For 75 years, Hollywood Park was a mainstay in thoroughbred racing. In 1984, it hosted the first Breeder’s Cup and throughout its history, the Inglewood based track was a place where movie stars came to show off their high society existence. It was a track that played host to the legends of the sport: Native Diver, Seabiscuit, Zenyatta and many more.
On Sunday, December 22, after an 11 race card, Hollywood Park closed for good. It will be demolished to make way for commercial and residential development. Many are quite sad about this, and as a horse racing fan and somebody who likes and believes in the sport, I am too. It’s always sad when a place that played host to something special meets its demise. And, when the final day comes, people are saddened and some say it’s an outrage. If you follow social media, there are those calling the owners of Hollywood Park sell-outs. Others say it’s corporate greed with others hoping that the new enterprise fails miserably.
That is understandable, of course, but people are funny, or as Jim Morrison once sang, they are strange. You see this all the time. When Shea Stadium was aging, Met fans called for a new playpen. In fact, Shea was called a dump. On its final day, the place was sold out to “honor the memory,” of the place that was called a dump a week earlier. The list goes on and on as the Orange Bowl, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and even old Yankee Stadium faced the wrecking ball. Many were outraged when the Yankees decided to replace old Yankee Stadium with its narrow concourses and lack of bathrooms with a new palatial park. The funny thing is nobody really misses the old places once they get into the new digs. Of course, the price to get in has increased substantially, but that’s another story.
Last Sunday, there was an estimated 30,000 people at the Hollywood Park farewell. It shows that despite the changing landscape of our nation, there is still some sentimentality that exists. Our country has certainly changed since 1938when Hollywood Park first opened its doors. Sadly, those who lament the closing don’t seem to understand that. You know who these people are. They are the ones that demand that everybody in the United States should speak English. They want to go back to the simpler time, or at least a different time when Mom stayed home and parents stayed married and going to Hollywood Park on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon was the thing to do. These are the people that think change is not good and we should force ourselves to go back in time. These are the people that hate Wal-Mart, yet shop there because the price is right.
As many Los Angeles based writers said in the Hollywood Park obituary, “where were all these people ten years ago when Hollywood Park was struggling.” The answer was simple; they had moved on. Horse racing is still the sport of kings and to know it is to love it, but Americans have moved on. There was a time when local harness tracks drew 15,000 plus fans on a Saturday night, but those days are gone for now. Americans do what they want to do and George Washington would be proud of this fact. You can’t force people to support something that they’re not really in to.
On the other side, take minor league baseball. In the 1970s, a Triple A baseball game would be happy with a crowd of 1,200 fans. Now, because of great marketing, minor league baseball games draw over 10,000 fans. In Sacramento, going to a Triple A Rivercats game has become vogue, especially for the twenty somethings. Less people watch baseball on TV, but more people go to baseball games than ever before. The Tampa Bay Rays averaged 18,654 fans per game in 2013, a figure that Commissioner Bud Selig called “concerning,” and basically scolded the fans for their lack of support for a team that managed to qualify for the American League playoffs.
Let’s go back 40 years, to that simpler time where people spoke English and gay people stayed in the closet. Selig owned the Milwaukee Brewers, and in 1973, the Brewers drew 1,092,158 people to County Stadium, an average of 13,483 fans per game, sixth best in the 12 team league, a figure that the 2013 Rays surpassed easily. The Detroit Tigers led the league with 1,742,146 fans, an average of 21,285 per game. Back then, drawing a million fans to your park was the barometer. The East Division champion Baltimore Orioles only drew 958,667 and the West Division champions Oakland A’s drew just 1,000,763.
Tastes have changed. In 1973, Hollywood Park had those crowds of 12,000 and 15,000 in the days before OTB and fewer choices. Last year, the West Division champion A’s drew 1,809,302 people to the Oakland Coliseum, the same place they played in 1973.
Those who say Hollywood Park is a landmark and shouldn’t be torn down, Iet me ask, what is your plan to make it profitable in the future? It’s like when the Catholic diocese tears down a church. There are always those who cry that it should be designated as a landmark and kept. But, they then complain because the city government has to raise taxes because as a non-exempt property, the church doesn’t have to pay taxes. And, they lament a retail outlet building on that sacred ground even as it pays taxes. And, the essential question is quite simple. If more people attended that church and donated more money, the church would make enough money to support itself, and thus would be still standing.
We can’t have it both ways in this matter. We can’t keep Hollywood Park just because she’s beautiful and has a great history. The owners, successful businesspeople can’t keep losing money and can’t keep the track just because of that. They were offered a lot of money to sell the land and those who bought the land think they can make money—tons of it—by building commercial, retail and residential buildings. Why is that a bad thing? Maybe because the common guy or gal won’t reap in those potential profits, but isn’t it the American ideal to come up with an enterprise that can make money?
The best thing to do is to acknowledge that Hollywood Park lived a long, charmed 75 years. That’s not a bad run. The memories will always be there. The other day, I watched a documentary about Dr. J, Julius Erving. In it were clips of the old arena, the Philadelphia Spectrum, a place that hosted many historic athletic and other events. Rather than say that “they should’ve never torn that place down,” I just smiled and said, “that old barn saw a lot of stuff.”
That was good enough for me and hopefully, you’ll feel the same way about Hollywood Park.