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Taking a Look Back at Five of LA's Bygone Racetracks

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LA's sport culture now revolves around baseball-hockey-basketball, but there was a time when it involved racing--racing cars, camels, or horses, and doing it on wood and dirt tracks. From Beverly Hills to El Sereno, races drew celebrity attention, awarded major purses to the winners, and sometimes riled up neighbors who didn't like seeing fun (or vices, depending on your position on gambling) going down in their neighborhoods. Ultimately, many of them fell victim to development, but each had quite a run.

↑ Agricultural Park (later, Exposition Park) near what's today Figueroa and Exposition Boulevard once had a racetrack used for horse, dog, and camel races, and later, some of LA's first cycling and car races. "With gambling, prostitution, and related activities banned inside the city limits, these vices migrated across the boundary into Agricultural Park," says KCET. From about the 1880s to 1899, when the city annexed the park and killed the fun (bustling saloon!), this was the place to be to gamble to your heart's content.

↑ Opened in 1920, the Beverly Hills Speedway was an all-wood track, built by the Beverly Hills Speedway Syndicate. According to the Beverly Hills Historical Society, the track took up most of the southwest section of the city, but it didn't do so for long. The last race on the track was held in 1924; it wasn't as valuable as the land it was on, and was shuttered and dismantled to make way for new developments, like the 1928 Beverly Wilshire hotel, which was erected on part of the former racetrack property. During its short but busy existence as a track, it hosted car races and at least once motorcycle race, as this incredible 1921 footage shows.

↑ By the fall of 1924, sportswriters at the LA Times were already talking about the massive new wooden track in Culver City that had taken away the glory of the Beverly Hills track by doing everything bigger, better, and faster. (According to an LA Times Auto Section article dated October 1924, it was decided on October 11 that the Culver City wood track would go up on the 131-acre site of a horse track in the city; the promise was made that it'd be done in time to hold a race that coming Thanksgiving, and they delivered, though the first race on the track was postponed until December.) Engineered by the same man as the Beverly Hills Speedway (Art Pillsbury), the track at Culver City promised to be "thrillier" and safer than the Bev Hills. Records were set, matched, and shattered on the course, but by the fall of 1927, it too faced a similar fate as the Bev Hills track: it was reportedly demo'd to make way for a housing tract. (The name lived on: in 1932, a new dirt track at Washington and West Adams, also called the Culver City Speedway, opened.)

↑ Located in what would today be called El Sereno (but right near the border), the Legion Ascot Speedway was nicknamed the "killer track" at the time because 24 people died on it in just 12 years. (Despite the claim that the track was also the first to use safety helmets.) The track's trademark deadliness contributed to the track's disuse and eventual abandonment; it burned down in 1936, lit aflame by a former employee sick of all the carnage, according to an LA Times retrospective of the track. The retrospective points out that this racetrack was part of a long Legion legacy: there were four Ascot Speedways in different locations throughout LA County between 1907 and 1990.

↑ Hollywood Park could have been east of the present-day Santa Monica airport on National Boulevard, but old-time NIMBYs weren't having it, so the Inglewood location was chosen, says an October 1936 article in the LA Times about the coming race track, at which time film director/Turf Club President Alfred E. Green told the reporter that no race purse would ever be less than $800. (Later, Inglewood would also put up a good fight over having a gambling and drinking establishment in their town.) The Hollywood Turf Club was lousy with industry people, and had shareholders like the Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, and Bing Crosby. The racetrack closed in 2013 to make way for a huge new mixed-use project.
· How Agricultural Park Became Exposition Park [KCET]
· El Sereno's Legion Ascot Speedway [ESHS]
· Legion Ascot Speedway 1924-1936 [LHLA]
· Massive Hollywood Park Redevelopment Finally Beginning [Curbed LA]