There are certain places we might visit many, many times over the course of a lifetime that no matter what always manage to captivate, surprise and inspire all the same. Santa Anita Racetrack is one of those places for me. Raised in the sun-drenched foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, I've walked through her storied deco entrance, designed by Gordon B. Kaufman more times than I can count. I've hosted birthday parties in her infield and spent numerous afternoons pacing the tall white rails that circle her track.
The horses that run there are mighty, majestic creatures and while I love to watch them unleash their power onto the turf, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the biggest draw for me is the history and architectural details that make up what many say is the most beautiful racetrack in America.
Of course, I might be bias to her backdrop. The view from the grandstand is something I've stared at all my life. But there are so many other beautiful scenes to get lost in right there on the grounds and Sunday, I did just that.
The day's sky was quintessentially cloudless, California blue. But in my minds eye, I saw all through filtered light, seamlessly fluttering back and forth between present day and yesteryear. It's easy to do. While some aspects, like the scoreboard, have been modernized, the clubhouse and facade have been largely maintained to look the way they did back in the racing's mid-century heyday.
The 1,100 foot grandstand, built in the deco style, is the stuff of legend, made famous by Hollywood movies like A Day at the Races (1937), Casino (1995), Nixon (1995) and of course, Seabiscuit (2003). It was from these seats and nearly every inch of surrounding grass and pavement that 78,000 spectators watched Seabiscuit win the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap in the last start of his career.
The grandstand itself is considered a historic monument.
Though Sunday's crowd was quite light, the Infield has traditionally been where the party is at. While the Clubhouse and grandstands are largely original, the Infield has been modernized a bit with features like the big jumbo screen where the crowd can see the race in its entirety up close. Saturdays are typically festival days and are now frequently festooned with food trucks and beer gardens. There are large expanses of grass to spread out on for picnicking as well.
The old benches here are still a reminder of the past, as are the capped and adorned structures at the betting window.
Sadly, though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the park is now considered one of the "Most Endangered Historic Places" in country. A large sprawling mall sits just to the Southwest of the parking lot and further development has threatened closure since 2007. Racing does not have public attention as it once did in its heyday and despite the events that take place most weekends, attendance has dropped dramatically.
The current owners have declared bankruptcy.
All images by Holtwood Hipster