San Francisco’s “Out of Town” Race Track
On the west side of San Francisco, the little known Urbano Drive in the Ingleside neighborhood has a unique heritage that dates back to November 1895. That’s when the Ingleside Race Track opened and Ocean Road (now Ocean Avenue) was little more than a cow path through trees and sand dunes. The race track was considered “out of town” to San Franciscans.
It was the first track in America to feature an actual starting gate for horses, and the track’s three-story clubhouse and covered grandstand could accommodate 4,000 people. The Southern Pacific Railroad built a special spur to bring people to this new entertainment venue, and more than 8,000 people showed up for opening day with bands filling the air with music.
Photo source: FoundSF
The track proclaimed itself “The Most Perfect Winter Race Track in America,” and it quickly became the playground for San Francisco’s wealthy, many well known and some notorious. Historians say the legendary Western lawman Wyatt Earp was a regular at the track, both as a gambler and a trainer. The infamous Chinatown gangster Little Pete — who, wearing a steel-reinforced helmet and chain mail, gained notoriety in Chinatown by driving off would be assailants armed with hatchets and clubs — is said to have fixed races with bribes to jockeys.
These were raucous and rugged days in San Francisco, when gambling, corruption, prostitution and drinking loomed large in the Paris of the West. Even so, it didn’t take long for gambling and crime at the race track to become a public concern. On March 11 1899, the San Francisco Call referred to growing concerns about the track with this headline: “Supervisors Declare That the Evil Must Be Destroyed in This City at Once.” A few days later, supervisors voted to ban gambling, and racing at Ingleside came to a halt.
Racing made sporadic, on-again, off-again comebacks during the first few years of the 20th century, as City Hall waffled on gambling regulations, and new racetracks opened outside San Francisco, notably in Emeryville and San Bruno, It was also during those years, that “horseless carriage racing” and “motor-bicycle” racing debuted at Ingleside.
By the end of 1905, however, as residential developers increasingly eyed the neighborhood, Ingleside Racetrack saw its last race.
After the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the racetrack was used as a refugee camp called Ingleside Model Camp, housing 2,000 victims of the great earthquake and fire, many of them immigrants.
Then, four years later, in 1910, after the earthquake, Joseph A. Leonard’s Urban Realty Development Company bought the old track for a residential development. In 1912, the Ingleside Terraces subdivision opened, with Urbano Drive laid out exactly on the one-mile loop of the old racetrack . A grassy spot just inside the track’s outer bend, along a street called Entrada Way, became the home for a 28-foot marble and concrete sundial, a giant solar clock that stands there today.
photo credit: www.foundsf.org; openhistorysf.org
A version of this story appeared in West Side Stories, a digital newsletter about the West Side of San Francisco.