Phoenix Trotting Park is permanently closed
In 2017 the Trotting Park has been demolished.
The Phoenix Trotting Park was a horse racing track built-in 1964 in Goodyear, Arizona. It opened in 1965 and was run for about two and a half seasons.
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.
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.
History of the Phoenix Trotting Park
The origins of the Phoenix Trotting Park begin with the Dunnigan’s, an Irish-American family living in New York at the turn of the century.
It is unclear what drew James J. Dunnigan from his home in New York to a barren patch of Arizona desert. It was here that he purchased a 640-acre parcel near Cotton Lane Road and McDowell Road for his new harness racing track, the Phoenix Trotting Park. In 1960, Phoenix was not the thriving metropolis it is today. Arizona had become a state just 48 years prior, and the capitol city of Phoenix was quite small with a population of just 439,170 people. The track was located far outside city limits, where roads were mostly unimproved dirt.
Dunnigan formed Arizona Harness Raceway, Inc. on June 7, 1961. He purchased a huge plot of land from Karl and Norbert Abel, who owned vast amounts of land in the area. Dunnigan was able to drum up some financing from his trotting buddies in New York, including Norman S. Woolworth (a relative of the wealthy J.W. Woolworth family and owner of Clearview Stables in Maine) and Delvin Miller, a harness racing Hall of Famer who was involved with the Roosevelt Raceway in Long Island. The plan was to build a grandstand with a capacity of 5,400 spectators.
Construction began in 1964 on the massive structure, which contained more than 27,000 cubic yards of concrete. The track was originally supposed to cost about $2 million, but the final cost ended up being a whopping $9.5 million. Total construction time from the groundbreaking ceremony to the first race was less than 12 months.
According to the 1983 book “A Guide to the Architecture of Metro Phoenix” by the Arizona Institute of Architects, Phoenix Trotting Park was designed by Impressa Eugenio Grassetto of Padua, Italy. A 1965 Arizona Republic article also lists Eugenio Grasetto as the architect. However, a 1964 New York Times article and a 1965 Sports Illustrated article both credit the building’s design to Ivone Grasetto, also of Padua, Italy. While it is possible that more than one person worked on the design, this has not yet been verified.
Victor Gruen and Associates of Los Angeles, CA were the coordinating architects on the project. The firm and its eponymous founder are famous for inventing the modern shopping mall as we know it today. Construction of the grandstand was a joint venture between Gilbert & Dolan Enterprises and E.L. Farmer Construction Co., Inc.
There are several unique features about the grandstand’s construction that make it unique. The Trotting Park’s wall panels, roof slabs, columns, beams, and girders were all constructed of precast concrete, which was poured on-site. While commonly used today, this method of construction was considered cutting-edge in the 1960s.
Because of the high summer temperatures, special precautions were taken in the preparation and curing of the concrete. Aggregates used in the concrete mix were cooled before mixing by introducing ice into the mixing process to dissipate heat. Trucks that transport the mix to the site were equipped with water spray devices to cool the drums containing the concrete while they were being hauled to the point of use. After pouring, the fresh concrete was covered with black polyethylene plastic sheets to conserve moisture as well as to simulate steam curing methods.
All of the concrete structural members (except the floor and roof slabs) were post-tensioned using a system called Prescon. The pre-cast pieces have a compressive strength of 6000-psi, approximately three times the normal strength of concrete used in more conventional buildings.
The roof of the grandstand was supported by a series of main roof girders. These hollow, V-shaped girders measured 8 by 8 by 105 feet and were considered “lightweight” at 120 tons. They allowed the building to achieve unusually long cantilevers of 39 feet for the seat girders and 32 feet for the roof girders. However, the cantilever at the roof level reaches a remarkable 44 feet with the attachment of the front fascia units. The hollow roof girders were also part of the track’s innovative heating system, which kept the spectators warm during the winter months. Phoenix Trotting Park was not built with air conditioning, as it was never intended to be a year-round facility. The track did house a fully air-conditioned restaurant, which operated year-round.
The Trotting Park opened on January 12, 1965, to a crowd of 12,223 attendees. That first night, more than $130,984 was wagered at the gleaming new facility. The park received a great deal of press coverage and was featured in Sports Illustrated magazine and in The New York Times. It was also featured on the cover of Harness Horse magazine and Hoof Beats magazine. Things were off to a great start, but it wasn’t long before the park’s luck changed.
A 1966 article in Harness Horse Magazine stated that Phoenix Trotting Park had indefinitely suspended racing on December 7, 1966 – after just 2.5 seasons. There are a number of reasons why the Trotting Park was unsuccessful:
- Low Attendance – Although opening night drew over 12,000 people, the park’s attendance had dwindled to less than 3,000 by the end of 1966.
- Remote Location – Located far from downtown, the Trotting Park was not easily accessible as its construction predated Interstate 10 by twenty years.
- Cost Overruns – Construction of the park soared far beyond expectations, giving the owners little room to make a profit.
- Competition – Located in North Phoenix at 19th Ave and Bell Road, Turf Paradise (opened in 1956) had already been established for a decade and featured live horse racing in the traditional fashion, while the Trotting Park was focused on harness racing – a sport not familiar to most Americans.
After racing was suspended in 1966, the building’s equipment was removed by the Delaware North corporation for use at their other racetracks. Following the closure, the name was changed to Arizona Equestrian Center.
Trotting Park has been closed since 1966. According to a YouTube video, a motorcycle show was held at the park on March 26, 1988. The parking lot was used as an automotive swap meet called “AutoSwap USA” in 1991. It was featured prominently in the 1998 film “No Code of Conduct” starring Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen.
At some point, the land was sold to Grand Canyon University, who later sold it to Roles Inn of America company in the late 1990s. They built the Cotton Lane RV Resort on the backstretch of the track. Phase I opened in 2002 with 285 spaces, while Phase II added an additional 300 spaces. Roles Inn of America owns the land upon which the Trotting Park used to sit.
Back in 1964, the Trotting Park was located far outside the edge of town. Over the years, the city has grown up around the Trotting Park. As it stands today, the grandstand is highly visible from a four-lane Interstate highway and is in close proximity to the Perryville Prison as well as numerous homes, farms, and a major freeway interchange. Due to its highly visible location, the Trotting Park had unfortunately become a target for vandals, scrappers, and graffiti artists. The structure posed a number of hazards including asbestos, dust, pigeon droppings, as well as damaged interior walls.
In late September 2017 the Trotting Park has been demolished.
Important Information Before you visit Trotting Park
Know before you go. Before you come and spend time at Trotting Park there are tips and advice for exploring abandoned places. We want to ensure that you enjoy your time there.
Know the Dangers When visiting the ruins of Trotting Park, the most obvious hazard is falling through rotten floorboards — but there are often much more sinister invisible dangers.
Wear proper clothing and equipment
If you’re going to be exploring, wear clothes that you wouldn’t mind ruining. Choose your footwear carefully too. Besides a camera and any photography props you might need, you’ll also want to bring a flashlight.
Don’t steal souvenirs from Trotting Park
The artifacts left in Trotting Park once belonged to somebody, even if they haven’t been there for years. At best, you’re diluting the experience for other urban explorers; at worst, you’re stealing and desecrating a historic site.