They don’t shoot horse race tracks, do they? Just to put them out of their misery?
History should look more humanely on the life and times of Hollywood Park, the insouciant, inscrutable Inglewood thorough-
bred facility that has finally reached the point of being deemed too valuable by local business leaders for something as frivolous as public gambling on equine unpredictability.
But before we throw the synthetic dirt onto their grave proposal to make this one big new housing complex, there’s value in trying to determine where Hollywood Park ranks among the top 50 most important sports venues in Southern California history.
Top 20, easily. Higher, anyone?
Others who’ve managed to see much more of L.A.’s sports history play out going back over the last half century-plus may have a better feel of how to put it into context.
“To put Hollywood Park in its proper place among L.A. sports venues, it would seem appropriate to look beyond its declining years to the track’s entire 75 year history,” said Rick Baedecker, the former Hollywood Park president who has been involved in handicapping, television and upper management , and one who adds he’ll be at Sunday’s closing day with about 40 family members to bid it a proper adieu.
“During its first 50 years it became the number one track in California and, for a while, the country. It was known as ‘the track of the lakes and flowers,’ a 400 acre oasis just a few miles from the ocean. But more important, it was a showcase for the sport’s greatest performers — from Seabiscuit, Citation and Swaps, to Pincay, McCarron and Shoemaker, perhaps the greatest jockey of all-time. And L.A. sports fans embraced it — 80,000 came out for a tote bag giveaway in 1980, when a crowd of 30,000 was the norm — for a Wednesday afternoon.
“Hollywood Park may be top 20. But there was a time when it was second to none.”
David Simon, the president of the L.A. Sports Council, says there’s justification in including “Hollywood” in its name even despite its locale. Warner Brothers’ Harry Warner was the first chairman of the park’s board of directors. Another founding board member was Al Jolson. Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball were horse owners and regulars at the track in the 1950s.
“Today’s celebrities have gravitated to other sports,” said Simon, “but in its prime Hollywood Park had a glamorous aura befitting its name.”
Rich Perelman, author of “Unforgettable: The 100 Greatest Moments in Los Angeles Sports History,” isn’t as star struck. He picks the park at No. 16 on his own Top 50 list.
“In a time when there were fewer teams, less television and leisure was less about wearing a team jersey and screaming, and more about being social, Hollywood Park was an oasis of class that was accessible to just about everyone,” said Perelman, a UCLA and Loyola Law School grad who has been immersed in event consulting, marketing and communications, including acting as the 1984 Summer Olympics press chief.
“It tried to adapt as the community’s tastes changed, but it was never going to be Santa Anita. It will be remembered in the future more fondly than it was in life, as is the case for so many of the pleasure palaces we have lost. But it was fun while it lasted.”
It’s just as fun to create this Top 50 list, based on historic relevance, aura, and mystique to the area over the years.
How our 50 falls into place will be the next series of blog posts. Stay tuned.
Also: Photos of Hollywood Park from opening to modern day at this link.