October 14, 2015

Photo Essay: Santa Anita Park & Racetrack (Updated for 2019)

[Last Updated 8/25/19 9:43 PM PT]

Ed: The New York Times reported that 30 horses died at Santa Anita Park from December 28, 2018 to June 6, 2019, making it one of the deadliest horse tracks in the country. Many were euthanized after sustaining catastrophic injuries. 

As a result, Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has been barred; but his horses only account for three of the deaths (10%). Many other trainers were responsible for the fallen horses.

Clearly, something is wrong at Santa Anita. Yet the track refuses to cease racing in order to protect the animals.

Santa Anita is a historic place with significant architecture and cultural significance, so I encourage anyone to take a tour or attend one of its special events (which include food festivals and the like). But I can no longer stand behind its racing business. 

Here's what I wrote in 2015...

Santa Anita Park and Racetrack was one of those key local landmarks I had not yet visited, but I felt conflicted about visiting. As with any establishment exploiting animals for commercial purposes, I worried about the treatment of the horses. I enjoy the pageantry of derbies and such much more than the actual racing of the horses.

But I decided to go anyway, to see what I would see—at the very least the building. After all, I'd already made the rounds to some of the other historic sports facilities in Southern California, and the completionist in me did not want to abstain from visiting this one.

The historic grandstand and clubhouse buildings—and even some of their subsequent additions—were designed by architect Gordon B. Kaufmann, who also designed a couple of LA's Hollywood movie theaters.

The original structures have been significantly altered since 1934, some inappropriately so. But the park acknowledges at least some of its history with a life-size bronze statue of champion thoroughbred horse Seabiscuit, winner of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap.

The statue stands at the center of the walking ring in "Seabiscuit Court"...

...where the horses are paraded through...

...on their way to the stables to prepare for the races...

...and get saddled.

Some parts of the complex have a certain feeling of elegance...

...its Colonial Revival architectural style mixed with elements of Moderne...

...but for every glass of champagne served here...

...there's a pitcher of Bud Light.

It feels a bit like any other gambling hall...

...whose labyrinthine hallways intentionally get you lost...

...and keep you within easy reaching distance of any wagering station.

Special credentials will get you into the historic cocktail den, The Chandelier Room, a place you would never want to leave...

...especially not after seeing the opulent Art Deco Ladies' Lounge.

No wonder this place used to attract all the top movie stars. Cary Grant, Al Jolson, and Lana Turner all invested in it, and investor Bing Crosby also owned a horse that raced there.

But the history of California's first thoroughbred racetrack isn't entirely glamorous.

In 1942, racing was suspended at Santa Anita, and its facilities—including its horse stables—were used as a Japanese internment camp.

The historical timeline on Santa Anita's website conveniently leaves the years after 1940 blank.

As many as 20,000 Japanese-Americans lived at the racetrack's "Assembly Center" in military-style barracks.

Racing resumed in 1945, and has been more or less continuous since.

Equestrian races for the 1984 Summer Olympics took place here.

The movie Seabiscuit was shot here.

And, most recently, Santa Anita was the home track for this year's Triple Crown winner, American Pharaoh.

Although there is a lot of architecture and history to explore...

...Santa Anita Park is nicknamed "The Great Race Place"...

...and people come here mainly for the horses...

...and to try to win some money.

But the races go by so quickly, it's all such a blur. For me, it was much more fascinating to witness the training sessions, the jockeys meeting the horse owners, and all the behind the scenes action as the teams prepare to line up and burst out of the gates.

Stay tuned for my photo essays on the horses of Santa Anita and dinner at The Derby restaurant!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Rose Bowl Stadium, Renovated Again, and Open for Tours!
Photo Essay: Dodger Stadium, A Brooklyn Team's LA Home
Photo Essay: LA's Art Deco Olympic Stadium

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