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--- California Harness Racing History

Spectacular Blaze

Western Harness Racing Plans Suffered a Severe Jolt By Hollywood Park Fire, But Hope Flames Anew

ON THE nigh of May the fifth the citizens of Inglewood, California, and, for that matter, those of most wood, a dozen 'other surrounding communities—were awakened by one of the most spectacular fires seen since the first "A" bomb landed on Japan. The skies were lighted for miles around, as great twisting tongues of flame writhed hundreds of feet into the darkness. Flyers coming into nearby Los Angeles Airport said they had not seen anything like it since their night raids over Germany

The massive quarter‑mile long stands of Hollywood Park were going up, or rather crumbling down, as completely as though these same flyers had been attacking with deadly intent. To most who had known the concrete and steel confines of the palatial plant the charred results of the following morning seemed impossible. Like the Titanic, which was unsinkable, the place had appeared to be unburnable.

Nevertheless, there it was—a gutted mess of girders and smouldering junk.

At first glance it seemed that the immediate future of the Hollywood Turf Club, scheduled to open a Thoroughbred running meeting within a week, was the most seriously affected. People thought, they're certainly out on the proverbial limb, and darn little chance of getting back.

However, within a few days, it became apparent that the organization really out on the limb was the Western Harness Racing Association. Hollywood Turf Club moved into Santa Anita and opened on schedule, leaving a year to clean up and rebuild before its 1950 dates would roll around. Western Harness, with its Grand Circuit meeting coming up in October and November, had no such convenient alternative. General Manager Bernard Kearney and his directors were really behind the eight ball.

What to do? Where to turn? At that early date the rehabilitation of Hollywood Park in time for an October meeting was considered absolutely impossible. It would take months to even clear away the wreck before any new building could be started. True, the track and stable area were not damaged at all, but you can't hold a race meeting without someplace to put the people. Santa Anita was out‑too much continuous racing for one district, plus an improvement program which had to be started immediately upon the completion of the transferred Hollywood schedule. Fairgrounds such as Pomona and Del Mar could not be used, due to provisions of the California Racing Act, nor would they, in the final analysis, be entirely adequate for such an elaborate program as advertised by the WHRA.

The situation propounded a problem almost unparrelled in racing history. Lesser men than Kearney and his board would have thrown in the sponge, or the towel, or what have you. However, they are not gentlemen who quit easily. They had told the public and the horsemen that there would be a race meeting, October 8th through November 26th—and, by the Lord Harry, there would‑come hell or high water! With the approval of the California Racing Board, and the fine cooperation of Hollywood Turf Club officials, they decided to attempt the impossible­get Hollywood ready, and race there as advertised.

A lot of guys shook their collective noggins and said "It can't be done," and Bernie and Pat Doherty and others of the WHRA official family got a few more gray hairs, but they went ahead, and today, thanks to their energy and courage, they can truthfully say it not only can be done‑it is being done. It will be ready on October 8th, and it will provide as an attractive and comfortable a setting for harness racing as any in the United States.

Said Kearney: "The reconstructed Hollywood Park grandstand, plus added facilities, will provide over 10,000 seats this fall, in addition to benches and tables for patrons to rest between races.

"We will be able to offer a crowd of 25,000 people the utmost in convenience and comfort," he added, "and if, as we hope, the Saturday and holiday crowds demand it, facilities will be available for 35,000 trotting fans. The ratio of seating to the anticipated maximum crowds will be more favorable than at most major racetracks."

The Hollywood of WHRA, rising from the wreckage, will be a place truly representative of the democratic and informal spirit of the sport. The secluded luxury of elaborate private enclosures will be lacking, but good solid comfort for Mr. and Mrs. Average Fan will be most definitely in evidence. There will be 2,300 box seats, 3,000 bench seats, and 5,000 temporary folding chair seats and track‑side stools. There will be a picturesque cafe under the grandstand, capable of seating 300, and numerous bars and sandwich stands will be operated throughout the plant. 'There will be a modern press box and press lounge overlooking the finish line. The famous Hollywood infield will be completely replanted to form a riot of color. The track will be lightening fast, and the best trotters and pacers in the nation will be blistering its surface.

It seems pretty safe to predict that the courage of WHRA in attempting the impossible, will pay off in full.


HOPES WERE DIMMED for the Hollywood Park Grand Circuit meeting when a spectacular blaze gutted the grandstand at the picturesque racing plant this spring.

ANSWERING THE CHALLENGE‑Western Harness Racing Association officials answered the challenge put forth by the damaging fire at Hollywood Park by launching a rebuilding program. Here is the architect's drawing of the new grandstand facilities.