Many of you probably remember Lakers and Kings games at The Forum or even Clippers games at the Sports Arena, but what do you know of the other sports long-gone venues in Los Angeles history? With Hollywood Park riding off to the sunset yesterday, it got us thinking about other sports palaces from Los Angeles' long (and not so long ago) past.
Here are thumbnail sketches of 10 of them, including photos we called from the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection, plus links to some good video:
In 1935, Academy Award winning actor Victor McLaglen built a small sports stadium on Riverside Drive just north of Hyperion Avenue. Costing a reported $40,000 and described as “state of the art” at the time, McLaglen Stadium hosted a wide variety of events: arena polo, equestrian events, junior college and minor pro football games, lacrosse, motorcycle and midget auto racing, rugby and softball. For a time, it was soccer's primary L.A. home. But after surviving a 1938 flood of the Los Angeles River that undermined and collapsed part of the grandstands, the stadium simply faded from use during World War II. Even its precise location is not known today: It is thought to be either part of the Golden State Freeway, Sunnynook River Park or the river channel.
Located at Washington and Hill, Washington Park was the home field for Los Angeles Angels baseball from 1911-1925. Opened on March 11, 1911 with an exhibition game between the Boston Red Sox and Vernon Tigers, the park went on to host exhibition games for the Chicago White Sox and high school and college baseball, rugby and football. USC played three football games at the park, drawing big crowds against Cal in 1915, while Occidental's football team hosted Syracuse that same year. Fittingly, the Vernon Tigers played the last game at the park, on September 27, 1925, and it was soon demolished. Now it's the site of LA Mart.
Los Angeles Speedway
It's difficult to fathom now, but early in the 20th Century, nearly all major raceways were made of wood. The first board track operated in Playa del Rey from 1910 to 1912, but one of the most epic was Los Angeles Speedway. Located between Wilshire, Beverly, Olympic and Spalding, the track was 1.25 miles in length with 35 degree banking and a capacity of 80,000 to 100,000. Jimmy Murphy won the opening race on February 28, 1920. The track also held motorcycle races. Despite huge crowds, escalating land values forced a sale to developers. The final race was held February 24, 1924. The operators built another board track at Culver City, with even steeper banking, that operated from 1924 through 1927.
Located north of the intersection of Valley & Soto, the 5/8th-mile banked dirt oval opened as Ascot Motor Speedway on January 20, 1924. It prospered under the management of the Glendale American Legion in the late 20s and early 30s, becoming an L.A. sport hotspot, with movie stars such as Clark Gable in attendance and weekly radio broadcasts. Hopes of landing national-level racing ended when Al Gordon and riding mechanic Spider Matlock fatally crashed during a January 26, 1936 race. Faced with huge improvement costs during the Depression, the track closed — and the grandstand burned down three months later. Now it's housing and Multnomah Elementary School. The name lives on in Ascot Hills Park.
Located just north of the Original Farmers Market on Fairfax, Gilmore Stadium was built by oil tycoon Earl Gilmore and opened with motorcycle races on May 23, 1934. Midget auto racing was booming and Gilmore Stadium became the most famous venue for the sport with fans packing the stands for weekly races. Major boxing bouts were also held and a football field in the infield of the oval hosted pro football's Los Angeles Bulldogs, the 1939 and 1940 NFL Pro Bowl games and served as home field for Loyola football. Loyola capped a successful 1950 season with a December 3 win over the University of San Francisco. Months later, the stadium was razed to make way for CBS Television City.
When Bob Cobb of Brown Derby Restaurant fame bought the Hollywood Stars baseball team, he wanted the team to develop its own identity. That included finding a home field the team could call its own. Earl Gilmore built Gilmore Field for Cobb and the Stars, located south of Beverly Blvd. between Genesee and Stanley, just to the east of Gilmore Stadium.
It opened on May 2, 1939, and with the pending arrival of the Dodgers, the Stars played their last game at Gilmore Field on September 5, 1957. Early in 1958, the stadium was razed to make room for the expansion of CBS Television City. A plaque on the wall of Studio 46 at CBS commemorates the site.
Los Angeles' home for boxing and wrestling, the Olympic opened with a boxing card on August 5, 1925. In the 1960s, the Olympic appeared three nights a week on local TV when KTLA (Channel 5) telecast weekly boxing, wrestling and roller games. The building was also home to two famous voices: Dick Lane and his signature “Whoa, Nellie!” during wrestling and roller games telecasts and the dulcet tones of “The Voice of the Olympic,” famed ring announcer Jimmy Lennon. Renovated in 1993, the auditorium hosted its last major event in 1994: a Oscar De La Hoya title fight. Located at 1801 S. Grand, it's still standing, having been converted into a church in 2005.
Hollywood Legion Stadium
The Westside home for boxing and wrestling, also known for the movie stars at ringside, Hollywood Legion Stadium first opened in 1919 as an open-air arena. A roof was added in 1921 and in 1938 it was re-modeled into a 6,000-seat arena. The legendary Gorgeous George entertained wrestling crowds while East L.A. homeboy Art “Golden Boy” Aragon became a star through weekly televised fights. After a final boxing card on September 12, 1959 and a wrestling bill two nights later, the stadium was converted into a bowling alley. Located at 1628 El Centro Ave., just south of Hollywood Blvd, it's now a fitness club.
Built in 1935, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was a stunning example of Streamline Moderne architecture. The prime location for basketball and hockey prior to the 1959 opening of the Sports Arena, the Pan was at times home court for USC and Loyola basketball, hosted selected UCLA games and served as home ice for Los Angeles Monarchs and Hollywood Wolves hockey. It also hosted figure skating, speed skating, tennis, badminton and even a temporary wooden velodrome for cycling and a roller skating marathon race. A long running debate over restoration came to an end on May 24, 1989. Located at 7600 Beverly Blvd., it's now Pan-Pacific Park and features a re-creation of one of the distinctive pylons from the façade.
When Angels owner William Wrigley wanted a new ballpark, he spared no expense. Situated between 41st Place, 42nd Place and Avalon Blvd. in what the Los Angeles Times mapping project calls Historic South Central Los Angeles, Wrigley Field was built in 1925. Seating more than 20,000, the stadium was distinguished by its ivy-covered walls and a clock tower. Home of the Pacific Coast League Angels from September 29, 1925 through September 15, 1957, baseball returned for a single season encore when the American League Angels played their first season at Wrigley in 1961.
Wrigley Field also held boxing, including bouts for Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, the first NFL Pro Bowl in 1938, Loyola and Pepperdine football games and international soccer: a England-U.S. friendly in 1957 and a Mexico-U.S. World Cup qualifier in 1960. In 1964, the city voted to tear down Wrigley Field, but it continued hosting local and visiting international soccer games before ultimately being razed in 1969. For a good look at Wrigley Field, check out TV show Home Run Derby, filmed there in 1959.