Gilmore Field

 

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Gilmore Field is a former minor league baseball park that served as home to the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League from 1939-1957 when they, along with their intra-city rivals, the Los Angeles Angels, were displaced by the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.

Gilmore Field opened on May 2, 1939 and was the home of the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League until September 5, 1957. The stadium had a seating capacity of 12,987 people.

The ballpark was located on the south side of Beverly Boulevard between Genesee Avenue and The Grove Drive, just east of where CBS Television City is currently located. A couple hundred yards to the west was Gilmore Stadium, an oval-shaped venue built several years earlier, which was used for football games and midget auto racing. To the east was the famous Pan-Pacific Auditorium. Both facilities were built by Earl Gilmore, son of Arthur F. Gilmore and president of A. F. Gilmore Oil, a California-based petroleum company that was developed after Arthur struck oil on the family property. The area was rich in petroleum, which was the source of the “tar” in the nearby La Brea Tar Pits.

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The field had intimate quarters from the spectator standpoint—first and third bases were 24 feet from the first row of seats. Home plate was 34 feet from the stands. The outfield gave the pitchers more of a break with foul lines 335 feet long, power alleys about 385, and 407 to center field. The power alleys were thus 40 feet deeper than in the cross-town counterpart, Wrigley Field.

In 1938 Herbert Fleishaker, owner of the Mission Reds moved his team to Los Angeles, and took the name of the Hollywood Stars after the city’s previous PCL franchise. After but one season, the team was sold to new owners, among them Bob Cobb of Brown Derby Restaurant fame and the inventor of the California Cobb Salad. In their salad days, as it were, the Stars attracted glamorous actors and other celebrities or anyone else who wanted to be “seen,” much as Dodger Stadium would later. One of the L.A. Angels players, Chuck Connors, made a successful move from one side of the box seat railing to the other, becoming the star in “The Rifleman,” a popular 1950’s TV show. The Stars would play at Gilmore Field until 1957.

Chuck Connors went on to star in the popular TV series, The Rifleman
Chuck Connors went on to star in the popular TV series, The Rifleman

In 1948, Gilmore Field became the spring training location for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Although L.A.’s Wrigley Field seemed to get the lions’ share of Hollywood screen time, Gilmore Field also had its moments on celluloid. It was featured in a 1949 movie called The Stratton Story, starring James Stewart and June Allyson, the true story of a promising pitcher (Monty Stratton) whose career was curtailed due to a hunting accident that left him with an artificial leg. Stratton’s major league baseball career was over, but he made a comeback at the minor league level. The scenes at the end of the movie were set elsewhere, but were filmed at Gilmore Field. The layout of the outfield, and especially the exceptionally high left and right field corners, help to identify it.

The ballpark site was abandoned after 1957. Gilmore Field was razed in 1958, and much of the site is now occupied by a parking lot at CBS Television City, near the Farmers Market. In September 1997, the Pacific Coast League Historical Society, CBS, and the A.F. Gilmore Company dedicated a bronze plaque in commemoration of Gilmore Field on a wall outside CBS Studio 46.

Gilmore Stadium was used for American football games at both the professional and collegiate level. The stadium was the home of the Los Angeles Bulldogs, the first professional football team in Los Angeles. The Bulldogs competed as an independent team before joining the second American Football League in 1937 and winning its championship with a perfect 8-0-0 record, the first professional football team to win its championship with an unblemished record. After the collapse of the league, the Bulldogs returned to being an independent team before joining the American Professional Football Association in 1939. The Bulldogs then became charter members of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League in 1940 and played in Gilmore Stadium until 1948, when the team moved to Long Beach, California, for its (and the league’s) final season. Gilmore Stadium was also the site of two 1940 National Football League (NFL) Pro Bowls.

On January 14, 1940, the 1939 NFL champion Green Bay Packers met an All-Star team consisting of players from the nine other NFL clubs in the second NFL All-Star game in history. The Packers won 16 to 7.

Extra seating was added to accommodate 21,000 fans for the Pro Bowl for the 1940 NFL season. The crowd set a record as the largest to view a Los Angeles pro game. The event was held on December 29, 1940. The game pitted the 1940 NFL Champion Chicago Bears against an All-Star team from the other NFL clubs in the third NFL All-Star game. The Bears won 28 to 14.

Midget car racing was invented at the track. The track hosted midget car racing from the track’s debut in May 1934 to 1950. The 1939 Turkey Night Grand Prix was held at the track.

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Rodger Ward drove Vic Edelbrock’s midget car in a famous August 10, 1950 event at Gilmore Stadium. Ward shocked the racing world by breaking Offenhauser engine’s winning streak by sweeping the events at Gilmore Stadium that night.

Notable drivers that raced at the track include Danny Bakes, Bill Betteridge, Fred Friday, Walt Faulkner, Perry Grimm, Sam Hanks, Curly Mills, Danny Oakes, Roy Russing, Bob Swanson, Bill Vukovich, Rodger Ward, and Karl Young. Drivers that were killed at the track include Ed Haddad, Swede Lindskog, Speedy Lockwood, Frankie Lyons, and Chet Mortemore.

In the sixteen years of the stadium’s existence, over 5 million fans attended races at the track. The stadium drew crowds over 18,000 people each race. Attendance dropped to below 9,000 at normal weekly races by the late 1940s. The attendance drop and increased demand for property in West Hollywood led to the track’s sale in 1950. It was torn down in 1951. Some of its grandstand was installed at Saugus Speedway.

It also hosted donkey baseball, dog shows, rodeos, and at least one cricket match. Esther Williams performed in a diving and water ballet performance. A temporary above ground pool was constructed for the event. Several professional boxing title matches where held in the stadium. U.S. President Harry S. Truman delivered his “stiff upper lip” speech in the stadium.

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Harry Truman speaks at Gilmore Stadium — Hollywood notables including Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart… and Ronald Reagan were in attandenace.

Gilmore Stadium was featured in a 1934 Three Stooges short featuring a football game, and fittingly titled Three Little Pigskins. The scoreboard, with the name of the stadium, appears prominently in several shots, as does a billboard advertising Gilmore products. A sign for the nearby Fairfax Theater, across Beverly Boulevard at the north (open) end of the stadium, is also visible in the background a couple of times.

On May 19, 1947 Gilmore Stadium was packed with people waiting to hear a speech by Progressive Party candidate for President Henry A. Wallace. Wallace served as vice president under FDR and was also the Secretary of Agriculture (his specialty) and Secretary of Commerce. Also speaking at the event was actress Katharine Hepburn, whose speech stole the show.

The Hollywood Stars were a minor league baseball team that played in the Pacific Coast League during the early and mid 20th century. They were arch rivals of the other Los Angeles based PCL team, the Los Angeles Angels.

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The first version of the Hollywood Stars began its existence in 1903 as the Sacramento Solons, a charter member of the PCL. The team moved to Tacoma in 1904, where it won the pennant as the Tacoma Tigers. During the 1905 season, the team returned to Sacramento to finish out the season, moved to Fresno in 1906 to finish last as the Fresno Raisin Eaters, then left the PCL altogether. The Sacramento Solons rejoined the PCL in 1909, and then moved to San Francisco during the 1914 season, finishing out the season as the San Francisco Missions. The team was sold to Utah businessman Bill “Hardpan” Lane and moved to Salt Lake City for the 1915 season. They played as the Salt Lake Bees for the next eleven seasons until Lane moved the team to Los Angeles for the 1926 season. Originally they were known as the Hollywood Bees, but soon changed their name to the Hollywood Stars.

The original Stars, though supposedly representing Hollywood, actually played their home games as tenants of the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field in South Los Angeles. Though the Stars won pennants in 1929 and 1930, they never developed much of a fan base, playing their home games miles from the glamorous Hollywood district. They were merely a team to watch when the Angels were on the road. Attendance had been quite good (by standards of that era) during their inaugural year in 1926, but tapered off after that, exacerbated by the Great Depression.

When, after the 1935 season, the Angels doubled the Stars’ rent, Lane announced the Stars would move to San Diego for the 1936 season, to become the San Diego Padres. Los Angeles became a one-team city once more for the 1936 and 1937 seasons.

The second version of the Hollywood Stars joined the PCL in 1909 as the Vernon Tigers. As the Tigers, the team won two PCL pennants (and finished first in another only to lose the postseason series) before moving to San Francisco for the 1926 season. The transplanted Tigers, now known as the Mission Reds or usually just “the Missions,” foundered in San Francisco, failing to establish a rivalry with the existing San Francisco Seals.

In 1938 Missions’ owner Herbert Fleishaker moved his team back to Los Angeles, and took the name of the departed Stars. After but one season, the team was sold to new owners, among them Robert H. “Bob” Cobb, one of the owners of the Brown Derby restaurant and for whom the Cobb salad is named. The new ownership realized the team needed to represent Hollywood in order to succeed. They sold stock in the team to movie stars, movie moguls, and Hollywood civic leaders (“the Hollywood Stars owned by the Hollywood stars”). (One of these, Gene Autry, subsequently became owner of his own major league franchise, now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.) Another major investor was William Frawley from TV’s I Love Lucy. Moreover, the team actually played in the Hollywood area, beginning in 1939 when 13,000-seat Gilmore Field was opened in the Fairfax District adjacent to Hollywood. (The club played part of the 1939 season in nearby Gilmore Stadium, after having played at Wrigley Field during 1938.)

The new Stars (or “Twinks”) caught on and became a very popular team, winning three pennants before 1958. They had successful affiliations with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball. In 1955, actress Jayne Mansfield was named Miss Hollywood Star. The Stars became genuine rivals of the Angels, and it was not uncommon for fights between the teams to break out during Angels-Stars games. In fact, on August 2, 1953, a brawl between the two teams lasted 30 minutes, broken up only when 50 riot police were sent to Gilmore Field by Chief of Police William Parker, who was at home watching the game on television when the fight started.

The Twinks were innovators. They began the custom of dragging the infield during the fifth inning, creating an artificial break in the action hoping fans would run to the concessions stands. The team began televising home games in 1939, and in later years televised every home game.

The Stars also had the dubious distinction of being the first team to replace the traditional bloused baseball trousers and stirrup socks with shorts and long socks in 1950. The theory was that players could run faster in this gear than in the baggy wool or cotton flannel uniforms of the day. The new uniforms resembling those worn by female softball players were “too Hollywood” even for Hollywood, as well as being very tough on the legs when sliding. They were soon replaced.

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The Stars were immortalized on the 1957 jazz album Double Play! by Andre Previn and Russ Freeman. The baseball-themed album, with song titles like Called On Account Of Rain, Batter Up and In The Cellar Blues features a model on the cover wearing a Stars cap, in a rather suggestive pose by 1950s standards.

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The Columbia Broadcasting System, owner of Gilmore Field, announced plans to raze the facility to build a new headquarters—CBS Television City, as it became known—in 1952. Before Stars’ owners could make contingency plans, however, the “other shoe dropped.” In October 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers confirmed their long-rumored move to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, which forced the Stars and the Angels to relocate. The Angels, who had been purchased by Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley prior to the 1957 season, became the Spokane Indians in 1958.

Having no interest in operating the Twinks anywhere but in Los Angeles, the ownership group led by Frank J. Kanne, Jr. was compelled to sell the team, which it did, to a group based in Salt Lake City. The Stars, in a sense, “returned” to Salt Lake City (whence the original Stars had moved in 1926) in 1958, becoming the Salt Lake Bees once more.

 

 

About jesswaid

Currently, I write police procedural novels with the stories taking place in Hollywood during the early 1960s; a period when I was a street cop there. I've moved to Mexico to be closer to my hobby of studying Mexican history. My friend and fellow author, Professor Michael Hogan, is my mentor. I am planning to write a three-part epic story that takes place in the mid-nineteenth century. What has inspired me was hearing about Los Ninos Heroes, martyrs of the Battle of Chapultepec. Also, my father was born in Concordia, Mexico and knowing his family history is an added incentive.

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