Thanksgiving falls on November 28th this year, same as it did in 1895. That makes this Thanksgiving the 124th anniversary of the opening of the Ingleside Racetrack. The Pacific Coast Jockey Club opened the Ingleside Racetrack on Thanksgiving day in 1895. It was located just off what was then called Ocean Road, now Ocean Avenue, in an area near where there was a dog track, a shooting range, and roadhouses. So the new horse racing track fit right in with the other vice activities there1.
The Ingleside Racetrack was built for the then expensive amount of $400,0002 as a grander alternative to the Bay District Racing Track in the Inner Richmond District. Ed Corrigan and others had purchased the Ingleside location from Adolph Sutro for $165,000. The grandstand was constructed with what was called an “unusual slant3” so that fans would not have a blocked view.
12,000 people turned out for the opening day of horse racing, despite the Cal-Stanford Big Game happening the same day at the Haight Street Grounds, which drew 14,000 spectators4. To handle the crowds coming to the track, electric streetcar lines were running all day. Southern Pacific added a spur to the racetrack to accommodate race fans. Soon, a grand clubhouse was added next to the grandstand. The first floor of the clubhouse was to be for gentlemen, while the second floor was reserved for ladies and their escorts.
Even before the Ingleside Racetrack opened, there was talk about whether the Bay District Racing Track could survive the new competition. In fact, it could not. The initial success of the Ingleside Racetrack led to the closing of the Bay District Racing Track on May 27, 1896. For a short while, the Ingleside course enjoyed a lack of competition in the local thoroughbred racing circuit.
The monopoly was short-lived though. After the Bay District Racing Track closed in 1896, its owner, Tom Williams, purchased the run down Oakland Trotting Park in what is now Emeryville and transformed it into a sleek new facility for thoroughbred horse racing. Initially, the Ingleside and Emeryville tracks had an agreement to alternate racing schedules. However, gambling foes got San Francisco to pass an anti-betting ordinance that Mayor James Phelan signed on March 13, 1899. Horse racing was still allowed, but the public could not bet on the ponies (or dogs). Without the lure of gambling, horse racing at the Ingleside Racetrack could not continue and was shut down two days later on March 15, 1899. Williams did not have that problem at his track, as he had incorporated Emeryville and set it up to permit gambling. By November of that year, a new track in San Bruno was also opened, the Tanforan Race Track.
The owners of the Ingleside Racetrack soon found a loophole though. The anti-betting ordinance failed to mention anything about betting on automobile racing. In 1900, an auto race was held at the course, the first such race on the West Coast. A fight ensued thereafter to return horse racing to the course with thousands signing petitions for and against the idea. The Board of Supervisors approved a limited schedule of 36 days of racing, but Mayor Phelan quietly vetoed it, though he failed to tell anyone until after a day of racing was held on March 16, 1901. The fight within the city continued though and Williams jumped into the fray by buying both the Ingleside and Tanforan tracks.
While the gambling fight was waged at City Hall, auto racing returned to Ingleside on August 17, 1902, this time with “motor-bicycles” as well. A month later, the Board of Supervisors again approved a limited schedule of racing and betting at Ingleside and, this time, new Mayor Eugene Schmitz signed it into law. On November 15, 1902, horse racing returned to the Ingleside Racetrack before a crowd of 6,000. The return of horse racing was short-lived though. With auto racing becoming more popular and two nearby competing race tracks, the popularity of the Ingleside Racetrack began to wane.
The end of the 1905 racing season on December 30, 1905 would turn out to be the final horse racing at the track after the 1906 earthquake damaged it. The track and its buildings were briefly used to shelter earthquake refugees. In 1910, the Urban Realty Development Company purchased the Ingleside Racetrack and began to redevelop it for housing. The track and grandstand were torn down, but the clubhouse was kept as a sales office for the company. The centerpiece of the new development was Urbano Drive, an oval street that was laid out on top of the loop of the old racecourse.
Inside the west end of the Urbano Drive loop, the developers built a short circular street called Entrada Drive with a landmark feature, a large sundial. Over the ensuing years, development filled the area with houses. The old Clubhouse was used as meeting place for the homeowners association until 1930, when it was torn down in order to build more houses. The sundial remains, but you have to go looking for it now as it can no longer be seen from neighboring streets since being encircled by houses. It is well worth visiting and, when you do, imagine yourself in the middle of a grand horse-racing track.
2. “All Ready For The Bugle Call,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 1895, page 8.
3. “Ingleside Ready For The Race Meet,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 1895, page 4.