Mexican Americans lived before being displaced.

“I guess the inspiration and the main reason I wanted to have that represented is that we get desensitized with a lot of tragedies that happen—you can only understand so much through pictures,” said Peña. “Seeing an object helps put into perspective how those communities, you know, were destroyed and how those people were displaced simply to create the Dodger Stadium.”

Karina Arias is also an architecture student. For her assignment, she produced an interview with her grandparents, who lived around the area during the Chavez Ravine and are avid Dodger fans.

“I hope that when people go to this exhibition, they are aware that these types of stories still happen. So, just because that happened in the 1950s, we still have a displacement of communities of color throughout LA. So, I hope that that exhibition is like a wake-up call for many folks about, you know, the history of communities of color in LA,” said Arias.

The campus community can visit their website to visit or learn more about Neutra VDL “A Table for Hundreds” exhibition.

Featured image by Anais Hernandez

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