(Click on images to enlarge)
Los Angeles Motordrome, 1910.
The Los Angeles Motordrome became a reality through the joint efforts of three larger than life characters, Frederick E. Moskovics, Jack Prince, and Frank A. Garbutt. Garbutt, son of Los Angeles pioneer, Frank C. Garbutt, was the deep pockets behind the operation with his Los Angeles-Pacific Railway cronies assuming one-half of the initial stock in the enterprise and a syndicate headed by Moskovics the other half. ("The New Los Angeles Motordrome," The Automobile, January 20, 1910, p. 174). Prince, a former bicycle racer, was the designer, construction overseer and initial promoter, and Moskovics, an early automotive engineer, was the general manager responsible for contract negotiations, securing drivers for the initial meet and lining up future motordrome development opportunities.
John Shillington "Jack" Prince. (See above). When Prince retired from racing he came to the United States and began a successful business designing and constructing wooden velodromes for bicycle racing. He then segued into the design of banked, board tracks for the fledgling sport of motorcycle racing. Prince and Moskovics inevitably crossed paths from time to time and became great friends.
Barney Oldfield setting a record at Salt Lake City on his "Blue Streak." From Barney Oldfield: The Life and Times of America's Legendary Speed King by William F. Nolan, p. 97.
One of the earliest members of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Moskovics gained valuable experience on both sides of the Atlantic first studying at the Armour Institute in Chicago and then the Polytechnic in Zurich and holding such positions as managing the Daimler-Mercedes Racing Team which participated in the first Vanderbilt Cup in 1904, was national sales manager for the Acme Motor Car Company in Reading, PA until 1906 and designing a powerful car for the new Allen-Kingston Motor Car Company in New York in 1907. One of Allen-Kingston's first employees was test driver Ralph De Palma who would ironically become one of the featured attractions along with another ex-bicycle racer Barney Oldfield (see above) at the debut of the Motordrome. (See ad for the track opening below).
It was under Moskovic's tutelage that the young De Palma (see above) drove in his first race in 1908. When Allen-Kingston folded in 1909, Moskovic's new employer, Remy Electric Company sent him to Los Angeles where he quickly established contacts with the local racing community including his old friend, Jack Prince who was still basking in the success of his latest design, i.e., the Los Angeles Coliseum, a 1/3rd-mile board track for motorcycle racing. (See below). By 1909 Prince had become the foremost promoter of circular, wooden speedways built in the United States.
Frank A. Garbutt.
Among the close-knit circle of racing enthusiasts of Moskovics and Prince was Frank A. Garbutt (see above), wealthy scion of early Los Angeles pioneer, Lankershim Ranch and Water Company land baron and oil tycoon Frank C. Garbutt. Known as "The Oil King" in the countless newspaper articles chronicling his exploits, the well-connected Frank A. Garbutt became the first Vice-President of the Automobile Club of Southern California in 1903 (Western Field, August 1903, p. 497), was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, California Yacht Club, and Riviera Country Club, and was also a pioneering resident of Playa del Rey.
Los Angeles had been speed-crazy since the day in 1903 that Oldfield, his cigar clenched between his teeth, stormed a Winton Bullet around a mile-long dirt oval at Agricultural Park in a world-record 55 seconds. Dirt clods flew and dust clouds rose 40 feet in the wake of the big machine. The spectacle captivated the populace and the press. The front page of the Los Angeles Times read:
"Barney Oldfield's attempt to commit suicide at Agricultural Park yesterday only resulted in a compound fracture of the world's automobile record. It would seem simpler and easier for him to hire some one to brain him with an ax than suffer this lingering destruction.
Races were also held regularly at the original Ascot Park, at the intersection of Slauson and Central Avenues, considered the premier dirt track on the West Coast. On December 26, 1909, only four months before the Motordrome's opening, Oldfield had lapped Ascot in 51-2/5 seconds at close to 70 m.p.h. in the Benz.
Garbutt was an extremely competitive individual and loved to race anything that moved. The Los Angeles papers frequently reported on his winning automobile, yacht, rowing, and speed boat racing activities not to mention his other Los Angeles Athletic Club pursuits such as handball, duck shooting and golf. The amateur Garbutt raced Barney Oldfield on fairly even terms in 1903 and 1904 in his Stewart-Garbutt race car he designed and built with fellow oilman A. C. Stewart. (See below). Motor Age reported on the A. C. Stewart Automobile Machine Works where the two men built "the fastest racing machine on the Pacific Coast." ("Current Gossip of the Garages," Motor Age, February 2, 1905, p. 23).
Garbutt was an extremely competitive individual and loved to race anything that moved. The Los Angeles papers frequently reported on his winning automobile, yacht, rowing, and speed boat racing activities not to mention his other Los Angeles Athletic Club pursuits such as handball, duck shooting and golf. The amateur Garbutt raced Barney Oldfield on fairly even terms in 1903 and 1904 in his Stewart-Garbutt race car he designed and built with fellow oilman A. C. Stewart. (See below). Motor Age reported on the A. C. Stewart Automobile Machine Works where the two men built "the fastest racing machine on the Pacific Coast." ("Current Gossip of the Garages," Motor Age, February 2, 1905, p. 23).
A. C. Stewart and Frank Garbutt in their race car ca. 1903-4 at Agricultural Park.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Garbutt winning harness races at Agricultural Park (later to become Exposition Park and the site of the Coliseum) as early as 1887 thus he knew every inch of the course when he made a healthy run at Oldfield in late 1904 in his self-designed car modeled somewhat after Oldfield's Winton Bullet. (See above). The local papers such as the Herald and Times in Los Angeles and Daily Outlook in Santa Monica thought the larger-than-life Garbutt made great copy and were essentially his period personal Facebook pages. An example from a late 1904 Herald article covering a series of record-breaking races at Agricultural Park,
"In another race Oldfield was matched with Frank Garbutt in his Stewart-Garbutt car, which was built in Los Angeles. The two machines, with their batteries exploding like Gatling guns, dashed around the oval so close together that many times there was no light between them. Garbutt led for two miles and swept into the stretch of the last miles several yards to the good, but Barney called on his terrifying pet for an extra effort and the Green Dragon (see below) shot under the wire a winner. The contestants continued the race for another two miles and broke about even. Owing to the fact that Garbutt understood the race was to be for five miles instead of three and drove accordingly, the heat will be run again today, and some records are likely to be smashed." ("Barney Oldfield Drives Mile in 54 Seconds Flat," Los Angeles Herald, December 17, 1904. See also "Speedy Spins, Records Go," Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1904, p. A-3).
Barney Oldfield in his Peerless Green Dragon, 1905.
Frank A. Garbutt on the left racing his homemade car against Webb Jay's "Whistling Billy" at Agricultural Park. From L.A.A.C. History page.
The well-traveled Moskovics knew more about the goings-on in the automobile design, manufacture and racing businesses than anyone else in the country and was intimately knowledgeable of the details surrounding Carl G. Fisher's recently completed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (See above). Teaming up with Prince who was ready for his next track-building challenge, the pair approached Garbutt sometime in the fall of 1909 with a scheme to build a one-mile circular board track for racing cars to compete with and capitalize on the hype surrounding Indianapolis.
Garbutt was easily convinced and formed a syndicate with his L.A. Athletic Club, Auto Club, Los Angeles-Pacific Railway and Playa del Rey development cronies to finance construction. Garbutt chose the Ballona Wetlands for the site due to it's marginal real estate development potential and closeness to his summer oceanfront home in Playa del Rey. His "cottage" which was built in 1903 was used in numerous period real estate ads to promote sales for his Los Athletic Club cronies Moses Sherman and Eli Clark's Beach Land Company and their sales agent and fellow race car driver and scion of an oil man, Fred W. Flint, Jr. (See below).
Beach Land Company ad featuring the homes of Frank A. Garbutt, Oliver Morosco and architect A. Wesley Eager, designer of the Playa del Rey Pavilion, Hotel Del Rey and many later homes in Playa del Rey. From the Los Angeles Herald, April 29, 1905, p. 4.
Beach Land Company subdivision development map, 1902. (From "Playa del Rey: First Grand Sale of Lots Will Be Held At Beach Wednesday," Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1902, p. IV-5).
Beach Land Company and the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway Company, with many of the same principles on the Boards of Directors including Sherman and Clark, spent at least $500,000 on the foundation work for the Playa del Rey resort. One of the principles of the Beach Land Company, recently relocated to Southern California from Seattle and later President of the California Real Estate Association, Henry P. Barbour, originally requested design proposals for a band pavilion, hotel, restaurant and dance pavilion and two railroad stations from Seattle-based architect Kirtland Cutter. The hotel (see below) was originally slated to be built on top of the bluff on the large lot set aside seen at the left center of the below map.
Beach Land Company ad, Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1902, p. IV-6.
("Beautiful Hotel and Roof Garden for Playa del Rey," Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1902, p. II-1).
The consortium rejected the 250-room, $250,000 Cutter proposal in favor of plans from local architects Hunt & Eager. (See Cutter's Hotel at Playa del Rey design above and below). (Kirtland Cutter; Architect in the Land of Promise, by Henry Matthews, p. 172). It seems likely that the Land Company traded a prime beach front lot to Eager in exchange for design fees for the Pavilion and greatly scaled back Hotel Del Rey below the bluff on the shoreline of Del Rey Lagoon near Garbutt's and Eager's houses. Sadly, it appears Playa del Rey would have been much better off with the Cutter proposal.
Hotel at Playa del Rey, 1902, Cutter & Malmgren, Architects. From Kirtland Cutter; Architect in the Land of Promise, by Henry Matthews, p. 172.
Cutter's design was to be dominated by a slender, pointed tower similar to those at St. Augustine, and also reminiscent of the Campanile of St. Mark's Square in Venice. (It is perhaps no coincidence that 1902 was the year the Venetian Campanile collapsed, creating worldwide concern for the loss of a powerful landmark.) Below the tower the hotel spread out under expansive hipped roofs. Cutter arranged it around two courtyards, one of which, named the Palm Court, had a large fountain at the center. Along the front, a loggia of Gothic arches opened off the principal rooms onto a broad, raised terrace. The restaurant and dancing pavilion, each with a gondola landing, were linked across a canal by a bridge distinctly Venetian in character. Their walls were enriched with Venetian Gothic tracery, and they offered romantic silhouettes enlivened by several towers. (Kirtland Cutter; Architect in the Land of Promise, by Henry Matthews, p. 172).
Land sales began in earnest around Del Rey Lagoon in July 1902 with the subdivision of land by the Beach Land Company with water provided by one of the partners, i. e., Frederick H. Rindge's Artesian Water Company. (For much more on Rindge see my Frederick L. Roehrig: The Millionaire's Architect"). Six hundred acres of sand beach, rolling dunes and lofty bluffs were graded and prepared for building permanent residences. In leveling lands and excavating for the lagoon, more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand were used for filling in purposes. Sidewalks were constructed along the beach and the lagoon, a sewer system, water system and electric lights provided. An unusually high class of buildings was put up.
Development around Del Rey Lagoon as of summer, 1902. From "Electric Cars Soon in Playa del Rey," Los Angeles Times, August 24, 1902, pp. III-8-9.
Original Del Rey Lagoon development scheme drawing by Hunt & Eager, Architects. Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1902, p. II-9.
Indirect rail service between Los Angeles and Playa del Rey was completed on October 17, 1902 with a final direct connection via the Ivy Park Junction beginning operation on January 24, 1903. (See L.A.-P. system map later below). The Times reported,
"Playa del, Rey, the new beach resort whose dulcet name drops into rhythmic English as "the Playground of the King," was informally opened yesterday when the first electric car of the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway Company rolled up to the water's edge. Thus is another seaside attraction available to the public. Beginning this morning, an eight train service will be maintained to Playa del Rey via Ocean Park over the electrized Santa Fe track, that runs to Inglewood up to Del Rey Junction whence is taken the regular branch to the new beach. The arrangement will continue about two weeks whereupon the entire Del Rey branch will be completed and cars will leave the Short Line ere Ocean Park is reached, and scurry across the marshes to the ocean thus saving several miles. ...
The greatest attraction of Playa del Rey however, so far as the future is concerned, is a big lagoon with a straight-away over two miles long that affords unequaled opportunity for boating of all kinds, and with a little dredging can be made a mighty yachting station. For rowing races it will be exceedingly fine. It's windings inland make a rowing course of over seven miles. ("More Lines to the Sea; Cars Running to Playa del Rey Beach and Improvements Progressing," Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1902, p. II-1).
View of the 1904 Playa del Rey Pavilion (center) and Del Rey Hotel (right) both designed by architect A. W. Eager from the south end of Del Rey Lagoon.ca.1906. Note Garbutt's 1903 beach residence directly above the hotel. The house on the left was also designed by Eager and possibly the two buildings at the lower right as well. From USC Digital Archive.
Work on the Hunt & Eager-designed $100,000 Playa del Rey Pavilion and 3,000 seat amphitheater (see above center) was rushed and it was opened to the public with a grand celebration of the occasion with boat races, dancing, and more on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1904. ("Santa Monican the Contractor," Santa Monica Daily Outlook, 1904.) The $25,000 Hotel Del Rey, a handsome structure containing fifty rooms was built the same year by George A. Cook, a capitalist of Redlands who had become largely interested in Playa del Rey. Boat houses and bandstand were completed. A two story bank building had been erected (above right center), a $5,000 Los Angeles-Pacific Railway Station (foot of bluff above) and many handsome cottages had been completed along the lagoon and on the bluff including Garbutt's which can be seen directly above the hotel in the above photo.
In June 1904 a post office was established at Playa del Rey, with Frank Lawton, lessee of the Pavilion as postmaster. The Los Angeles-Pacific Railway Lagoon Line to Santa Monica was completed, thus giving a much improved car service, as the fare to Santa Monica was made five cents. An article describing the above improvements also discussed Garbutt's and his neighbors' new "cottages" as follows,
"The extensive public improvements are zealously guarded by judicious building restrictions— only a desirable class of residences is permitted. Among the beautiful residences recently erected are the following: Frank A. Garbutt, Oliver Morosco, W. W. Burton, A. W. Eager (see photo in real estate ad above) and George W. Signor. (Eager would go on to design numerous homes in Playa del Rey as the community further developed.) Homes will be built immediately for George B. Ellis, H. D. Lombard, N. W. Church, James V. Baldwin, F. W. Flint, Jr.,and Frank Hudson. All houses are built on uniform line, affording an unobstructed view of both lagoon and ocean. Extensive 12-foot board walks have been laid, a 20-foot surfaced speedway (see discussion below) has been built, a sewer system has been provided, also water, gas and electric lights aligning the lagoon are attractive features in the evening- and promenading in one of the delightful recreations at this time." (For more see "Playa del Rey, The Aquatic City," Los Angeles Herald, May 21, 1905, p. 1).
During 1905, two suspension bridges were thrown across the lagoon and an incline railway constructed to the top of Mount Ballona, as the bluff was then known. (See below).
Playa del Rey Incline, 1905. From Electric Railway Historical Association.
Soon after his beach house was built Garbutt considered Playa del Rey his personal fiefdom and playground. On behalf of the the Auto Club's Committee on Contests and Runs, the unabashedly self-serving Garbutt presented to the Club's Board of Directors a proposal to build a gravel "Speedway" from his doorstep in Playa del Rey (see above just left of hotel) to connect to Speedway in Ocean Park to make the southerly community more accessible to the more fully developed Santa Monica area. Garbutt's report read in part,
"It seems reasonably certain with the resources at our command we can build, maintain and own a piece of road that will become famous, both for its quality and its utility, as well as for the world's records that will be made on it." ("New Del Rey Road a Sure Thing," Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1903, p. II-2).
It is not hard to imagine Garbutt racing down Speedway (see above) in his Stewart-Garbutt racer from his Playa del Rey house to Venice and back,"trying to establish new world's records" between the two communities. Soon to follow was a proposal pushed by Garbutt for the Auto Club to expend funds to build a road from the southwestern part of Los Angeles to Playa del Rey over many Club members objections. The Times reported,
"Frank A. Garbutt, vice-president of the club in speaking of the proposition said: "Yes, there is some objection being made to the project. It has been insinuated that the proposed Playa del Rey road is a scheme to help Clark and Sherman and the Beach Land Company. I would like to state that personally I have no interests whatever with these gentlemen but I certainly think they are entitled by reason of their liberal support of the project to derive some benefit therefrom. The actual donation of the land itself is something and their subscriptions have also been most liberal." ("Ballot of Automobists," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1904, p. 7).
Despite Garbutt's denial of involvement with the Beach Land Company, it seems likely that he received his prime beach front lot as a quid pro quo for obtaining Auto Club financing for both the "Speedway" to Venice and connecting road from Los Angeles (now Culver Blvd.).
Overview ca. 1905 of Del Rey Lagoon showing Garbutt's "Speedway" and the Los Angeles Pacific Railway Lagoon Line tracks to Venice and Santa Monica. From USC Digital Archive
Double track Lagoon Line, Los Angeles-Pacific Railway paralleling Garbutt's "Speedway" between Venice and Playa del Rey completed on August 24, 1904. From a real estate ad in the Los Angeles Herald, February 12, 1905, p. 6.
Garbutt's daughter Melodile was featured in Otis Chandler's Los Angeles Times in the fall of 1905 undoubtedly to help promote sales of his Beach Land Company and Athletic Club cronies. (See below). The lengthy piece described her mastery of the new lightweight sculls under the tutelage of Professor William Franklin.
Playa del Rey Pavilion (upper left) and Garbutt's house (directly left of Del Rey Hotel at top center). From Playa del Rey History.
Garbutt soon thereafter used his influence at the L.A.A.C. to bring another of his interests to his doorstep with the finding of a home at the Playa del Rey Pavilion for the rowing crew and it's state-of-the-art rowing shells recently ordered from San Diego.
"A committee headed by Frank Garbutt and Coach J. E. Franklin of the Los Angeles Athletic Club visited Playa del Rey yesterday afternoon and selected headquarters tor the boat crews that are to be placed in the field as a branch of the club's sports. The home of the oarsmen will be the old grillroom of the Auditorium (see above) and this will be fitted up suitably tor the accommodation of the crews and the boats ordered." ("Boat Crews Have a Home," Los Angeles Times, June 27, 1906, p. II-3 and "Athletic Club Buys Shells," June 30, 1910, p. II-3)).An excerpt from the much more detailed Herald story describing the new facilities read,
"A section of the lower floor of the pavilion has been reserved as a boating and club house with ample accommodation for a large number of speeding craft. A landing will be built at the entrance enabling ready access to the waters of the lagoon. An amphitheater will be erected at the head of the inlet overlooking the entire course." ("Brawny Oarsmen Will Struggle," Los Angeles Herald, June 27, 1906, p. 5).
Garbutt's yacht Skidbladner moored at Mexico ca. 1908. From Pemsimpe.com.
In 1906 Garbutt's interests with water sports expanded to include motor-yachting as he and auto-racing partner A. C. Stewart collaborated on the design of his personal yacht Skidbladnir (see above) built by the A. C. Stewart Automobile Company. This excerpt from the Herald describes the burgeoning motor boating industry,
"Probably the largest and most completely equipped yacht on the coast is the Skidbladnir, which was designed under the personal supervision of her owner, Frank Garbutt. Her 300-horse power, six-cylinder engine was built by the A. C. Stewart Automobile company from ideas furnished by Mr. Garbutt, and is a decidedly novel piece of mechanism. In addition to being one of the largest marine engines ever built on this coast, it is self-starting and reversing, so that the ordinary reversing gear Is not needed. The propeller is of the feathering pattern, that will cause no drag when the yacht is under sail. Mr. Garbutt's intention was to design a boat that will perform equally well under either sail or power, and while the boat sharps all said it could not be done, it begins to look is though he has done it, though the boat has not been fully tried out as yet." ("Motor Boating in Southern California," Los Angeles Herald, December 22, 1907).
"Frank A. Garbutt is vice president of the club and is very popular among the members. He everywhere is known as a lover of true sport. He is extensively interested in oil interests in Southern California. He also is a prominent member of the South Coast Yacht club. He was born at Mason City, Iowa in 1868. At the age of 3 years he moved with his parents to Colorado and came to Los Angeles in 1882. He attends to the general business of the club and devotes a great portion of his time to the organization." (See link under above photo).The opportunistic Garbutt, oil magnate and soon to be movie mogul via Pallas Picture and Bosworth, Inc. acquired through shady circumstances, and Famous Players-Lasky, was well aware of the new motor speedway recently constructed in Indianapolis through the local press when approached by Moskovics and Prince. (See "The Mystery Man of Motion Pictures"). He also saw the wild popularity of the motorcycle racing then underway at 1/3-mile banked, board Los Angeles Coliseum Motordrome recently completed by Prince and realized that the timing was right to come up with a larger board track designed for automobile racing.
Garbutt and his syndicate quickly bought a 100-acre site in the Ballona Wetlands one mile east of his home on the beach in the then resort community of Playa del Rey, retained Moskovics as General Manager and front man for the operation and commissioned Prince to design and oversee construction of the project. Moskovics and Garbutt provided design input based on their engineering and racing experience.
Moskovics came up with the idea for the one-mile circular concept. He put his engineering training to work to assist Prince on the design making the track 45-feet wide at a three-to-one slope forming essentially a saucer which the press immediately coined the "pie pan." Garbutt's idea of steel guard rails at the upper railing was implemented as was Moskovic's design for the lower car-containing guard rails. A thirty-foot wide strip of compacted disintegrated granite followed by an infield fence 125 ft. from the track edge for spectator safety. A 1/4-mile length of repair pits were also to be built. Spectator comfort was also provided for in the covered grandstand. (See design sketch below). (From The Golden Age of the American Racing Car by Griffith Borgeson, pp. 17-18).
Rendering of the Motordrome. Note the concrete subway lower left for cars to drive under the track into the infield. From "Wooden Saucer Track for Motors at Los Angeles Latest Incentive to Speed," New York Times, March 27, 1910. For more New York Times coverage see Motordrome.
Henry X. Goetz from Ingersoll's Century History, Santa Monica Bay Cities by Luther A. Ingersol, p. 15.
A construction contract was signed in late January with contractor Henry X. Goetz (see above) which called for 2,000,000 board feet of lumber, 28 tons of nails, 2,000 ft. of bleachers and a covered grandstand 1,000-feet long. Goetz was a well-connected President of the Santa Monica Board of Trade, builder of the Playa del Rey Pavilion in 1904, Venice Canals in 1905, Venice Bath House and countless other facilities, and former partner with Frederick H. Rindge in the Santa Monica Investment Company. Goetz had a reputation as a man who could build things in a hurry completing the Venice Canals in only 30 days. The Motordrome contract specified a 25-working day construction period which began on January 31st. In addition to the $75,000 that was spent to build the facility, the forward-thinking Moskovics and Garbutt shelled out $10,000 for a generating plant to illuminate the "pie pan" for night racing. (See below). ("Santa Monican to Build Monster Saucer Motordrome," Santa Monica Daily Outlook, January 27, 1910, p. 1).
Oldfield "under the lights" at the Motordrome, April 10, 1910.
A December 1909 article in the Santa Monica Daily Outlook stated that Prince had ordered two shiploads of lumber for the undertaking and a 100-acre site had been purchased between Playa del Rey and Venice and that arrangements were underway for a rail spur to the site which would enable handling 40,000 spectators an hour. Prince expounded on the record-setting success of his 1909 Coliseum design and presciently predicted further records at Play del Rey. ("To Build One-Mile Circular Motordrome Near Del Rey," Santa Monica Daily Outlook, December 21, p. 1). The Motordrome Spur was .736 miles in length (see map below) and was located 1.12 miles from the Playa del Rey Station and was a joint project with the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway and the track. (From Trolleys to the Surf: The Story of the Los Angeles Pacific Railway by William A. Meyers, p. 71).
Los Angeles-Pacific Railway System Map ca. 1910. (From Trolleys to the Surf: The Story of the Los Angeles Pacific Railway by William A. Meyers, p. 16).
Motordrome Site. From 1924 USGS Topo Map. (Note channel left center dredged from the site in 1910 to drain the area surrounding the Motordrome).
Jack Prince at the Motordrome on the second day of construction describing how the survey for the layout of the track would radiate from the above center post. Los Angeles Herald, February 1, 1910, p. 11.
Prince on the left directing the perimeter staking of the one-mile circular course. (From "Work on Auto Track Rushed," Los Angeles Herald, February 1, 1910, p. 10).
After a press junket organized by Moskovics, the Herald reported on the army of workers commencing work on the Motordrome, design and safety features of the track and the first automobile to drive on the site (see below) and predicted,
"Few can estimate what this means to Los Angeles. It will bring to this city the largest automobiles manufactured in Europe and America, driven by the fastest drivers on earth."
(From "Work on Auto Track Rushed," Los Angeles Herald, February 1, 1910, p. 10).
Mother Nature, recoiling from the destruction of her wetlands, blew down 600 ft. of framework during a storm the night of February 14th. ("New Motordrome Suffers From Effects of Storm Last Night," Santa Monica Daily Outlook, February 15, 1910, p. 1). The unfazed Goetz got construction back on schedule in short order.
The Motordrome February 12, 1910, two days before the wind damage mentioned above. (From "Aero Club to Have Station," Los Angeles Herald, February 13, 1910, p. III-4).
Frank Garbutt organized a press junket to show off the rapid construction of the Motordrome and to hold the operation's first Board meeting on a special Los Angeles-Pacific Railway car on the way to the site from downtown Los Angeles. The Herald reported,
"Manager Moskovics called the newly chosen directors together and while the car was speeding from Los Angeles to the motordrome site at Playa del Rey the directors organized with Garbutt as president, F. E. Moskovics, vice president and treasurer; H. G. Feraud, secretary; directors, including the officers, R. A. Rowan, Fred Flint, Harry Lombard and Henry Keller." ("Garbutt Heads Motordrome Company; Prominent Local Capitalist Named President," Los Angeles Herald, February 13, 1910, p. III-3).
A tour of the facilities and the construction status can be seen in the above and below photos from the same issue. It was also announced that Moskovics would manage the facility until the opening meet (after which Walter Hempel from Ascot Park took over) and that the Aero Club of California would be sharing the site. ("Aero Club to Have Station," Los Angeles Herald, February 13, 1910, p. III-4).
Los Angeles Motordrome under construction, (From "Aero Club to Have Station," Los Angeles Herald, February 13, 1910, p. III-4).
Construction of the Motordrome was meeting with great interest in the national press and trade journals evidenced by the illustrated article from the March 3, 1910 issue of The Automobile.
Emboldened by the entrepreneurial opportunities presented by the birth of the aviation industry through the hype surrounding the upcoming Los Angeles International Air Meet, Garbutt bravely took a test flight at Dominguez Field in late December a few weeks before the meet. The Herald reported,
"William M. Garland, millionaire realty dealer, and chairman of the aviation committee, and Frank A. Gurbutt, millionaire yachtsman, skimmed the skies and looked from dizzy heights yesterday with Walter H. Brookins, the daring young aviator, as passengers on two of the aviator's trips in his Wright biplane at Dominguez Field. Brookins was forced to swear by all that was manly that he would "cut out" all "dips and curves" on the trips before he secured his distinguished passengers." ("Garbutt and Garland Soar With Brookins" and " Garbutt, Frank A., "Flying is Great Stuff Says Initiate in Art," Los Angeles Herald, December 30, 1909, pp. 1, 3).
Los Angeles International Air Meet, January 1910.
Liking what he saw and surviving the thrilling experience and immediately envisioning the possibilities for the Motordrome site, Garbutt's enthusiasm must have been further charged after hearing Professor H. La V. Twining speak on the history of flight and the Aero Club of California on the eve of the Dominguez Field meet. ("See Benefit to City in Aviation," Los Angeles Herald, January 9, 1910, p. 4). Garbutt likely learned of Indianapolis Motor Speedway's "Auto and Aero Club" from Moskovics and quickly instructed him to negotiate a contract with the multi-talented educator, author and inventor H. La V. Twining (see below) and his California Aero Club to similarly share the Playa del Rey facilities.
H. La V. Twining. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Moskovics signed a $7,000 contract on Garbutt's behalf with the Aero Club of California, soon to become affiliated with the Aero Club of America, to provide facilities for "year-round experiments and great annual contests" including a 1/3rd-mile long infield runway, clubhouse and a hangar large enough to house 14 planes and a machine shop equipped with lathes for constructing and refitting the aeroplanes in the Motordrome's infield. An adjacent runway outside the confines of the Motordrome up to five miles in length was also under discussion.
Presaging the City of Los Angeles's Mines Field (later LAX) a couple miles to the south and Howard Hughes's makeover of the Ballona Wetlands a couple miles further east for his Hughes Aircraft Company and Airport and Spruce Goose development activities a generation later, Moskovics confidently predicted that the area will become "a great aviation center and the big playground of flying machines and aviators, professional and amateur." ("Big Hangar to be Located at Del Rey," Santa Monica Daily Outlook, February 16, 1910, p. 1).
The Los Angeles Herald reported the same day that Howard W. Gill (see above) had already made three flights with his Gill-Dosh biplane at the facility. "Aviation Field Made Certainty," Los Angeles Herald, February 16, 1910, P. 1). Like Garbutt, Gill was a wealthy young sportsman who was also interested in automobile races until 1906. He took up ballooning in 1906 and in 1909 began "aeroplaning."
This must have been an extremely exciting development for the principles, not to mention the general public, as the Los Angeles International Air Meet held at nearby Dominguez Field less than a month before was among the earliest air shows in the world and the first major air show in the United States. Moskovics, Garbutt and Prince must have been drooling in anticipation as attendance at Dominguez Field numbered approximately 254,000 over 11 days of ticket sales. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of the greatest public events in the history of the West." (See Dominguez Air Meet by D. D. Hatfield, Northrop University Press, 1976 for more detail).
The February 24th edition of the Herald reported on Garbutt, Prince and Moskovic's scheme to essentially "franchise" the design concept for the Motordrome,
"After having fortified his position by applying for patents on ten claims in the name of himself and Jack Prince, F. E. Moskovlcs left last night for San Francisco to make preliminary arrangement to construct a motordrome on the plan of the one being built in Los Angeles, and if the track here proves a success for racing he proposes to extend a chain of tracks throughout the country, with Los Angeles the first link." ("Plans Circuit of Motordromes").On February 26, 1910 The Outlook reported that the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway had announced round-trip fares from downtown Los Angeles to the Motordrome had been set at $.40 and that there would also be direct service from Venice. ("Along the Southern Beach").
The February 27th Herald article discussed the 1/3rd mile runway, hangar and machine shop being built by Jack Prince and Garbutt's ideas for airplane engine and propeller experiments he was planning at the Motordrome Aero Club facilities. (Plan Test of Airship Motors; Aero Club Members Work at Motordrome). Apparently, much interesting airplane development would soon place at the Aero Club's Motordrome facilities as the New York Times reported in 1911,
"Rear Admiral Nathan C. Twining of the United States Navy is spending all his energies to make air craft unsafe, at least in warfare, while H. La V. Twining, brother of the Admiral, is seeking daily to improve aerial navigation. Rear Admiral Twining bas just invented a gun (see below) which, it is believed, will meet and prevent the menace of bomb-throwing airmen." ("Studying Airships in War; H. La V. Twining Builds Planes - Admiral Twining Has Gun to Destroy Them," New York Times, September 20, 1911).
Admiral Twining's anti-aircraft gun from courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Twining reported on the advances in the aviation field after the second Los Angeles International Air meet in the February 1911 issue of Aeronautics. (See below).
Twining Monoplane designed by Sidney J. Twining, son of H. La. V. Twining, treasurer of the Aero Club of California.
Source: Aircraft, April 1912, page 51.
Source: Aircraft, April 1912, page 51.
As with his racing car collaborator, A. C. Stewart, Garbutt must have had great fun tinkering with both Twining and Griffith in the Motordrome Aero Club machine shop developing his ideas for airplane engines.
On March 2, 1910 The Outlook reported that a lumber schooner docked at the Long Wharf (see below) with a consignment of lumber for the motordrome. ("Lumber Schooner In"). From the Long Wharf the lumber had to be transported under special arrangement on the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway tracks along the Inglewood Line to the Motordrome site.
Long Wharf, Santa Monica, ca. 1910. From the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.
The March 4th issue of the Herald reported on the construction status of the Motordrome and described in detail the facilities being rushed to completion including the following excerpt.
"A paddock 300 feet long, a dozen repair pits and a complete inner track on the dirt to include the paddock board track, were included in the construction work at the motordrome at Playa del Rey yesterday. In addition to the work on the grandstand and bleachers, two subways are in process of construction (one for pedestrians and one for autos) also, and within a few days all the rough work on these jobs will be completed. The grandstand is being roofed over and will be equipped with boxes fitted with chairs. The bleachers are open and will have five tiers of seats. ... "Neither of the tunnels is large enough for aeroplanes, unless they are in sections, but Builder, Jack Prince has arranged to have a drawbridge built over the track to have the machines pulled over. Lincoln Beachey, who drives the Glll-Dosh biplane, says the enclosure is sufficiently large for flights without going outside, as the best exhibitions in the future will be over small spaces of ground. He believes that races around a mile track will be the chief events of the future."
"Motordrome Work Rushed," Los Angeles Herald, March 4, 1910, p. 11.
The opening day hype began in earnest with the March 10th issue of the nation-wide publication, The Automobile, ran a feature on the new track and published the complete racing schedule for the inaugural 10-day meet. (See below).
"Large Cash Prizes at Los Angeles Motordrome," The Automobile, March 10, 1910, p. 521.
On March 15th The Outlook published a complete schedule of the Motordrome's opening weekend slate of races and prize money. ("Complete Program of Motordrome Races"). On the same date the Times reported on important visitors, Mac Purcell and Moffatt Irving, recognized experts on ignition systems representing the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company of Indianapolis, in town for the Motordrome's opening meet.
"The name or Jack Prince is synonymous with 'all right' with almost almost any eastern racing driver or factory expert" said Purcell yesterday, "and that's the reason the big men in the motor industry are coming to Los Angeles for the big opening because they know whatever Prince constructs in the line of a track is the best that can be built. I have never met Prince personally but I have driven on his tracks and that is good enough for me." ("Motor Experts are Here to Stay," Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1910, p. I-6).Wheeler-Schebler was in the forefront of the movement to use auto racing to promote their product as evidenced by the above group portrait of the drivers after the first day of sanctioned racing at the Motordrome proudly sporting the firm's colors on a variety of sportswear and a later Herald ad below in which the Motordrome was mentioned in the same breath with the Indianapolis Speedway.
On March 19th The Outlook reported that Ralph De Palma and Barney Oldfield will make appearances at the Motordrome's grand opening slate of events, April 8-17th. ("Fast Men Will Race at 'Drome").
Nick Nikrent and his mechanician D. W. Semple speeding around the Motordrome at 79 mph in a time trial in his Buick. From "Drivers Will Test Pie Pan," Los Angeles Herald, March 20, 1910, p. III-1.
The March 20th issue of the Herald (see above) featured an in-depth preview of the upcoming meet at the Motordrome and the efforts to bring together De Palma and Oldfield for the big match race.
Ray Harroun, winner of the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911. Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On March 23rd The Outlook reported on pre-opening tryouts at the Motordrome with a 73 mph run yesterday and with Ray Harroun (see above and below), Nick Nikrent (see three below) and others testing the track today. ("Trying Out Track at Motordrome"). The Automobile reported in late March on Harroun's six-cylinder Marmon "Yellow Jacket" (aka Wasp), built specifically for the upcoming racing season and in which he also won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 the following year in a slightly modified version.
"With the Agencies," The Automobile, March 31, 1910, p. 655.
"Los Angeles Motordrome Opening," The Automobile, April 14, 1910, p. 702.
"Los Angeles Motordrome Opening," The Automobile, April 14, 1910, p. 702.
Joe Nikrent from Real Road Racing: The Santa Monica Road Races by Harold Osmer and Phil Harms.
On March 24th The Automobile reported that Vanderbilt Cup winner George Robertson would be driving the 90-horsepower Simplex in the inaugural Motordrome meet. (See above). The same day The Outlook reported on speed trials at the new track and the building excitement surrounding the impending opening weekend with 1,200 invited guest witnessing Harry Hanshue's one-mile circular track record-breaking performance in the Apperson Jackrabbit (see below) turning the mile course in 44-2/5 seconds or 81 mph shaving 6-2/5 seconds off the old record. The article describes the track and lists the celebrity drivers scheduled to appear. ("Fast Time and a Big Crowd at Try-Out at New Motordrome").
On March 29th The Outlook reported on the completion of a big canal being dredged to the lagoon to drain the alkali salt flats and protect the Motordrome from flooding and future plans to flush the land with fresh water to remove the salts and make the land suitable for farming. ("Big improvement at Motordrome is Close to Finish"). The canal work would have been similar to Motordrome contractor Henry X. Goetz's crews at work excavating and dredging Abbott Kinney's nearby Venice Canals seen in the photos below.
Venice Canals, construction work under way by Henry X. Goetz, contractor. From Wikipedia.
Draining Ballon Wetlands swampland during construction of the adjacent Venice Canals, ca. 1905. From the USC Digital Collection.
On March 31st The Outlook reported on the continuing assault on the record books by De Palma and Caleb Bragg and the muddy access road conditions. De Palma turned a two-mile in 1 minute 21-1/5 seconds in his Fiat Cyclone, Caleb Bragg a 41 second one-mile in his Fiat "Sixty" and Jo Nikrent a 45-3/5 in his Buick "Forty." ("Time Again Broken by De Palma on Big Motordrome Track"). A companion article in the same issue reported on the status of the 40x400 ft. airplane hangar under construction in the infield, the judges and timers stands, the ticket offices and enclosure of the outside perimeter of the underside of the Motordrome with 18-miles of wire to keep intruders from going underneath the track. ("Eighteen Miles of Wire Screen to Surround the Big Motordrome Stands").
On April 1st Ray Harroun and Jack De Rosier were clocked at 38-4/5s, Caleb Bragg in 41-2/5 and Ralph De Palma in 42s. Barney Oldfield was to arrive that day, reportedly "on the wagon" since the first of the year. ("Records Go to Pieces on Motordrome Track").
On April 3rd the New York Times reported on the record-breaking time-trials going on at the Playa del Rey track and that most of the drivers were speculating that famous mile motordrome record of 37.7 seconds held by Lewis Strang (see above) would be broken. ("Los Angeles Track Will Open Friday").
On April 4th Barney Oldfield took to the course for the first time and established a new world's record of 36-1/5s or 99-44/100 mph in his "Lightning Benz." Barney said, "I have promised Jack Prince I will do a mile in 35 seconds and that will be fast enough to win from any car now here." ("Oldfield Broke Record Once More"). In the same issue erstwhile three-time world's bicycling champion and Motordrome designer Jack Prince introduced world's women's bicycling champion whom he formerly managed, Tillie Anderson (see below), to a roaring crowd at the track and reminisced about their old days together on the circuit. ("World's Champion Bicyclist Gets Ovation at the Motordrome").
On April 5th The Outlook assured readers that the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad will be providing cars leaving every 10 minutes from North Beach over the Inglewood Line beginning at 12:30 on race days and that half-hour service will be provided on the Lagoon Line from Playa del Rey through Montana Ave. to the Motordrome. ("Cars Will Leave for Motordrome Every Ten Minutes for Races"). A separate article, "Entry List at Motordrome," delineated the key entrants and what they were driving.
The April 6th issue reported the names of guards the Santa Monica police chief assigned to duty at the Motordrome. ("Guards Are Chosen for Motordrome"). The same issue also reported on the first accident at the track with Al Livingston's Corbin breaking a steering knuckle and the car rising to the top of the track, hitting the steel guard rail put in at Frank Garbutt's insistence and safely coming to a stop. Without the steel rail the wheel caps would have cut into the wood and thrown the car. The article also chronicled Oldfield's activities mentioned that he took Tillie Anderson for a few laps around the track. ("First Accident at Motordrome Monday").
The April 7th issue reported on the readiness of the track, travel arrangements (see below) and Jack Prince's predictions for many records, weather permitting. ("Start to Break Records at Big Motordrome Tomorrow Afternoon").
Los Angeles Herald, April 8, 1910, p. 2.
The April 7th issue described the readiness and the gathering of the crowd and that the Gill-Dosh aeroplane had a tryout this morning and got about a dozen feet off the ground and that it would make a real attempt at aviating in the afternoon if the wind wasn't too strong for flying. ("Races Now Going On At Del Rey"). In a related article it was reported that ambulance service will be available at the track. ("Todd Ambulance Will Be At Motordrome").
On opening day the Herald included the above composite illustration featuring Motordrome Vice President F. E. Moskovics in the center surrounded by clockwise from the lower right, Jack Prince, designer; A. L. McMurtry, chairman of the technical committee; F. T. Wagner, starter; and S. B. Stevens, referee. The drivers featured going clockwise from the bottom include: Barney Oldfield, "Lightning Benz; Ralph De Palma, Fiat "Cyclone"; Joe Nikrent, Buick; Ray Harroun, Marmon; Caleb Bragg, Fiat "90"; Kershner, Darracq; Harry Hanshue, Apperson 'Jackrabbit"; Endicott, Cole "30"; and Siebel, Reo "Bird." The four corner photos highlighted the facilities including clockwise from the upper left: Main Entrance; Judges and Press Stand; Garage and Repair Shops; and Repair Pits and Grandstand.
"A speed brush between Buick, Cole "30" and Apperson automobiles on Los Angeles Board Track." From "Los Angeles Motordrome Opening," The Automobile, April 14, 1910, p. 701.
Headlines for Herald's full-page spread announced,
"THOUSANDS EAGERLY AWAIT RACES AT OPENING OF NEW MOTORDROME; Fastest Cars in the World Being Groomed for Titanic Struggle That Will Eclipse All Auto Contests - It Is Estimated that at Least 150,000 Persons Will Attend Giant Speed Carnival. Entire Motor World Will Have Its Eyes on the Initial Official Performances on Already Famous Course."
Los Angeles Herald, April 9, 1910.
In 1910, the emphasis was on short-distance speed records in match races. Cars were still a novelty, and it hadn't been long since Oldfield had made his first mile-a-minute ride. Oldfield, as was the case nearly any time the crusty old campaigner showed up, didn't disappoint. Two days before the opening, the big boys couldn't wait. Oldfield ran a mile at 99 m.p.h. in the Benz. De Palma answered the challenge by breaking Oldfield's five-mile mark with a 92.10 m.p.h. average.
The seven-day meeting, which was patterned after horse racing with a series of sprints each day, was climaxed by a match race between Oldfield, in the Benz, and young Bragg, in his Fiat 90, which had been given him upon graduation from Yale a short time earlier. Promoters had been plugging Oldfield vs. DePalma for the two-mile match race but each time it was scheduled, DePalma withdrew his car. Finally, Bragg was named to replace DePalma.
The smaller Fiat proved more adaptable to the sharp cornering on the slick surface and when Oldfield skidded up the track on the second lap, Bragg darted through the opening and crossed the finish line 5/100ths of a second ahead, about the length of the Fiat's hood. Bragg's society friends from Pasadena carried him around the track on their shoulders as the 10,000 spectators roared their approval. "I only had the throttle half open," Oldfield said. After congratulating his young rival, Oldfield said that henceforth he would limit the Benz's appearances to straightaway tracks.
The only distance races were two 100-mile free-for-alls on opening (see below) and closing (see later below) day. Harroun and his Marmon won them both, the first in 1 hour 25 minutes 22 seconds. Much was made of the fact that Harroun's time was seven minutes better than Louis Strang had done in the debut of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the previous year. A week later, Harroun lowered the time to 1:16.21 for an average of 78.8 m.p.h.
April 10th was an exciting day at the track as a serious accident in the Apperson driven by Harris Hanshue blew a tire. The Outlook reported,
"The car was going at a swift pace when the tire exploded and Hanshue rather than risk an accident to the spectators, turned the car towards the bottom. As the rubber strips from the outer tire casing were torn off they became clogged in the chain and the rear wheels were locked.
Bouncing like a ball, the Apperson turned over and ove with the two men beneath the wreckage. The radiator was torn from the engine and hurled 100 feet away. Every wheel was smashed and heavy rods were bent and twisted as if they had been toothpicks. The mounted police rushed to the scene and Dr. Fielding, who is the official surgeon of the track, was there in a flash with the ambulance and at Hanshue's side. He found the man badly bruised and shaken up but not seriously hurt. He then turned his attention to the Mechanician King whose escape was equally remarkable." ("First Accident on Motordrome Track Thrills Spectators").The below photos from the Herald the same day illustrate the crash. Despite this accident, the Motordrome was considered the fastest and safest track in the country by the drivers, many of whom were witness to the seven deaths the previous fall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's dirt oval which prompted the paving that course with bricks before the next racing season.
The April 13th issue of Horseless Age and April issue of Motor Age reported on the Motordrome's opening weekend's results showing the national interest in the record-breaking potential of the "Pie-Pan." ("Wholesale Shattering of Records at Los Angeles." Horseless Age, April 13, 1910, pp. 537-9).
Above, 1915 Indy 500 winner Ralph De Palma in action, below, Endicott in Cole "30." ("Wholesale Shattering of Records at Los Angeles; Board Motordrome Proves Fastest Circular Course in Country - Indianapolis and Atlanta Marks Beaten." Horseless Age, April 13, 1910, pp. 537-9).
On April 14th the New York Times Motordrome article headline read "Five American Speedway Records: Oldfield Performance Was Most Noteworthy at Los Angeles Auto Meet" and listed Oldfield's records for the half-mile and kilometer at 17.91 and 22.88 seconds respectively, lowering his mark in the latter made at Indianapolis the previous year by 1.4 seconds.
Inaugural 1911 Indy 500 winner Ralph Harroun winning the second of his two 100-mile victories at the Motordrome. Los Angeles Herald, April 18, 1910, p. 7.
Michelin ad from the L.A. Times near the end of the meet announcing the cars and drivers who broke records using Michelin tires. April 17, 19100, p. VII-6.
Fiat ad listing records by Caleb Bragg and Ralph De Palma at the Motordrome from the Automobile Club of America Club Journal, April 16, 1910, p. 2.
Jake DeRosier on his Indian. From Indian Motorcycle Classics.
The Motordrome could only obtain a limited number of sanctioned auto-racing events from the A.A.A. so Hempel had to also include motorcycle races to make the Motordrome a more profitable venue. The first big motorcycle records at the Motordrome were established by Jake DeRosier (see above) on May 8, 1910 in a F.A.M.-sanctioned 100-mile run against the clock on his Indian. He compiled 74 miles and 667 yards in one hour stopping to refuel at the 53-mile mark and finished 100 miles in 1h., 26m., 14 2/5s. despite running out of gas on the last lap and pushing the bike across the line which cost him about five minutes. He broke every five-mile interval record along the way. ("Jake in Record Ride," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1910, p. 19 and "De Rosier Breaks Row of Records," Motorcycle Illustrated, May 15, 1910, p. 33).
Indian ad touting DeRosier's record-breaking run at the Motordrome. Motorcycle Illustrated, May 15, 1910.
Morgan & Wright Tires ad touting Whittler and DeRosier record-breaking runs at the Motordrome. Motorcycle Illustrated, May 15, 1910, p. 69.
The May 15th Herald reported,
"Frank A. Garbutt, Los Angeles, is endeavoring to develop a distinct American type of aeroplane, utilizing the experience of others and avoiding the radical but without copying. He has associated himself with Leigh M. Griffith, who has made a specialty or internal combustion design."
The article went on to describe in great detail the specifications for the engine he was developing at the Motordrome. ("Los Angeles Man Has New Type of Aeroplane," p. 3).
After the conclusion of the Indianapolis Speedway's Memorial Day Weekend racing activities the New York Times made a comparison of the records at both the L.A. Motordrome and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and concluded that for anything longer than a mile, the Playa del Rey track was definitely faster and that the mile-long straightaways at Indy were faster for shorter events. (See below).
The Motordrome site was not only making headlines and capturing the imaginations of Angelenos for a continuous onslaught of automobile and motorcycle speed records on the track but with the even more fledgling aviation industry. For their inaugural event at the Motordrome, the Aero Club of California commemorated their second anniversary in existence by staging an open house-picnic open to the public to show off their new facilities and planes and have Garbutt properly dedicate their new hangar. (See below). ("Aero Club Invites Public to Big Picnic," Los Angeles Herald, May 20, 1910, p. 2 and "Young Aviators Have Their Day," May 30, p. 12).
Aero Club of California Hangar at the Los Angeles Motordrome with planes on display ca. 1910. From Twining, H. La V., "Los Angeles News," Aircraft, Volume 1, September 1910, p. 256.
The Los Angeles Motordrome was one mile in circumference, thus making it 1,700 feet in diameter. On account of the space occupied by the track and the field fence, there was scarcely 1,000 feet for a straight run inside the track. A course outside the enclosure was graded and a track a mile in length was provided to give the planes freedom to roam and experiment.
Eaton-Twining biplane after a rough landing in the Ballona Wetlands near the Motordrom. From Dominguez Air Meet by D. D. Hatfield, p. 132.
An excerpt from Aero Club of California President H. La V. Twining's article in the September 1910 issue of Aircraft read
"Above is a photo of the Eaton-Twining machine, standing on its nose. This machine is a biplane of the Bleriot type, except that it has sliding planes at the wing tip for securing lateral stability. This machine has been making small jumps for a couple of weeks. It is equipped with a Ford automobile engine of 22-1/2 h.p., four-cylinder, water-cooled. The power plant weighs 200 pounds, and the whole machine 700 pounds, including the aviator. Warren S. Eaton was driving the machine when it went over on to its nose. It was running on the ground at the rate of 25 miles per hour when the front axle broke. As the tail was high in the air at the time, the tips of the skids stuck in the ground, and it ended up as shown. Mr. Eaton was thrown into the framework, but escaped unhurt."
On October 2nd Jake DeRosier lowered his 100-mile Motordrome F.A.M.-sanctioned motorcycle record by 5m., 15s. to 80m. 50 3-5s. on the Indian and F. E. Whittler lowered De Rosier's May 8th 50-mile mark of 39m., 16-1/5s. to 36m., 30s. on a Merkel. ("New Records Made by De Rosier and Whittler," Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1910, p. I-8 and "De Rosier Smashes Two World's Records in Trial," Los Angeles Herald, October 3, 1910, p. 6).
From Los Angeles Herald, October 22, p. 2.
As the subheadings for the front page article on the Aero Club's second Motordrome event (see ad above) indicate, such as "Birdman Gives Thrilling Exhibitions at Field on Playa del Rey Line"; "Slavin Spills in Descent"; and "Cannon Supplies Excitement While Being Towed Around Grounds by Large Auto." The latter was likely the first time an aeroplane was towed by an automobile around an enclosed racetrack. What a thrill it must have been for the spectators in attendance to witness the early evolution of machines that would rapidly change life as they knew it.
Twining reported in the December issue of Aeronautics,
"All machines without motors were wheeled out and lined up along the paddock. (See earlier photo above). Saturday afternoon at 3 o'clock the program was opened by a towing flight by Jack Cannon. Considerable difficulty was experienced, owing to the lack of power on the part of the towing automobile. After several attempts it was exchanged for a more powerful vehicle, a 72 h.p. Stoddard-Dayton driven by Mortimer, a member of the club. Owing to rains some days previous the ground was slippery and complete circles were not made but short flights were obtained. Inside the Motordrome the other machines developed engine troubles and did not attempt to fly."
Jack Cannon's biplane from "Walsh Captures First Prize in Airship Flights," Los Angeles Herald, October 24, 1910, front page.
An excerpt from the October 23rd Herald article also sets the scene,
"Jack Cannon furnished the greatest excitement of the afternoon with his towed flights in the biplane built by the Cannon brothers. (See above). Towed by a big Stoddard-Dayton (see below) driven by L. Mortimer, which skidded around the curves in the soft ground, Cannon guided his machine several times around the inside course of the motordrome paddock without coming to the ground. The crowd cheered as he went by the grandstands and commented on the ease with which the aerial machine made its rounds us compared with the difficulties under which the automobile party labored. Cannon won the only prize awarded for an exhibition inside the motordrome and L. Mortimer, the owner of the automobile, received an honorable mention." (Note: Garbutt crony and sales agent for the Beach Land Company in Playa del Rey, Fred W. Flint, Jr., owned the local Stoddard-Dayton dealership.)
Period ad for the Stoddard-Dayton. Publication unknown. Producing 40 horsepower, the engine in the Stoddard-Dayton was remarkably ahead of its time employing an overhead valve design that included two spark plugs per cylinder.
Walsh with outer wall of Motordrome in background. Los Angeles Herald, October 23, 1910, p. 1.
The Herald (see above) reported on the activities at the meet at the Motordrome describing short flights to the beach and back, towed flights around the infield and announcing the various prize winners at the Aero Club of California two-day event mostly dominated by Charles F. Walsh. (See below).
"Walsh made a variety of flights, circling about in any direction desired and landing easily at the starting point. He did not attempt to fly high, and the altitude prize was at first awarded to Slavin, but on a protest from Walsh's friends the contest committee decided in favor of the San Diegan. The trophy for highest flight is a silver cup presented by business men of San Diego. Other cups won by Walsh at this meet are the Whitley Jewelry company's trophy for endurance, the W. H. Leonard cup for the best circular flight and a newspaper trophy for distance."
Walsh at the Motordrome on the cover of the January 1911 issue of Aeronautics.
Walsh flew his 3-cylinder Eldridge "Featherweight" powered biplane to victory in every event during the two day "Novice" Meet. He flew cross-country over the Ballona Wetlands circling the course nine times before landing.
B. F. Roehrig pictured upper left in the above Eldridge Engine Company ad from Aircraft, December 1910, p. 386.
Bernard F. Roehrig, another San Diegan, was awarded the Roy Knabenshue Cup for longest flight by a Southern California machine.
Powerplant on Roehrig Aeroplane. From Twining, H. La V., "Flights by B. F. Roehrig, Aeronautics, November 1910, p. 172.
Bernard F. Roehrig courtesy San Diego Air and Space Museum.
The November 3, 1910 issue of the Herald reported that Walsh soared to a height of 50 feet in a Curtiss biplane warming up for tomorrow's altitude contest with B. F. Roehrig and J. J. Slavin. ("San Diego Flyer Makes Ascent at Motordrome"). The next day's issue announced Roehrig's "unofficial" amateur altitude record of between 500 and 600 feet stating that he circled the Motordrome 4-1/2 times and remained in the air twenty minutes. In landing he went into a ditch, damaging the skids, axle and propeller blades. ("Roehrig Wins Amateur Airship Height Record").
The next big auto racing event at the Los Angeles Motordrome was scheduled for November 26th and 27th, Thanksgiving weekend. Motordrome manager Walter Hempel was hoping for a headline matchup between Barney Oldfield and Teddy Tetzlaff. Despite his contract with Hempel, Oldfield was disqualified from appearing by the A.A.A. for participating in an unsanctioned match race with heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson on October 20th in Brooklyn. ("Oldfield to Race Jack Johnson Today; A.A.A. Definitely Suspends Barney," New York Times, October 20, 1910). Tetzlaff participated in a road race in Santa Monica on November 25th and only made a token appearance at the Motordrome on the 26th.
On the 26th Joe Nikrent broke Ray Harroun's world's record of 73-1/2 miles in 60 minutes set at the Motordrome at the inaugural meet in April by covering 74 miles in Barney Oldfield's Knox. Oldfield was in the stands undoubtedly thinking he could have done better if allowed to run. The next day, again using Oldfield's Knox, he shaved 1-4/5th seconds from Oldfield's April Motordrome meet world record for five-miles covering the distance in 3 minutes, 30-2/5th seconds. The A.A.A. was pleased with the safety record at the track as no serious accidents occurred. ("Fast Motors Break Records," Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1910, p. I-10). A 24-hour endurance race was tentatively scheduled by Hempel for Christmas Day 1910 but would not take place until the following April.
Curtiss at Reims, August 1909. From U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
Glenn Curtiss's Reims Racer being wheeled back to the hangar after his victory in the Gordon Bennett speed race, August 28, 1909. From Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine.
The November 17th issue of the Times announced that noted aviator Glenn H. Curtiss (see two and three above) would be setting up shop and a flight training school at the Aero Club facilities at the Motordrome and that he would be managing a series of meets (see ad below) at the facility beginning with the first scheduled for December 9, 10 and 11. ("First Meet in December; Curtiss to Manage Events at Motordrome"). In the November 20th issue, W. H. Leonard reported on the Cutiss plans and the advantages of the Motordrome site and facilities for experimentation with an article headlined, "Great Center for Aviation; Southern California First With Experiments; Great Flying Promised All the Year Around; Local Organisations Unite in Boost Campaign."
Curtiss Aeroplane ad listing Training Grounds address as the Motordrome. From Aircraft, January 1911, p. 409
Curtiss signed a lease in early December with Motordrome manager Walter Hempel and Vice-President Fred Moskovics for the use of the Aero Club's facilities at the Motordrome and fully intended to spend the winter experimenting on his first seaplane design. Curtiss was the only American to appear at the first ever aviation meet in Rheims, France in his "Golden Flyer" (see above two photos) in August 1909 and was honored with the first flight at the Dominguez meet in January 1910. Curtiss knew Prince and Moskovics well as he also cut his teeth on motorcycle racing. (See earlier above). The Herald reported,
"Mr. Curtis brought his entire workshop with him from his home in New York. There are several cars filled with machinery, designed especially for airship construction, a carload of aeroplane parts and twelve 'machines complete. With these to work with Mr. Curtiss will conduct his experiments as soon as he is able to get a suitable place to work.
Mr. Curtiss has retired from exhibition flying and now devotes his time to the construction of airships and to experimenting with them. He is endeavoring at the present time to work out and perfect some method by which an aeroplane may be used at sea.
"At present the experiment in which I am most interested is the use of the aeroplane at sea. I have experimented to a certain extent with my machines on the water and am going to do a whole lot more of it while here." ("Glenn H. Curtiss Here to Conduct Air Experiments, Los Angeles Herald, December 7, 1910").
Somewhat confusingly, both the San Diego Union-Tribune (December, 23, 1910) and Los Angeles Times (January 3, 1911) reported that Lt. Theodore Ellyson of the U.S. Navy has been detailed by the Secretary of the Navy to receive flight training from Curtiss thus becoming the first ever Naval Aviator. The Times article reported ,"Ellyson will consult with Curtiss regarding the location of experimental work this winter and expects to become an expert in the handling of the aeroplane by next spring." ("Officer Arrives," Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1911, p. I-7).
Through Ellyson, Curtiss was informed that the U.S. Navy's superior facilities at North Island in San Diego were even more ideal for his seaplane experiments as were opportunities for government contracts so he decided to relocate his base of operations there. Curtiss, who would soon go on to fame for providing 10,000 of his "Jennies" to the Allies during World War I, opened a Naval flight training school and finished development the seaplane float design possibly begun at the Motordrome. (See below). The new pontoon enabled him to take off and land on water for the first time on January 26, 1911 at North Island, San Diego. The seaplane was a regular Curtiss pusher airplane, with a central pontoon and wing tip floats. The pilot sat in a tricycle framework, in front of and below the wings. Early versions had a 25-hp, 4-cylinder engine, and later versions had a 50-hp, 8-cylinder engine. Incorporating what he learned from Curtiss, Lt.
Curtiss Seaplane, San Diego, 1911. From Patent Pending Blog.
Glenn H. Curtiss, Time, October 13, 1924.
"Howard Wilcox, Charles Merz, and Don Herr have gone to Los Angeles. Calif. where they will pilot the National motor cars upon the mile board track motordrome Jan. 14 and 15. The trio of National cars which the pilots will handle in the two-day speed carnival were shipped to the "Golden West. ... Wilcox is one of the youngest and best pilots in the country. His last notable performance was his non-stop victory in the 100-mile race for the Remy Brassard and Trophy Cup on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last September. He covered the century in 83 minutes and 8 seconds, after a great battle with the foremost stock chassis performers of the country." ("Racing Pilots Going West; Wilcox, Herr and Merz to Drive at Los Angeles Motordrome," New York Times, January 11, 1911).
Howard "Howdy" Wilcox, 1919 winner of the Indy 500.
The Los Angeles Times headlines the day after the first scheduled day of racing summarized the events, "De Palma in big Simplex Wins Motordrome Races; Takes Five Events, Every One in Which He Is Entered - Merz in National 40 Takes Twenty-Five Mile Contest - Bert Dingely in Pope-Hartford Takes a Second Place." (Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1911, p. VII-1). Rain on the 15th flooding the subways into the track postponed activities until the following Sunday.
Times headlines during the week hyped the event thusly: "MOTORDROME'S BATTLE ROYAL.; STARS OF THE EAST AND REAL SPEEDSTERS OF WEST; Clash to Come on the Pie-Pan Sunday When the Fastest Motor Pilots on Earth Meet in Series of Automobile Races Which Should Thrill Thousands, January 18; NINETY-HORSE POWER MOTOR GIANTS TO PARADE STREETS, January 19; WHITE RACER MAY BE SENSATION ON BOARDS OF THE MOTORDROME, January 20; DEATH-DEFYING AUTO PILOTS PRIMED FOR GRUELING RACES, January 21; RACERS GROOMED FOR SPEED BATTLES ON PIE-PAN BOARDS, January 21; and Ralph De Palma and Frank Dearborn to Hook Up in Fierce Five Mile Battle on the Boards of the Motordrome This Afternoon--Wilcox. Dingley, Nikrent and Merz to Figure in Distance Events, January 22.
Page from the National 1911 Sales Catalog highlighting the team's January 14 and 22, 1911 performances at the Los Angeles Motordrome.
Post-race headlines summarized: MIGHTY MOTOR SPEEDSTERS SMASH RECORDS ON PIE-PAN; Wilcox in the National six-cylinder Monster Is Champion on Boards of the Motordrome, Where Thousands Cheer Nervy Drivers on to Victory - De Palma Wins Speed Duel From Frank Dearborn. At the end of the month the Times reported that a planned match race between Wilcox and De Palma could not take place due to a previous commitment of the National team to race in Oakland's Panama-Pacific Road Race. ("National Team Spirited Away," January 31, 1910, p. III-3). The seriousness with which National took its racing activities to improve design and promote sales can be sensed from the above page from their 1911 sales catalog.
A few days later the Times posted a tongue-in-cheek piece on Wilcox's Motordrome duck-hunting exploits made possible by the heavy rains before he left for Oakland.
"The crack racing pilot took his shotgun and sneaked across the infield of tile track where he has won such signal victories. A mallard, alarmed at the sight of the wiry young autoist, flew away and "Coxy" feared he had lost his meal. He dropped to his stomach in the mud and began a record crawl of half a mile. He reached the edge of the pool without disturbing the two red heads. Jumping to his feet Wilcox took careful aim and fired. In his excitement he pulled both triggers and was kicked backwards into the slush. When he recovered he saw the brace of ducks floating on the water. He waded into the pool and earned his toothsome meal." ("National Racer Scores; Wilcox Bags Brace of Ducks in Center of Pie-Pan Track," Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1911, p. III-3).
Jake DeRosier was back at the Motordrome a few days after Wilcox's departure for another record-smashing run. He shattered every mile-record from 1 to 92 before running out of gas on the 93rd lap. The article compared De Rosier's times to his auto-racing contemporaries and stated that he would certainly have beaten Roy Harroun's 100-mile mark had he had enough fuel to finish. ("Skims Over Pie-Pan; World's Records Smashed by De Rosier on Motor[drome]," Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1911, p. III-1).
Teddy Tetzlaff, 1912 Indy 500 2nd place finisher, after his 100-mile match race win against De Palma. From "Tetzlaff in the Lozier Wins Century Duel," Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1911, p. II-1.
Local boy, Teddy Tetzlaff driving a Lozier in a much-hyped 100-mile match race with 1915 Indy 500 winner Ralph De Palma in a Simplex established four new world's records at the Motordrome on March 19th building upon his convincing victory at the Santa Monica Road Race the previous November. (See below). The New York Times reported,
"The race was finished in 1 :14:29 1-5, lowering the previous record of 1:16:21 made by Harroun. De Palma was six and a half miles behind when Tetzlaff finished. The following intermediate records for a speedway regardless of class also were established: Twenty-five miles-18:22 2-5, former record. 18:52. Fifty miles-36:35 4-5; former record, 37:55 3-5. Seventy miles-54:50 1-5; former record, 57:15 3-5. It is practically certain that the hour record of seventy-six miles also was broken, but the time was not taken." ("World's Auto Records; Tetzlaff in Lozier defeats De Palma," New York Times, March 20, 1911).
Teddy Tetzlaff winning the Santa Monica Road Race, November 1910. From J. W. Collinge.
Halliwell ad touting Tetzlaff's win. Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1911, p. III-24.
shaved 2/5th of a second off the professional record for two-miles of 1m. 24 1-5s. set by DeRosier on the same track two months earlier. His average speed of over 83 mph for 20 miles easily eclipsed the best English record of 56 mph. ("Motorcycle Racing, American and Foreign Records," World Almanac and Encyclopedia, 1911, p. 414).
Johns certainly rode like a pro and was soon hired for a four-year stint on the Indian factory racing team.
The long-delayed 24-hour endurance race at the Motordrome took place on the first anniversary of its opening on April 8-9, 1911 and was refereed by Frank Garbutt. There was a great build-up for the marathon event in the local press with almost daily stories in the Times. Though no big names entered the race due to lengthy delays caused by the earlier heavier than usual seasonal rains and other reasons, fourteen cars and 28 drivers were slated to start and attempt to break the 1,253 mile record set at Brighton Beach. The Times reported on the testing of the lights the night before the race,
"The $25,000 lighting plant was put into service last night at 7 o'clock and thousands of incandescent bulbs with hundreds of the new flaming arc searchlights flooded the grounds and board surface with light. For miles in each direction the lights glowed like an aurora borealis and attracted a large crowd from the beach resorts. Many hurried over in automobiles and trolley cars to see what was going on." (Smith, Bert C., "Bright Lights to Glow as Speed Demons Spin," Los Angeles Times, April 7, p. III-1 and "Twice Around Clock Grind," April 2, 1911, p. VII-8).
Start of the Motordrome 24-Hour with the Cadillac on the pole and the Fiat in the center of the front row. ("Fast Foreign Fiat Wins Twenty-four Hour Race; World's Records Broken on Motordrome Boards," Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1911, p. II-1).
Throngs of fans camped overnight in the infield and the concession stands did a booming business. R. A. Wynne reported on the world-record shattering results the day after with the Fiat "Forty-Five" driven by Valentine Hush and Frank Verbeck compiling 1,491 miles during the race for an average speed of 62.125 mph versus the previous record of 52 mph set the previous August at Brighton Beach. George Adair in the Cadillac "Thirty" (see ad below) also broke the record finishing with 1,448 miles. ("Fast Foreign Fiat Wins Twenty-four Hour Race; World's Records Broken on Motordrome Boards," Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1911, p. II-1 and "Fiat Car Makes New World Mark," New York Times, April 10, 1911).
Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1911, p. III-4.Naturally, the Times was flush with ads from suppliers of cars, tires and parts of the well-performing vehicles. The Elmore Motor Car Co., local dealer for the Stearns which held the Brighton Beach record, placed a sour grapes ad (see below) which elaborately calculated, using the differential between Barney Oldfield's Benz times on Ascot's dirt track and the Motordome's boards that the Fiat would have had to average 67.92 mph to have beaten the Stearns record. Hempel and Moskovics must have been thrilled with the ad and used it in attracting drivers to future racing events as it was more a testimonial for the record-breaking potential of the Motordrome than anything else.
Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1911, p. III-4.
Dave Lewis in the No. 10 Stutz White Squadron car and Charles Mertz in the No. 7 National, October 22, 1911. From Moore, George, "America's Early Years of Board Track Racing: Playa del Rey: Birthplace of the Boards," Cars & Parts, January, 1981, p. 47.
Stressed from the constant scheduling problems caused by rain delays and Barney Oldfield's A.A.A. suspensions, Walter Hempel resigned as manager of the Motordrome after the 24-hour event and was replaced by A. M. Young for a meet in October sponsored by the Automobile Dealer's Association of Southern California. ("Giant Racers Ready for Motordrome Speed Fest," Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1911, p. III-3). Teddy Tetzlaff and Harris Hanshue highlighted the card for the October 21-22, 1911 races at the Motordrome with no records being set. ("Five Thousand Fans See Great Motordrome Races," Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1911, p, VII-1). The two-day meet drew record-breaking crowds of over 12,000 to witness wins by Tetzlaff, Lee Oldfield, and Roscoe Anthony among others. (See above and below). ("Great Crowd at Motordrome," Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1911, p. II-1).
Roscoe Anthony in the Regal driving to victory in a five-mile sprint race, October 21, 1911. From Moore, George, "America's Early Years of Board Track Racing: Playa del Rey: Birthplace of the Boards," Cars & Parts, January, 1981, p. 43.
Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1912, p. III-1.
A crowd of 10,000 viewed a big card of events at the Motordrome on May 5, 1912. The drivers, tired from the grueling Santa Monica Road Race the day before set five new records on what was still widely considered the world's fastest track. (See above). The subheadlines read,
"Caley Bragg Is New World Short - distance Motor Champion and Joe Nikrent Star of Distance Events. (See Case Racing Team and ad below). Ralph de Palma a Strong Contender With the Mercer - E.M.F. Team Defeats Large Field."
The Case Racing Team (see below) led the way with Joe Nikrent setting new world's records in the 5 and 25-mile events, Louis Disbrow establishing a new mark in the 10-mile and Neil Whalen winning a 5-mile free-for-all handicap.
The Case Team of 1912 (right to left) Joe Nikrent, Louis Disbrow and Neil Whalen. From Moore, George, "America's Early Years of Board Track Racing: Playa del Rey: Birthplace of the Boards," Cars & Parts, January, 1981, p. 45-6.
The article also reported on an unplanned air show which gave the crowd additional excitement.
"Two daring aeroplanists came hurtling through the air over the boards of the pie-pan and gave the throng a new thrill yesterday While the fastest motors on earth were ripping world records to pieces, Parmalee in his biplane and Turpin in another biplane, soared through the air. The spiral dip caused a hush from the thousands The man in the air was vieing with the drivers on the boards. He won the applause. It was the first time the throng had been given a chance to judge between the ships of the air and tho kings of the speedway. The honors went to the airship as far as the spectacular part of the programme was concerned." ("Case Cars Crack World Mark on Greasy Pie-Pan," L.A. Times, May 6, 1912, p. III-1).
Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1912, p. III-2.
Lee Humiston aboard his Excelsior.
direct-drive Excelsior in 36 seconds flat Even Barney Oldfield never achieved the magic century at Playa del Rey, his best time (36.1 seconds or 99.72 mph) set in a match race against Terrible Teddy Tetzlaff two weeks later on January 12, 1913 eight months before the track burned to the ground.circled the banked 1-mile track on his
Lee Humiston. From Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing.
Excelsior had won the race to the magic 100 mph mark and they had smashed the Indian-held record for the 100-mile distance as well. The publicity was enormous. Every school boy in America knew that a man had traveled at 100 miles per hour on a motorcycle, and that he had accomplished this feat on an Excelsior built in Chicago.
The closing chapter on the Motordrome in the California Outlook read,
"The Motordrome near Playa del Rey which was built five years ago at a cost of $110,000 and which has been the scene of several races of importance, is now being torn down and its three million feet of lumber disposed of, in order to devote its space to the growing of sugar beets. This circumstance is interesting in view of the doleful utterances of certain prophets of evil who have been telling us that the sugar-beet industry of California is on the road to ruin and that the $15,000,000 invested in it is to prove a dead loss, because we can't compete with imported beet sugar. The war in Europe has made a mockery of all such talk, and goes also to prove that it takes an uncommonly wise man to be a reliable prophet." ("From Motordrome to Sugar," California Outlook, August 29, 1914, p. 16).
The last vestiges of the Motordrome disappeared in 1918 when the Pacific Electric Railway received permission from the California Board of Railroad Commissioners to remove a portion of its spur at the Motordrome Station at the old Motordrome site in the Ballona Wetlands. (Annual report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of the State of California, 1918).
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.