Plenty of celebrities will converge on SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., When the Rams and the Bengals meet in the Super Bowl on Sunday. And while the stadium is only two years old, the site is certainly no stranger to glamor.
The stadium was built on a site a few miles east of Los Angeles International Airport that was once home to Hollywood Park, an Art Deco racetrack that infused the sport of kings with Hollywood royalty.
Backed by a group of stockholders that included prominent Hollywood players like Jack Warner, Samuel Goldwyn, Walt Disney and Bing Crosby, the track opened on June 10, 1938, effectively becoming a national holiday among the studio set.
The 265-acre track of lakes and flowers, as it was fondly referred to, was a place to see and be seen, especially in the members-only turf club, which was frequented by stars like Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock, Tony Curtis and Carol Burnett, to name a few. And while the stars graced the grandstand, the flamingos inhabited the infield.
The track also played host to many famous racehorses and jockeys. In 1938, the year it opened, Seabiscuit won the first Gold Cup. In 1951, the Triple Crown winner Citation added the Gold Cup to his résumé, becoming racing’s first million-dollar horse. In 1977, coming off his own Triple Crown sweep, Seattle Slew was upset in the Swaps Stakes. In 1979, Affirmed won the Gold Cup to become the first $ 2 million horse. In 1984, the inaugural Breeders’ Cup was held at Hollywood Park; it returned in 1987 and 1997. In 1999 at the track, Laffit Pincay Jr. surpassed Bill Shoemaker’s record for wins by a jockey.
In 2007, a horse named Zenyatta, owned by the record producer Jerry Moss and named after The Police’s album Zenyatta Mondatta, made her debut. She went on to win 19 straight races, eight of them at Hollywood Park. As her streak and her legend grew, the electricity at the racetrack resembled the glory days of old.
On Dec. 22, 2013, the bugler played the final “Call to the Post” followed by “Hooray for Hollywood.” California Chrome, the fourth California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby, won the final stakes race. On May 31, 2015, the iconic grandstand was demolished, making way for the 298-acre mixed-use development that includes the stadium, a hotel, retail and commercial space, residential units and park land.
Nowhere to be found is a statue of Shoemaker and Swaps, a California-bred who won the 1955 Derby and set four Hollywood Park records, three of which were world marks, that once graced the clubhouse entrance and was earmarked for the development.
But some remnants of that old Hollywood era remain. The flamingos were transferred to a nearby zoo. The graves of famous horses buried at the track were relocated to other tracks or farms. The ficus trees that dotted the grounds were replanted near the stadium. Pincay Drive, honoring Pincay Jr.’s lifetime of victories, more of which came at Hollywood Park than anywhere else, cuts east and west between Crenshaw Boulevard and Prairie Avenue.
And the show – and the celebrities that come with it, of course – goes on.