Historic Polo Fields & Cycling Track, Golden Gate Park
User Uploaded Audio
Backstory and Context
User Uploaded Audio
Since 1904, the Polo Fields and surrounding cycling track in Golden Gate Park have served as the site of horse races, bicycle races, footraces, parades, and polo matches, in addition to other significant historical and cultural events during the 20th century. The Polo Fields were created in the middle of an existing mile-long speedway known as the old Speed Road, the site of horse-racing and betting since 1894. After the Great Earthquake shook San Francisco in 1906, hundreds of refugees set up temporary encampments at the Polo Fields. During this time, the original speedway fell into disuse.
However, because of the immense popularity of bicycling during the early twentieth century, a bicycle track was built around the fields in 1906 to accommodate recreational cycling as well as bicycle races. During this era, bicycles had only one gear and no brakes, making them considerably more challenging to ride than they are today. This sporting area was known as the Velodrome at Golden Gate Park Stadium, as it was mainly a venue for cycling enthusiasts. A hillside adjacent to the track was re-designed to provide stadium-seating for spectators, with bleachers made from California redwood trees. Inspired by the colosseum in Rome, it was hoped that the site would come to garner the same world-class renown.
For a time, San Francisco was indeed known as an epicenter for recreational and professional cycling, which remained the main sporting event at the venue for several decades. When the bicycle eventually declined in popularity, mainly because of the rise of the automobile, the Velodrome continued to be used as a cycling track, but the Polo Fields instead became the main attraction. New stables for the polo horses and ponies were constructed as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the 1930s. In the mid-twentieth century, polo matches were well-attended and remained popular throughout the 1960s. Thereafter, rugby began to gain ground, replacing polo as the favorite sport to watch at the Polo Fields during the 1970s.
Breaking radically with tradition, in January 1967 the Polo Fields became the site of the "Human Be-In", also known as the "Gathering of the Tribes". This historic event preceded the famous "Summer of Love" which also occurred in San Francisco later the same year. Attended by over 20,000 "hippies," the Human Be-In epitomized the countercultural youth movement of the 1960s. The "Be-In" borrowed its name from the "Sit-Ins" that had become an important aspect of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Musicians such as Santana and the Steve Miller Band, poets such as Alan Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other leaders of the countercultural movement such as Timothy Leary, who advocated the use of mind-altering psychedelics, spoke to the crowds of young people dissatisfied with authority and intent on protesting the Vietnam War. The Hells Angels provided on-site "security", while the well-attended event was covered heavily in the media. A success in consciousness-raising, the 1967 Human Be-In also paved the way for other rock concerts, including the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, held in Monterey, California, in June of the same year, as well as the Woodstock Music Festival held in New York in 1969.
Today, the historic Polo Fields and the surrounding cycling track and stadium are maintained for public recreation, sporting events, and other special public gatherings, such as the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival. Although polo is not often played anymore, there are now six regulation soccer fields surrounded by the .67 mile cycling track. In 2017, when the bleachers around the cycling track needed to replaced, the superintendent of Golden Gate Park and the project engineers ensured that the original redwood bleachers would not end up in a landfill. Instead, the salvaged wood was offered online for sale, where it quickly sold out. The Polo Fields' 1906 bleachers are now enjoying a second life, thanks to the reuse of this historic wood in various projects around the country.
"1906 Old-Growth Redwood Bleachers from the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park", HS. Accessed January 26th 2020. https://heritagesalvage.com/2017/05/new-arrivals-2%C2%BD-x-5%C2%BD-1906-old-growth-redwood-bleachers-polo-fields-golden-gate-park/.
Freeman, John. "Westerly Winds: Early Aviation in the Outside Lands", Outside Lands. May 1st 2015. Accessed January 26th 2020. http://www.outsidelands.org/fowler-aviation.php.
"Historic Polo Fields: Golden Gate Park", MASH. December 1st 2012. Accessed January 26th 2020. https://www.mashsf.com/uncategorized/historic-polo-fields-golden-gate-park.
"Human Be-In", OutsideLands. Accessed January 26th 2020. http://www.outsidelands.org/be-in.php.
Levi, Ryan. "Does Anyone Play Polo at the Golden Gate Park Polo Field Anymore?", KQED. April 26th 2018. Accessed January 26th 2020. https://www.kqed.org/news/11659844/does-anyone-play-polo-at-the-golden-gate-park-polo-field-anymore.
McFarlane, Angus. "Speed Road and Polo Fields: Son and Grandson of the Half Mile Track", Outside Lands. Accessed January 26th 2020. http://www.outsidelands.org/speed-road.php.
"Polo Fields - Great for Quick Runs & Jogs", Golden Gate Park. Accessed January 26th 2020. https://goldengatepark.com/polo-field.html.
"Site of the Golden Gate Speed Road", Atlas Obscura. Accessed January 26th 2020. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/site-of-golden-gate-speed-road-speedway-meadows.
Woods, Arnold. "The Polo Fields and the Birth of the Rock Festival," May 1st 2015. Accessed January 26th 2020. Outside Lands. http://www.outsidelands.org/be-in.php
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp14.3370
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp14.3374
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp14.3371
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp14.10981
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp33.01020
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp36.00107
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp27.2787
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp27.2396
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp14.1018
OutsideLands.org, Western Neighborhoods Project - wnp59.00112
Golden Gate Park