Ingleside Race Track in San Francisco, 1895-1905

Feb 9th 2011 07:02 pm |

If one were to take on the monumental task of documenting all race tracks that covered this country throughout its history, it would be safe to say the number would easily be well into the hundreds. Maybe when I retire i’ll take on this research project.  For now, we’ll have to settle for an occasional visit to the tracks of the past. Last year, I did a piece on Guttenberg in New Jersey, a winter track in the northern part of the state. This year, we’ll look at another winter track on the other side of the country: Ingleside in San Francisco, California.  Run under the direction of the Pacific Coast Jockey Club, Ingleside opened in 1895 and hosted its last race in 1905.

Headline from the San Francisco Call on November 27th 1895

Many racetracks operating during this era were shut down by “reformers” who worked with state legislation to ban gambling —  the death knell for the sport in many states including California. Ingleside’s end didn’t come through an act of government but instead an act of God — the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Another unique aspect of Ingleside: it’s one of the few defunct tracks from the period that left a physical footprint on the landscape that exists to this day (more on that later in the post).

While it only stood for ten years, Ingleside’s opening on Thanksgiving day in 1895, inspired a San Francisco Call reporter to state that it would “inaugurate a new era of horse racing on this side of the continent.” Indeed, owners shipped their horses from all over the country to take part in the inaugural meet at Ingleside, located in a then sparsely populated area southwest of downtown San Francisco.

The Ingleside grandstand, from the San Francisco Call

Small victories for anti-gambling advocates shut down or limited horse racing for brief periods during Ingleside’s history. On opening day, however, all that stood far in the future. This is how the San Francisco Call reported some of the sights of the first day of racing on November 27th 1895:

“It was opening day of the Pacific Coast Jockey Club meeting — the inauguration of a new era in racing on this coast ushered in with the most attractive first day card ever presented here. The best Eastern and Western horses were to compete on the new and model track, under the most favorable auspices and for tempting purses. These inducements were sufficient to wipe out all drawbacks, and thousands of men and women crowded the grand stand, quarter-stretch, paddock, and betting ring.

“The officers of the Jockey Club looked gloomy during the early part of the day. The outlook was bad and their hopes for a fair attendance small. It was amusing as the day progressed to watch their long faces close up and gradually spread out into broad grins as carload after carload of human freight poured in from the different lines of cars. At night the managers gave 12,000 as a conservative estimate of the attendance, and it certainly looked to be half that number more…

“…the crowd pressed itself into the grand stand, which only holds 5000, during the events, and between times they poured down the half dozen broad stairways to the betting ring, where nearly a score of bookies were liberal in their odds and coaxed ‘the talent’ with seductive figures into taking a chance. For the first time in a long while in this State ‘show’ money was offered, and the timid ones who did not care to play horses to come in first or second were given an opportunity to try their judgement on third…

“…On the outside of the grand stand between it and the gates were hundreds of carriages, buggies, drags, barouches, tally-ho coaches and other conveyances hitched to the trees and posts. They had all come by way of the old Alms House road, which was much the worse for mud and slush, of by the way of Ocean Beach, the far better road although the longer…”

“…The attendance was by no means limited to the people inside the track grounds. Way off to the south, on the hills and prominent points hundreds of people had congregated, taking advantage of the eminences to get a view of the races. They reached there in wagons of all descriptions and walked as well as climbed, but they were there surely, in mist and rain, and must have enjoyed it for they remained until the last race.

“It was noticeable fact that aside from the habitues of race course there were scores of men who are seldom seen in such places. Their presence was accepted as a bright omen. It showed that already the heightened tone of racing in this coast was buoyed by the Pacific Coast Jockey Club. This would certainly have been more perceptible had the weather permitted the attendance of the gentler sex…

“…There were no great winnings made against the books. Riley Grannan, the plunger, who stands first on the list when Pittsburg Phil is not in town, did no good for himself. In the second race, the six furlongs for three-years-old and up, he went down the line and reduced the odds on Potente. Oregon Eclipse, a 15 to 1 came in first, and Grannan’s promenade cost him a few thousands…

“…Captain Callundan of Harry Morse’s patrol had thirty uniformed men in his command to care for and protect the people on the track…’This was the most gentlemanly and best behaved gathering I have ever had to deal with,’ he stated. This statement goes far toward showing the influence the Pacific Coast Jockey Club is having in elevating the tone of the racetrack…

“…All in all, the opening day of the Pacific Coast Jockey Club’s meeting was a great success, and [Club] President A.B. Spreckels has no reason to regret he lost the wager he made with Frank Burke Wednesday night that the receipts of Thursday would not amount to more than $5000. The were nearly double that sum.”

The success at Ingleside continued until 1899 when the track closed due to a local gambling ban. The track hosted horseracing for a single day in 1901. Racing returned for the 1902-03 season with a sixty-three day meet; they raced for eighteen days in 1904. The final meet (although no one knew it at the time) came in 1905. It wasn’t the reformers who finally brought Ingleside to an end; it was the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that sealed the fate of the racetrack.  Ingleside’s grandstand and infield served as a hospital and refugee camp in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck the city on April 18th 1906.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the track remains on the landscape of San Francisco. The racetrack property was purchased in 1910 and developed into the neighborhood of Ingleside Terraces. In the now affluent area, located in the southwestern part of the city, the circular Urbano Drive follows the route of the original racing oval of the old track (click image to view in Google Maps):

View then and now images of the track and surrounding neighborhood:


San Francisco Call, November 27th 1895
San Francisco Call, November 29th 1895

More information on Ingleside Race Track:

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Filed in Ingleside Race Track,Race Tracks, United States,thoroughbred racing history

5 Responses to “Ingleside Race Track in San Francisco, 1895-1905”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael McKenzie, Colins Ghost RSS. Colins Ghost RSS said: Ingleside Race Track in San Francisco, 1895-1905 […]

  2. Hoffmann says:

    Excellent article!
    Went to college in San Francisco in the early 1970’s and had a friend that lived on Urbano Drive and I always wondered why it was shaped like a racetrack. Know I know! Thanks for the historical info.

  3. heleneconway says:

    When I retire I will join you in this same research.
    This is a clear example of a pattern of development which spans world history. My favorite examples are in Italy starting w Piazza Navonna which is lozenge shaped in plan, and was used for “gaming”.

    best regards,

    Helene Conway

  4. John Pappas says:

    I was born near the site of Bayview race track. Can you give some information on this.. I have spent 62 years involved in california racing.

  5. Jack says:

    I grew upp on Urbano Drive in the 50’s. While I knew it was a race track and we used to brag a bit as kids, I never really took advantage of just how unique it was. Until now, that is. I love telling people that I grew up on a race track. To the inevitable “where?”, when I reply San Francisco it starts a delightful recount of history and astonishment.

    Thanks you for your diligence in research.