Fast Digs: The Alhambra Track

As a result of all this Fast Digs research it has been found that many local municipalities had bicycle tracks of their own between the late 1800s and mid 1900s. Los Angeles had many (and still has a couple), Santa Monica and Riverside each had one, as did Montebello and Claremont. Add to the list the city of Alhambra.

Just as the Los Angeles Athletic Club managed the Los Angeles Athletic Park so too, it seems, did the Alhambra Athletic Club manage a similar Athletic Park in that city.

In October 1893 it was noted that the Alhambra Athletic Club had grown from five members a year earlier, to fifty-five, and were continuing to bring in new members. With the funds raised by its member, the club had paid for a long lease on the athletic park, built a top-class track and baseball diamond, and established both baseball and football teams.

That track was not quite standard. Though called a quarter mile track, it was actually about 18.85 feet longer per lap, and thus a four lap mile was about 85 feet beyond the distance. Twenty feet wide with banked turns, the track surface was "composed of a hard black clay." For a field day in early December 1893 the track was scraped so smoothly that it was said the surface reflected the sun. Many racers of the day, including the likes of Emil Ulbricht, considered it the fastest track in the state. The most unique feature of the track was its banking. I am still attempting to interpret the description, maybe you will have more success: "Instead of banking from a level at the pole, the level is taken in the center, making the pole two feet below the level and the edge two feet above." I am not sure, but it sounds as if the "two feet below" and "two feet above" amounted to a four-foot embankment, when a two foot bank would have been more typical. The story goes that the Club, in an effort to save on expenses, hired "a boy" with no previous bicycle track surveying experience. Whether true or not, the outcome was not just an unusual track, but an unusually fast one as well.

That speed was made evident when, on 12 August 1893, Macy Thompson set a new Pacific Coast record for the one-mile handicap starting from the 60-yard mark, and Walter Foster lowered his own one-mile paced record. In that effort he was paced by Burke, Jenkins, and Gibson. Other races that day included a novice race won by Alhambra resident, Neil Sorenson, the Alhambra one-mile championship, contested by only two riders, and won by Drew ahead of Williams, and a two-mile handicap race in which Washburn, of Monrovia, starting with a 200 yard handicap, won ahead of Thompson and Drew, the scratch riders, and several others in between the three. It was reported that about 400 spectators attended the event, which also included a display of "fancy riding" by Will Jenkins.

The next big event at the track was that December field day with four full races being contested, as well as a record attempt by Ulbricht. A pair of qualifying heats preceded the quarter-mile final. In the first heat Fox finished in front of Parker and Spier with a time of 35 2/5 seconds. The second heat was won by Smith, ahead of Ulbricht, Fay Stephenson, and Phil Kitchen. In the finals Fox bested Smith with a time of 34 2/5 seconds. The half-mile was next up, with Fox and Smith winning their respective heats, but both falling to Kitchen in the final. The one-mile open was contested by Fox, Kitchen, Smith, Jim Cowan, and Burke. Fox proved fasted, by a wheel, finishing before Smith and Cowan. Fifteen racers took to the track for the two-mile handicap in which Lacy, starting with 350 yards, won ahead of Stephenson in a time of 2:49 2/5. That left Ulbricht's race "against time." With the likes of Burke, Stephenson, J. Cowan, Jenkins, Smith, Fox, Spier, Kitchen, and Lacy all setting the pace you would think that Ulbricht might have had an easy time at setting a new record. Instead, the pace-makers were not up to the task, and simply could not go fast enough - Ulbricht continually urging them to go faster.