I went out to Hollywood Park Sunday for one of the last horse racing days before it is torn down. If the developers’ dreams come true, the famous race track will be replaced with about 3,000 homes, more than 600,000 square feet of retail and a 300-room hotel.
My friend John Ogden and I sat at a table at Whittingham’s Pub, named after a famed trainer, and worked our way through the Daily Racing Form. I looked down at the nearly empty stands and the track, thinking how far the Inglewood track had gone downhill since Hollywood big shots built it in 1938. It drew big crowds until a few years ago but tastes change. The scant and older crowd reminded me of the Steve Goodman song, “City of New Orleans:”
“Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders, three conductors, 25 sacks of mail.”
I looked beyond the track at the industrial and residential areas around it and at the big jets above us in their unending parade to nearby Los Angeles International Airport.
The proximity to the airport is touted by the developers as an advantage for a project that will change a predominantly African American and Latino city that has suffered hard knocks in recent years. Inglewood’s median household income is $44,021, substantially below the statewide figure of $61,632, according to the U.S. Census. A total of 21 percent of the population is below the poverty level compared 14.4 percent of the rest of the state. Crime is a problem. The Los Angeles Times Homicide Report lists 16 murders this year, some of them around the race track.
The construction of so many homes and stores could have a great impact on a city that has missed Southland prosperity, as will the hotel, presumably located near the casino that will remain after the track is torn down
But huge questions remain. Will anyone buy homes in a development partially under LAX flights? What about crime, substantial even though Inglewood’s reputation as a high crime city may be greater than the reality? Will people patronize the new stores? Will the new development be a gated and guarded community, part of Inglewood but apart from it?
The Inglewood City Council and Mayor James Butts will be answering these questions as the project moves forward. The potential is great, especially if hidebound Los Angeles International Airport officials, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and the Los Angeles City Council figure a way to better integrate the airport and related businesses with the community. That and the Hollywood Park development could turn a neglected urban part of the Southland into a booming area with regional benefits extending beyond Inglewood.