In early May, 1949, the Hollywood Turf Club was in busy preparation for the upcoming Spring meeting. In its relatively short history, Hollywood Park had achieved recognition as one the preeminent venues on the national racing scene, and there was much anticipation surrounding the start of the new season.
This happy optimism, however, would soon be clouded by uncertainty. Just after 11:00 PM on May 5, 1949, a fire broke out in the grandstand and, despite the efforts of local fire companies, the entire building was soon consumed in flames. When the sun rose over Inglewood the following morning, the grandstand and clubhouse, which for the past decade had been a favorite spot of both Hollywood celebrities and racing fans alike, had been reduced to a skeleton of twisted steel and smoking debris.
While the Hollywood Park fire of 1949 would become one of the darkest days in the track's history, the days to come would highlight some of the best aspects of California racing. In a great spirit of cooperation, the Los Angeles Turf Club, with the blessings of the California Horse Racing Board, extended the invitation to Hollywood Park to conduct its Spring meeting at Santa Anita. Although there were less than two weeks left to the opening, the tireless work and dedication of many individuals made the quick transition a success. On May 17, 1949, Hollywood Park at Santa Anita launched the Spring race meeting on schedule.
With the racing meet resumed at its temporary location across town, the Hollywood Turf Club quickly began the process of rebuilding. By the following Spring, Hollywood Park, like the Phoenix, had risen anew from the ashes. Just a year after the devastating fire Hollywood Park would reclaim the position it would hold for the next three decades as a driving force in North American racing.
Leonard N. Wynne is a lifelong fan of horse racing and its history. Wynne earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from Cal Poly Pomona, and holds advanced degrees in History from Cal State Los Angeles and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is currently on leave from PhD program in History, UCSC. His areas of specialization include 19th Century United States with an emphasis on religion and gender and Popular Culture in the United States.