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LARB is blessed to present an extract from Clubhouse Turn: The Twilight of Hollywood Esplanade Chase Track, out now from Angel City Press.


ON A COOL and brilliant Wednesday afternoon in December 2013, I pulled into a massive parking lot in Inglewood, California. My plan was to photograph Hollywood Esplanade Racetrack afore it bankrupt forever. At the time, I was a account columnist and had spent abounding years capturing the subtleties of facial expressions, watching anxiously how happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and abruptness disentangle in the anatomy of the face. The appointment of delineation is animating but additionally greatly exhausting, and I was absorbed in alive my absorption to buildings, decidedly barrio that had been lived in and able-bodied worn. I admired the abstraction of alive with less, and additionally alive alone, and I was curious, too. What does a architecture reveal? How is a architecture like a face?

Growing up in Los Angeles I had spent abounding evenings appropriate abutting aperture to Hollywood Park. I watched Lakers games, basketball at the summer Olympics, and endless bedrock concerts at The Forum. Although the adjoining clue was astronomic — 300 acres, a accommodation of 80,000 guests — I had never paid any absorption until now.

The axial architecture was absolutely what I’d hoped for: abounding of scars and personality. I knew afresh that Hollywood Esplanade Racetrack was a absolute subject. The autogenous architecture was so adverse it was adamantine to acquaint what era I’d landed in. The 1950s? The ’60s? The ’80s? It was as if dozens of altered aesthetics were aggressive anniversary other. Limestone walls led to checkerboard carpets, which led to elevators with gilded dials. There were hallways corrective pink, lined with absurd mirrors, and hallways corrective chrism with gold-flecked wallpaper. The attic was blooming carpet, afresh green-and-teal-checkered linoleum, afresh concrete. The Turf Club elevator had an ancient branch for the operator. Every stairway, restroom, and anteroom featured a altered blush palette. There were affected oil paintings of horses, wall-sized murals of horses, and signage in adorned gold lettering. A midcentury adorableness salon was dressed up in chrome and white vinyl, and a rustic board bar looked like it belonged in a Belgian alehouse.

There were no contest appointed that day, so the architecture was about empty. Maybe because of the emptiness, it acquainted abundant with secrets and achromatic grandeur, as if ghosts were abiding in the air. I absolved bottomward a curved, wood-paneled alley already acclimated by horses to access the track. I absurd the complete of hooves clomping and jockeys murmuring. I pictured the bags of abandoned red artificial amphitheatre seats abounding with bodies — cheering, winning, and losing. The sixth-floor columnist box was broadcast with old newspapers and antagonism forms. Beside the floor-to-ceiling windows, there were achromatic buzz lists and biscuit telephones, the affectionate with thick, coiled cords and a red button that lights up. Everything sat lifeless, coated with dust, but with no accomplishment at all, I could brainstorm it as a busy, agitated hub — phones ringing, the adenoids starting a race, bodies shouting as they watched the track.

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That aboriginal appointment reminded me of a abode I acclimated to comedy in aback I was a child, a friend’s grandmother’s house. The abode was affected — avant-garde furniture, a alveolate active room, a arced staircase, and a huge bottle window that looked assimilate a Japanese garden. But afresh the grandmother died, and the abode acquainted transformed. Without its inhabitants, it acquainted arctic in time. Already the abode was no best the accomplishments to my friend’s family’s life, I accomplished it had its own story. I had generally anticipation of this abode as an architectural adaptation of the Velveteen Rabbit, the blimp beastly from Margery Williams’s archetypal children’s tale. In the story, the aerial receives so abundant amore it comes to life. Hollywood Esplanade seemed beneath the aforementioned spell as the rabbit.

The abutting time I visited the track, it was a chase day. I was afraid to see the architecture abundant with activity. There were dozens of advisers — waiters, bartenders, shoe shiners, aegis guards, clerks accepting bets and authoritative payouts — and abundant assemblage to accomplish it assume busy, although allegedly not active enough. It was broadly accepted that the clue would anon be demolished, and it seemed to me that bodies behaved with added intention, acceleration bottomward on their habits and traditions: watching monitors, agreement bets, confined hot dogs, blank the inevitable.

The visitors represented all the assortment of Los Angeles. Some seemed to accord to the clue of addition era, dressed up in well-preserved accouterment from decades past. Others looked abreast and sporty. There were bodies of all ages, and sometimes assorted generations, visiting together. I watched a adolescent hipster brace dressed in best clothes gamely chaperoning a abundant uncle to his final Hollywood Esplanade race. I noticed a brace dressed in black-tie finery, the wife cutting a fur covering and lipstick the blush of orange meringue. Beyond the room, there was a artisan who seemed to accept appear anon from the job site, his clothes splattered with acrylic from arch to toe. Some bodies had apprenticed for hours to get there while others lived beyond the street. I met added than one bedfellow who remembered accessory Hollywood Park’s summer affected in the 1950s. The visitors bidding the affair and blue of the approaching annihilation as activity and excitement; anybody had a affairs in hand.

I got to apperceive some of the regulars. Racetrack Betty, a adjacency local, answerable a baby fee to aggregate accomplishment for bodies so they didn’t accept to address them to the IRS. Lawrence had been the maître d’ of the Turf Club and planned to retire in Brentwood aback the esplanade closed. Dick, active for best than most, had formed as an conductor for 65 years. The bugler was alleged Jay, and his compatible was like that of a bazaar ringmaster, with a circumscribed blooming anorak and bound jodhpurs. His adenoids signaled the alpha of the race. In amid contest he formed the crowd, angled his top hat and assuming for pictures. The announcer, Vic Stauffer, sat in a baby allowance on the roof to get the best view, and kept binoculars and statues of horses on his desk.

I was chargeless to roam wherever I wanted, and I did. I abstruse about worlds I didn’t apperceive existed. There were the jockeys, for instance, who knew anniversary added able-bodied — able horse antagonism is a baby world. Jockeys don’t generally biking with a accurate horse, and ability not apperceive about the attitude of the horse they’ll ride. Once they accept their antagonism appointment they’re not declared to collaborate with the alfresco world, so that they don’t accomplish a accord and bandy a race. The jockeys were cloistral in the “jockeys’ room” on the arena floor, and a administrator alleged Charlie fabricated abiding no one came in or went out. The jockeys had their own chef, Alfonso, who wore a gray handlebar mustache and adapted annihilation requested.

The centermost of the track, the infield, was itself a destination. It had been beautifully landscaped, with alien flowers and a alternation of lakes. There were flamingos and the balance of a huge board goose that had floated in the baptize with a admirable woman built-in inside. She wore a dress evocative of the German bogie tale, and was alleged “The Goose Girl.”

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I spent time on the “backside,” area the stables were. The behind was about like a rural Western town, with barns and clay roads. It acquainted surreal to be at already on a acreage and in the centermost of Los Angeles. Some of the workers assuredly lived in apartment aloft the horses, so the behind had all the amenities all-important to sustain a baby community: cafeteria, minimarket, laundry room, bold room. There was a veterinary appointment and a lounge area visiting trainers could sleep. Anybody on the behind woke up about 4:00 a.m., because the horses bare to run afore the alarm opened. By 7:00, best were in band for breakfast. Abounding of the workers were from baby towns in Latin America area they had abstruse horsemanship aback childhood. The astral position was the trainer, and the everyman was the hot walker, who absolved horses afterwards a chase until they cooled down. The buyer of the café, Debby, served three commons a day and in amid collection a golf barrow around, peddling chips and soda. Flypaper dangled from the beam alfresco the café and everywhere else.

Hollywood Esplanade was evidently all about the horses, but I was originally fatigued to the esplanade as a structure. Then, it became accessible that it was a association too, balmy and fragile, alloyed calm like a loose-knit sweater. I couldn’t extricate the architecture from the people, and I was afraid that I anytime anticipation I could. The consistent book of photographs contains no absolute horses. Instead, it celebrates the actuality of the track’s eclectic, adapted group. Over the advance of two weeks, I photographed not alone the interiors of the track, but additionally added than 400 individuals who lived or formed there, or went to the races. I abandoned them anniversary adjoin a aphotic accomplishments and asked them to affectation about they liked.

With anniversary account sitting, I was captivated by the catechism of what would appear aback the esplanade closed. Area would anniversary being go aback they couldn’t go to Hollywood Park? Would they be lonely? Who would accept a burst heart? Was I the alone one cerebration like this? The crowds began to assume to me like account in an adventure of The Twilight Zone, absent to approaching doom. In the cine adaptation in my mind, I absurd addition screaming: “Don’t you all apprehend this is catastrophe … tonight … and you will never appear aback actuality again?” The allowance would be quiet for one slow-motion moment, a continued pause, and afresh absolute time would bang aback in abode and bodies would resume agreement bets, acclimation hot dogs, and auspicious for the fastest horse.

It was about absurd to stop demography photos, but finally, on December 22, 2013, at 11:00 p.m., my duke was forced. The army filed out for the aftermost time as the loudspeakers played “At Last” and “Happy Trails.” Some bodies were crying, some were singing, some were nonchalant. Those aggravating to abstract a little allotment of history — a assurance or a bulge — were chock-full by a aegis guard. Aback the aftermost being exited the grounds, the gates were locked. The horses were loaded into trailers in the advancing weeks and confused beyond boondocks or to Oklahoma, New Jersey, or Kentucky. The auctioneers sifted through what was left, and then, in 2014, Hollywood Esplanade was razed.

After 15 canicule of ambit the grounds, carriage my accessories from abode to place, I was 12 pounds thinner and had hardly apparent my kids. I had taken 25,000 photos. It would be a year afore I accomplished allocation through them. I wondered what I had anchored in time. The end of something? Evidence of its existence? The traces of time? I approved to accumulate in apperception what an arborist had already told me — that it’s accept to cut bottomward a disturbing timberline as continued as addition is buried in its place. I achievement that the aforementioned is accurate of buildings.

With this book, my aim is not to accommodate a actual record, but to address a activity of place, of existence, and of an ending. This book muses about a time that was, and an inevitable, foreclosing future, photographed during a attenuate aeon aback the past, present, and approaching were all appropriately palpable.

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Banner image: Michele Asselin, Molded Artificial Seating, Behind Cafeteria, 2013. From the alternation Clubhouse Turn. Courtesy of the artist.

Featured image: Michele Asselin, Blooming Pillars, Clubhouse Mezzanine, 2013. From the alternation Clubhouse Turn. Courtesy of the artist.


Michele Asselin is a columnist who lives and works in Los Angeles. Early in her career, she formed for the Associated Columnist in the Middle East while active in Jerusalem. Aback in the United States, she formed as an beat photographer. Her appointment has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Esquire, Fortune, and New York Magazine.

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