Hollywood Park’s Opening Day, 1938

Jul 1st 2013 08:30 pm |

On July 14th, Hollywood Park will run its final day of summer racing ever. At the end of the year, 75 years after opening, all racing operations will cease at the California track. The racing oval at Hollywood is marked by a slew of legendary runners including Seabiscuit, Citation, and Affirmed. It hosted the first ever Breeders’ Cup in 1984 and has carded a plethora of important stakes races over the years. None more significant than the Hollywood Gold Cup which has been on the race calendar since the inaugural season of 1938. All of this means little to the Bay Meadows Land Company that bought the track in 2005. Hollywood Park is worth more for the development of strip malls, houses, and a hotel then it is as a race track. So, its days are numbered.

Hollywood Park from the air, 1938 (Turf and Sport Digest)

Hollywood Park from the air, 1938 (Turf and Sport Digest)

As the final days of Hollywood countdown, I thought it would be interesting and go back to the beginning, when the track in Inglewood opened for business in 1938. Below are excerpts from a the Turf and Sport Digest and the Los Angeles Times reporting on the opening of Hollywood Park.

In June 1938, in an article titled “America’s Newest Racetrack,” author Colonel Walter Moriarty wrote this in the Turf and Sport about “Inglewood Park”:

“Hollywood’s motion picture tycoons are about to release the greatest and most colossal epic of their long and interesting career. A real feature, a true ‘gigantic,’ a production without equal, unusual, colorful, and one keenly awaited by an anxious public….The latest effusion of the Hollywood barons is none other than Inglewood Park, America’s newest racing emporium, scheduled for opening ceremonies June 10, 1938.

“And truly enough Inglewood Park is the product of the money in Hollywood, for ninety per cent of the stockholders lay claim to some connection with the movie metropolis. And in the creation, erection and operation of this fine new racecourse we find much that smacks of the real Hollywood — and very little of the trashy chatter so often connected with the celluloid industry. Solid business principles have ruled the preliminary work over the two years during which Inglewood Park has grown from a dream to a reality.”

The Los Angeles Times covered opening day in great detail including a list of attendees published June 11, 1938 in an article titled “Film Stars Attend the Races” that opened with this from writer Read Kendall:

“[The] wheels of the motion-picture industry came to a virtual stand-still yesterday when Southern California welcomed back horse racing at the inaugural meeting at Hollywood Park in Inglewood….The saddest gent in Hollywood yesterday was Bing Crosby, who operates the Del Mar track. His studio refused to allow him the day off but Bing issued an ultimatum. If he couldn’t attend the opening day, nothing will stop him from being there today.”

Other ‘stars’ in attendance at the opener were Howard Hawks, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Claudette Colbert, Al Jolson, George Burns, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Zeppo Marx, and many others whose names have been obscured over the years. The article offered little details about individual attendees but did point out the conservative betting of legendary silent film actor Harry Lloyd who, according to the article, never bet more than $2 on a race.

In a report on opening day in the same edition of the L.A. Times, reporter Paul Lowry wrote:

“It was a day given over to superlatives, in spite of weather that was more wintry than summery. It rained in the morning. It drizzled intermittently in the afternoon.

“But in spite of the elements the opening was a terrific success. A crowd officially estimated by General Manager Jack Mackenzie at 40,000 strong stormed the gates…

“…An opening day’s crowd is always a curious one. Many come just to look. The real wagering fraternity wait until the form is established, until the track is pronounced a fast or a slow one.

“But there was plenty of activity in the vicinity of the parimutuel windows yesterday as the gates of the beautiful plant were thrown open for the music that will beat from thoroughbred hoofs for thirty-three days this summer.”

The L.A. Times’, Braven Dyer had this perspective of the opening day scene in “The Sport Parade” column:

“‘And now, ladies and gentlemen,’ said the voice of Joe Hernandez, ‘Hollywood Park belongs to you.’ With this courteous announcement, inaugural ceremonies at the spacious $2,000,000 Inglewood track were concluded yesterday and everybody sat back to await the running of the first race. The brief statement typified the attitude of 1500 employees who did their level best to make everybody feel at home during the opening day — a time when the patience of human beings is apt to be put to a severe test because of the newness of everything. Money, spent lavishly by officials by officials of the Hollywood Turf Club, had been wisely put to good use. The spaciousness of the plant exceeds expectations and the jostling and bumping which go with tremendous crowds were strangely absent yesterday, although attendance must have been above anticipation.”

And, lastly, two months after the inaugural opening day, Turf and Sport wrote this about the Inglewood track in an article about California racing:

“Hollywood Park has done much to add the final touch of authority to West Coast racing. A couple of months ago we told you of this great new track and its prospects. And let us repeat this much: It is the best built racetrack in America…”

In the grand scheme of things, Hollywood Park has had a good life as a race track. However, considering the history made there, its hard to accept its loss.


“Film Stars Attend Races,” Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1938
“Inaugural Lures 40,000,” Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1938
“The Sports Parade,” Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1938
“American Newest Racetrack,” Turf and Sport Digest, June 1938
“California Looks East,” Turf and Sport Digest, August 1938

I found this interesting offering for sale at Amazon: Hollywood Park’s Greatest Hits.

After an unexpected slow June here at Colin’s Ghost headquarters, I look forward to getting back on track with a post a week up until Breeders’ Cup. Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Hollywood Park,thoroughbred racing history

10 Responses to “Hollywood Park’s Opening Day, 1938”

  1. Don says:

    Thanks for the article “Hollywood Park’s Opening Day, 1938.” I used to work at HP and will miss this once great racetrack. Your quotes from 1938 are a nice tribute to a passing era.

  2. Hoffmann says:

    The last thing Inglewood needs is more high density housing and another strip mall. The only reason why people go to Inglewood is to go to the track. Losing this gem will be a complete disaster for the area. Bay Meadows Land Company/Meany Wilson are the same people that tore down Bay Meadow and left the city of San Mateo scrambling. How Inglewood thinks this will be any different is insane.

  3. Jim-boy Billy-Bob says:

    I still believe (sincerely) that the most interesting/UNIQUE thing about Hollywood Park was the one/some-time need for FIFTY-FIVE URINALS IN A ROW (something I counted upon my very first visit there more than 3 decades ago). Somebody else on the internet tells of having counted “56” at some point, so I’m not alone in my awe over such an unparalleled number!!

    I’ve not been to Hollywood Park in 18 years at all, and haven’t seen a live race there in more than 25 years, but I still remember how many urinals I counted upon my first visit…

  4. Thanks for your article on Hollywood Park, it is very sad to see such a great track closing down and such history that has taken place there,
    the way of the world these days losing more history unfortunately.
    Chris Nevill
    Hollylodge, Australia.

  5. Alfredo says:

    Agree with Hoffman.

    I have been to Hollywood Park, probably averaged, one visit a year since the late 70’s. It is difficult to imagine people wanting to spend time in that area that is east of the 405. Any investor will certainly acquire more property for their investment but the chances for a profitable return does not look promising. The city of Inglewood will be the losers in the long run and California racing will suffer as well. Santa Anita can be very hot in June and the turf course there will have be carefully managed. San Diego and Del Mar are going to be the only winners as they will race in the Fall but the crowds will be half of the summer bunches.

  6. Susan Lundquist says:

    Recall watching many races there as a horse crazy teenager (and watched the famous people who were watching the races).

    Pomona Fair was another great place to people watch in between races. Used to ride my bicycle to Santa Anita when school was out for the summer and beg to hot walk horses and help groom them.

    Be sure to visit Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, before that gets turned into SF Bay view condominiums. It will happen one of these days. Their legal battles, while trying to get permits to move the track to Dixon, pretty well drained their resources.

  7. buzznott says:

    Pretty soon there will be maybe 4-6 major racetracks remaining to handle the internet wagering. One in California, New York, Florida, Kentucky and a few minor tracks New Orleans, Delaware, Illinois. The glamour and color of thorobred racing is a thing of the past.

  8. gary claiser says:

    Thanks for the nice words and memories of Hollywood Park. Sorry to see the park go. Do you know what will happen to the Swaps statue??

  9. CLW says:

    There is, and has not been in recent memory, ANY reason to EVER visit Inglewood other than Hollywood Park and the Forum. Everyone knows that.

    No, Inglewood will most certainly not profit from Hollypark’s destruction – save for a few people. The mayor if Inglewood is one exception. The vermin that are destroying the track are PAYING HIM to let the destruction and development happen. THIS is why he will NOT agree to let Hollywood Park receive historic designation.

    It has NOTHING to do with the fact that “racing isn’t what it once was” or that the track is in dire need of repair. The track itself is fine. However, like all older structures, the grandstand and other buildings merely need a facelift.

    Want to make a profit on this land? You start there. Next,perhaps take out a part of the grandstand – doesn’t need to be that large anymore – and put in a restaurant, or something else to draw in people. Next, DEVELOP THE ADJACENT LAND!!!! They can have their precious mall, hotel, homes, restaurants, theaters, whatever. Just incorporate the track into the plans – and watch attendance and wagering skyrocket. It really is that simple.

    Unfortunately, you can’t be a corrupt scumbag mayor to do this – THESE plans actually require a team of folks with IQ’s that are at least somewhere in the positive numbers. Bay Meadows Land co are lacking here.

  10. CLW says:

    PS @ Gary, I think the Swaps statue might be moved but kept on the property. Other stuff is being auctioned off in late January – check the Hollywood Park sit for info on the auction.

    For any who is interested, there are also at least 4 horses buried at Hollywood. Great Communicator, Landaluce, Native Diver, and Gay Dalton. Several fans are working hard to make sure the first 3 get moved to a proper location. It’s not known at this time where Gay Dalton lies, however. I hope he can be found. A descendent of Man O’ War, he raced mostly in Mexico and was known as “Mexico’s Man O’ War.”

    How sad that even grave sites are not sacred anymore. Just plow ’em over and put in a mall.