For years, I would spot this massive, concrete monstrosity beside the freeway. While I would often ponder over what this mysterious place was, I didn’t actually bother looking into its identity until the fairly recent past. You see, over the past year, I have become increasingly interested in abandoned places thanks to Youtubers like Exploring with Josh and the Proper People. Thanks to their great respect and appreciation of abandoned buildings and the history behind them, I began to see the beauty in that decaying old relic in the middle of the desert. Nay, even that doesn’t truly express how I felt about it. I began to feel pride, and actual affection, for our own abandoned building, our own piece of history.
More and more lately, I have learned to appreciate history. Not just the big events, but small, everyday history. The history of regular people. Abandoned houses that were once inhabited by families I will never know. Abandoned hospitals that went out of business because they cared for their patients above profits. Abandoned shops which were once someone’s livelihood. These buildings tell personal stories, if you know where to look for the history behind them, and if you know how to read between the lines. Here is a little bit of the story behind our own abandoned piece of history.
The giant concrete building off the side of the freeway was once the Phoenix Trotting Park. This horse racing arena, designed by Italian architect Eugenio Grassetto, was built in 1964 at a cost of $10 million despite the initial estimate of $3 million, opened in 1965, and promptly closed in 1966. What makes it special was that it was home to harness horse racing, where horses run at a trot (hence the name) and pull a two-wheeled cart. Why did the Trotting Park suffer such an abysmally short lifespan? Well, for one thing, the building cost much more to build than anticipated. Two, it was located in the middle of nowhere. And three, it had competition from Turf Paradise, which had traditional horse racing, a far more familiar sport than harness racing. These last two issues meant that not a lot of people visited the Trotting Park, and it was not able to remain open for long. You can find more history, including old articles about the park, on its very own website created by Trevor Freeman.
The sad thing about “progress” and the non-stop urban crawl of any city that is quickly growing beyond its original limits is the fact that old buildings which used to be out in the middle of nowhere, sooner or later, find themselves surrounded by modern construction. In the Trotting Park’s case, it has recently found itself wrapped within the crook of a newly constructed freeway extending off the old one. As this new construction took place all around this half a century old building, I began to grow uneasy. I was well aware of the fate of many old buildings when they dare get in the way of modern growth, and when I looked online, I found that the Trotting Park is indeed scheduled for demolition beginning July of 2017. Right now, you can see trucks parked outside as they remove asbestos from the building’s interior. Before long…I shudder to think of what comes next.
It is very fortunate, at least, that I got my dad’s old camera when I did, as it gave me a chance to record a short video of the Trotting Park before it’s gone for good. It’s very difficult to get close to the property, as it is surrounded by about three layers of chain link fences, and the building is under watch by the nearby RV park. As much as I would have loved to get up close and personal to the Trotting Park, to really see it in detail, that was simply not possible. So Mother Duck and I found the closest spot we could find without encroaching on private property and recorded some footage from the other side of the canal a short distance south of the building. After that, we proceeded to drive around the roads surrounding the property so that I could record a few videos from every possible angle.
Let me tell you, it was an emotional two days (our first set of videos were too bumpy, so we tried again two days later and managed to get far smoother footage). I’ve grown to love that old building, particularly because this area is entirely devoid of history. Everywhere you look, all you see are generic chain stores and fast food restaurants. The Trotting Park was the one and only relic from the area’s past, and now, it’s going to be razed to the ground. And for what? Another McDonald’s? A grocery store? Could these things not instead be built upon the many, many acres of empty land without destroying something that has stood here for half a century (which really must count for something, considering that accounts for half of Arizona’s time as a US state)? To think of all the ways they could have used the Trotting Park if anyone had cared enough to restore it. Turn it into a unique indoor mall and make the huge seating area into a movie theater, perhaps. Or maybe it could have been converted into a modern art museum. There were so many ways they could have used this strange old building if only someone had thought to do so before age and vandalism had run its course.
I shed more than a few tears as I thought about the Trotting Park’s fate. Once history is demolished, it’s gone for good. We’ll never get it back. History should not be treated so carelessly. From what I’ve read online, there are a good number of people who love this place, even travellers from out of the state who looked forward to seeing it as they drove through the Phoenix area. But not enough people cared, or at the very least, not the people with the power to preserve it. It pains me to know that this place, which has sat abandoned for 51 years, does not have much longer on this Earth. Once demolition begins, I can’t say that I’ll be able to pass by that way again without averting my gaze.
At least my premonition spared me the possible fate of missing my chance to record a video of this place while it still stood. Maybe I can very well count myself as the last, or one of the last, to ever record a video honoring the Phoenix Trotting Park. Lower down you can find my short tribute. Of course, I am not the only person who has documented the Trotting Park’s half a century spent abandoned in the desert. Along with my own video, you can also find a video recorded by Adam the Woo (he was able to get much closer during his visit three years prior) and a video actually recorded inside the building, courtesy of the Unknown Cameraman.
Video from Youtube User: The Duck of Indeed
Video from Youtube User: Adam the Woo
Video from Youtube User: TheUnknownCameraman
Phoenix Trotting Park, you will be dearly missed.
The Amazing Trotting Duck