Apart from the flat-screen TVs, $8 beers and abandoned seats, you'd reckon Hollywood Park looked pretty much the same this weekend as it did the day it opened on June 10, 1938. The horses still run at half-hour intervals, clustered men diligently check the day's form and others come to lose money on wagers they don't understand. The only glaring difference in recent years has been ticket sales.
Crowds and money have dwindled, and on a typical weekend only loyal fans dot the vastly empty grandstand. Its legacy no match for the economic pull of beige condos and maybe a Jamba Juice, the track's owners recently sold it to developers. Hollywood Park is consigned to history — by midnight Sunday, Wikipedia described it in past tense: “Hollywood Park, also known as Betfair Hollywood Park, was a thoroughbred race course and poker card room in Inglewood, California.” But so significant was its heyday that a crowd unseen for decades attended those final two days, December 21 and December 22. On Sunday, the crowd included those bearing witness to the death of a landmark they never knew, those who rued corporate greed, and those swept into the stands by nostalgia.
Samuel has donned his suit at the Park for almost 40 years. Over time he's seen people desert the venue as the track became more impersonal and less willing to cater to their wants. “If people aren't treated right then they're not gonna come. Most people are gonna lose their money — so make them feel at home. … For a long time these people have had nowhere else to go to enjoy themselves, but we've got to push on.”
See also: A gallery of Hollywood Park's last day
“It's yet another Los Angeles institution I took for granted that I thought would be around forever, but as this city has demonstrated time and time again, that's almost never the case.” After coming to Hollywood Park off and on for 23 years, Justin viewed the closure as typical of a region that touts 3rd Street Promenade as a top destination. “The whole notion that L.A. needs another mall is ridiculous. This is what happens when the owners are more interested in real estate than horse racing.”
Diane and Marie
“I wish somebody that had a lot of money would buy it,” says Diane. Regulars for more than 50 years, Diane and Marie hoped a hero would step in. “What about Donald Trump? Hugh Hefner? Mark Cuban? Come on Mark”! Anyone whose memories of the racetrack are older than Trump's toupee can be forgiven for such impossible dreams. “Frank Sinatra used to come here,” Diane says. “How can they level it?”
For many, such as Alphonse, the park served as a familiar sanctuary. “I've been coming here since '66. I live in the neighborhood. This is the place you'd come to make some money without pulling your hair out. It was a wonderful thing to come to, but let bygones be bygones. It's time to move on.”
Debora and Reggie
Others viewed the closure in terms of the deep loss to employees — and even the many animals attracted to the park's greenery. “Think about all of the people who are gonna be without jobs,” said Debora. They have attended for 20 years, while many who are losing their track jobs have been employed even longer. Says Debora, “I even saw this little squirrel outside and I thought, where's the squirrel gonna go?”
Jason and Christie
If your idea of racing is the Kentucky Derby, then you'd be forgiven for thinking that the sport is little more than a pissing contest for the world's milliners. At Hollywood Park however, sport coats and baseball hats rule — although some still find time to scrub up. “We don't come that often, just for the big races,” says Christie. “Horse racing doesn't have the same appeal — everyone used to dress up.” The warm December Sunday showcased a hint of the park's forgotten glamour. It's just a shame that it took the final day to revive it, something Christie and Jason acknowledged. “We'd prefer it to stay, but we're not regulars,” she said. “I'm not keeping them in business, so maybe it's not fair for me to say.”
Between races six and seven Verlan reached through the track's fence to secure a handful of dirt. The keepsake represented some fortunate times. “When I was allowed to bet, my mom gave me some money to come to the track on my own, and I happened to play a one-eyed horse called Copa King and another called Boulevard Stop. That was my first $5 exacta bet, and that exacta came in and paid $1,200. I brought my son here when he was 18 and he won $800. I've had some good luck with the horses. I'll be turning 63 on Christmas Day and I started playing at 18, so it's part of my history. I brought my grandson here last year so he could see it. This was before I knew it was closing, but luckily I got pictures on my cell phone.”
Colin, Candice and Joe
“We've been coming the past five years,” says Joe. “I'm very disappointed — it's always sad when a place that's been around so long closes, especially in Los Angeles. This area's been dying ever since the Lakers left, and not a lot of people come out here. I've asked people before to come here and they get upset with me — like they think that the horses aren't treated very well. I don't know — an animal rights type thing?”
Sylvia and Jean
“It's beautiful, it's very sad that it's closing down,” says Sylvia. Those feelings aside, Sylvia and Jean hope redevelopment will at least have a positive impact on Inglewood. “Look what they did with Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice,” she says. “Fifteen years ago that was a ghost town, so hopefully the plans will bring something into the city. But they could've kept the park. it could've been part of the new creation. I love this park.”
“Our father brought us here when we were little children. It's just so sad.” Theresa wasn't the only person to trace an early memory to the park, but as the final day so acutely illustrated, nostalgia and love for Hollywood Park simply wasn't enough.
See also: A gallery of Hollywood Park's last day