Famous for many things, including great surfing beaches, alien and UFO sightings and the palatial home of Fritz Burns, Playa Del Rey was thrust to the top of the National news, when the first wooden board track; for automobile and motorcycle racing, opened here in 1909.
The track opened (Grand opening), as the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordome, (sometimes called motordrome), in Playa del Rey at the intersection of Jefferson and Culver Boulevards, on April 8, 1909. Based on and utilizing the same technology as the French velodromes used for bicycle races, the track and others like it were created with 2-‐inch (51 mm) x 4-‐inch (100 mm) boards, and banked up to 45°, and some venues, such as Fulford-‐by-‐the-‐Sea and nearby Culver City, boasting unconfirmed higher banking’s of 50° or more.
Promoters Fred Moskovics and Walter Hemple had taken notice of the success of automobile races involving now-‐legendary driver Barney Oldfield at Los Angeles tracks in the early 1900s, and hired velodrome designer Jack Prince to design a raised wooden track designed specifically for motorized racing.
Construction on the one-‐mile round-‐banked track began in Feb. 1909. According to Prince, more than 2 million square feet of lumber and 30 tons of nails were used in its construction.
The Los Angeles Pacific Railway built a special spur to bring fans to the track, which held 12,000 spectators. Sportswriters immediately began referring to the structure as a "pie pan" due to its circular shape and banked track. The site was huge, and included many concession stands, automotive garages and outbuildings. Several early aviation meets were also held there.
In November 1909, one driver, Robert Lawson, was impaled when one of the boards popped loose and entered his body above the knee and exited near the base of his spine. Miraculously, he recovered, but walked on a peg leg for the rest of his days. Many others drivers and riders were less fortunate, and dozens of fatalities mounted at the track.
Of all the great motorcycle racers, perhaps none was greater than Eddy Hasha; who rode an eight-‐ valve Indian motorcycle. He was known as the “Texas Cyclone.” In May 1911, Hasha attained a speed of 95 miles per hour (153 kilometers per hour) at the Playa del Rey motordrome, setting a record for the mile.
In 1912, Hasha beat all of the established stars at the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordome, and set professional records in the process. He then headed from the western United States to the east.
On September 8th, Hasha spent the day racing at the Newark, New Jersey Motordrome. In the last event of the day, he began a five-‐mile handicap race with five other riders. At the start Eddie was in the lead, but on the 3rd lap his machine developed engine trouble.
Dropping one hand, he adjusted something and at once picked up enough speed to close on the single rider who had slipped past him. The next instant Hasha shot up the track at a sharp angle and struck the rail. He rode the railing for about a hundred feet, crushing out the lives of four boys who had been watching the race with their heads stuck out and injuring about ten others. The machine continued along the rail until it struck a large post, which threw Hasha to his death in the grandstand.
After hitting the post, the rider less machine tore along the railing for a few more feet and then dropped down on the track in the path of another rider, Johnny Albright. The wrecked machine struck the Denver rider in the shoulder and Albright went down with terrific force. Then, mixed up with two machines, he slid along the track for about 240 feet. Albright was unconscious when picked up and five hours later died in the hospital without regaining consciousness.
It was one of the few cases in the history of the New York Times that motorcycling was front-‐page news. Subsequently, the authorities closed down the New Jersey track and it was never
reopened. The grim reality of Newark and the resultant publicity (which compared short-‐track motordrome racing to barbaric Roman gladiator sports) marked the beginning of the decline for the short (1/4 to 1/3 mile) motordromes, or "murderdromes" as they began to be labeled by the press.
On the afternoon of August 11, 1913, a fire broke out under the wooden track in Playa del Rey. Though it did not fully destroy it, the damage was severe enough that rebuilding it wasn't feasible. A Los Angeles Times news story detailing the fire blamed it on vagrants sleeping beneath the track who were careless with matches.
The tidal marsh and Ballona Wetlands reclaimed the land, and there is no trace and little memory, of the great Los Angeles Coliseum Motordome at Playa Del Rey.