The colossal ruins of Phoenix Trotting Park sit in the middle of a barren expanse of land just off I-10. Built 20 years before the freeway, the futuristic structure has sat for more than half a century, like a spaceship that landed in the middle of the desert, evoking mystified stares of passing motorists.
(Here's a video I made about Phoenix Trotting Park, which includes additional info and pictures not included in this blog entry:)
After an awkward encounter with a police officer in the morning (details at the end of this post) I decided to shave off the several days worth of facial scruff, hoping a tidier appearance would attract less scrutiny. I ate breakfast and drove to Goodyear, Arizona to check out the massive concrete horse racing park.
The previous day I'd explored Black Canyon Greyhound Park and was completely blown away, but even that could not prepare me for the majesty of Phoenix Trotting Park.
The place was absolutely gigantic. I spent 3-4 hours there.
The massive structure consists of more than 27,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete.
The inner walls were stripped down to skeletons, but in some places you could get a sense of where the walls and windows had been.
The grandstand of Phoenix Trotting Park is enormous. I'd never seen something so gigantic yet totally abandoned. In the silence I tried to imagine what the place alive and filled with thousands of cheering spectators.
The building had so many levels, it seemed to go on forever.
I followed a stairway up to the roof and explored the sky box, where VIPs and announcers viewed the races.
Someone had left cans of spray paint sitting out.
I saw a little structure off by itself on the roof, and couldn't resist having a closer look.
It appeared to be the control room for the elevator system.
From the roof I enjoyed some great views of different sections of the structure.
One of the entrances:
A loading dock:
The park was financed by James J. Dunnigan, who was also behind Buffalo Raceway in New York, which is still open today.
Phoenix Trotting Park was a far less successful venture. Opened in 1965, it closed less than 2 years later. There are many reasons for its failure.
Attendance was much lower than anticipated, partly due to competition from other well-established racing facilities in the area. Phoenix Trotting Park was built twenty miles from Downtown Phoenix and only accessible by way of dirt roads, making it a chore to get to.
It was also insanely expensive to build. Originally budgeted at $3 million, it ended up costing about $10 million. Revenue failed to compensate for the difference.
The park was used in 2000 for the filming of the movie "No Code of Conduct" starring Martin and Charlie Sheen. As part of the movie, and explosion was set off, with the unintended consequence of killing hundreds of pigeons that were roosting in the abandoned building. Fortunately there were no pigeon corpses lying around when I was there.
But I did happen upon the mangled remains of a rabbit.
I'd read rumors of a squatter settlement in the basement and was determined to find out if there was any truth to it. With pepper spray in hand, I descended a dark stairway into the abyss.
There wasn't much down there, just a lot of open space and a few random fixtures,
the crippled elevator,
and the surprisingly small loading dock.
I returned to the ground level and did a little more exploring.
About 45 minutes before I left, I heard the loud echoing of someone else exploring the place. It's so massive that it was impossible to know where the other person was. It made me realize there could not have been a squatter settlement anywhere inside the building or I'd have definitely heard them during the several hours I was there.
I was extremely amused by this piece of graffiti. It's an obscure reference to a cartoon short by Don Hertzfeldt I'd seen years ago.
When I was sure I'd explored every corner of the place, I headed back out into the Arizona sun.
As I walked back to my car, I felt so accomplished, I was shaking with excitement. Phoenix Trotting Park was one of the most incredible places I'd ever explored. It was such a thrill and an amazing high. I sent pictures to people back home and told them about where I'd just been. I probably sounded like a raving lunatic, but I was too excited to care.
Next week I'll tell you about my trip to the historic home of Buffalo Bill Cody and a melting adobe house in the middle of the Arizona desert.