Making Tracks

Hollywood Park race track on approach to LAX | Photo: Ron Reiring/Flickr/Creative Commons

I've been noting this a while, but now it's sinking in: Hollywood Park is disappearing. It hit home this past weekend as I walked into Darby Park in Inglewood from the main parking lot and looked to the left, as I automatically do, expecting to see a few horses cantering around the practice track on a morning workout. That track sits next to Darby and had long been the green room for the thoroughbreds, the rehearsal space where anybody could watch Hollywood Park's mainstage actors literally being put through their paces. Sometimes I sat at the picnic area on the slope of the small hill that overlooked the track, and watched. Sometimes I sat with my dogs, who showed interest in the horses only when they whinnied loud enough for them to hear; then the dogs pricked their ears, stared, straining to place the sound. I don't think they ever figured it out.

The track is bleached white these days, like a boneyard. Rows of weeds and dunes of plowed-up dirt dominate the elliptical course of the horses and trainers that was always a bit overgrown, but clear; it barely looks like a track at all. I knew this was going to happen to make way for the new mixed-use development that had been on the drawing board for years, and is finally under way. But it's only striking me now that there's been a notable lack of mourning over the death of this track, which after all was among the only race tracks in the country that operated in an urban setting (perhaps the only one). I know that L.A. isn't good at preservation, or at even knowing what to preserve. But Hollywood Park -- it did cater to the stars in the beginning, hence the name -- is a landmark. Or so I assumed. What I've come to realize is that a landmark only exists if concerned people say it does.

And even then it can get razed -- look at what happened a decade ago to Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw. Despite howls of community protest and a few stays of execution, the beloved 50s-style restaurant/bowling alley was eventually replaced by a Starbucks. Who are we to stand in the way progress? And if the 'we' is chiefly black or people of color, that progress becomes an even bigger argument against preservation. Then, Starbucks and whatever else is slated to be built become important symbols of consumer equality that the hood so desperately needs; preservation is for affluent, mostly white hobbyists who don't need anything in their neighborhood except slower growth. Not us. Our growth is stunted, and always has been. We're therefore supposed to be grateful for anything new going up, in some ways the more generic the better. Hollywood Park may have been a singular place, but it couldn't assure Inglewood in the SoCal firmament the way that Banana Republic can. I confess, when our local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf closed some years back, I despaired -- progress given, and then taken away. The closure gave me a complex. Was our town not sophisticated or worthy enough to support a Coffee Bean? By that time the bloom was off the rose of Starbucks shops, which were starting to feel as ubiquitous -- and unvalidating -- as McDonald's.

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For me, Hollywood Park never lost its appeal. Having the track right in town was comforting, at the same time exotic; over the years the horse trailers rumbling down Pincay Drive were a common sight, but seeing the glint of the animal's eye or catching sight of the whole horse, if only briefly, was always exciting to me. It spoke to a world within Inglewood that I didn't visit, but that gave it a certain mystique, a counterweight to all the dreary negative stereotypes about Inglewood being gangland, or Inglewatts, or some place to drive through but never stop to visit. Hollywood Park, with its cargo of regal horses, refuted all that. Of course, as I became an animal lover and began to realize how race horses are routinely abused, the track lost some of its luster -- the exoticism came at too high a price. But I still loved seeing the horses, loved seeing them delivered to us. Of all the places in greater L.A., those creatures came here. That impressed me.

Under the hot sun last weekend, everything looked wilted. The practice track was no exception. I looked out over the empty field the track has become and tried to imagine a mixed-use development in its place. The vision didn't seem to go with the park, which the track always did -- the rutted horse path extended the quiet and sense of leisure afforded by Darby, by all public parks. It belonged. I have no idea what the new development will extend, or if it will extend anything. Whatever form this progress takes, we'll just have to live with it.

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