Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Santa Anita's Historic Decorative Frieze

One of the most recognizable architectural details of beautiful Santa Anita Park is the famous frieze of white running horses that adorns the back of the stands in a perfect flow. The frieze complements the art-deco style created by architect Gordon Kaufman in the 1930's.

Santa Anita Park Frieze
A little-known aspect of the frieze is that, in one of the panels, a jockey is depicted falling off a horse (see photo below). It is said that the falllen jockey was meant to depict the great George Woolf, who died at the age of 35 following a spill at Santa Anita.

Santa Anita Park FriezeDuring the running of the fourth race on January 3, 1946, Woolf fell from his horse as they rounded the clubhouse turn, suffering a concussion. He was taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Pasadena, where he died the next day. George Woolf was a diabetic, and it was generally believed that he suffered a diabetic fainting spell before falling from his mount.

Known as "The Iceman" becuase of his renowned cool and patience while waiting for his horse to make the right move in a race, George Woolf was one of the premier jockeys of his era. In 1935, he made history when he rode Azucar to victory in the Santa Anita Handicap - the first horse race worth $100,000.

When asked what was the best racehorse he ever rode, George Woolf answered immediately, "Seabiscuit." In the 2003 film, Seabiscuit, jockey Gary Stevens played the famed Woolf. Stevens was the 1996 recipient of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, an award that has been given annually since 1950 to a North American jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct both on and off the racetrack.

A bronze statue of George Woolf was erected in his honor, and stands in the paddock at Santa Anita Park. A photo of the statue is shown below.



The Iceman's Derby

George Woolf bought a restaurant on Huntington Drive in Arcadia, in 1938, and renamed it in honor of the Kentucky Derby. He promptly decorated the walls of "The Derby" with racing memorabilia, most of which remains to be enjoyed by patrons at The Derby today. Woolf lived on the second floor above the restaurant, and many believe that his ghost haunts the restaurant.

3 comments:

Lucinda said...

This is so interesting Mary - great work. What's next on the history tour?

Ali said...

I just love, love, love all the historical stuff you do!

zraces said...

I saw the ghost one evening. I think I was on my third martini.

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