The Polo Fields and the Hellyer Velodrome

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The Golden Gate Park Polo Fields

These photos are from a day of races at the Polo Fields in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1963 or thereabouts. The morning started off at Shinn's bike shop out near Ocean Beach where we met the Western Wanderers touring club. They took us on a liesurely tour of the Lake Merced area including a stop for a memorable breakfast at Joe's of Westlake (which survives intact today). And then on to the Polo Fields in the Park for a day of bicycle racing. The Polo is a multi-use recreational facility consisting of a large grass playing field ringed by a slightly banked bicycle track a little over a kilometer in length. There was no functioning velodrome in the Bay Area at this time, so, the Polo was used for both road and track races. (Jim Manning informed me that the track was on the narrow side and that the chainlink fence could act like a cheese grater.) This was my first attempt to photograph bike racing with my fixed-lens Rollieflex in what turned out to be a less than photogenic site. Unfortunately, no program survives from the day's mix of criterium and track events. I'm guessing that the host club was the San Francisco Wheelmen. Comments, corrections, and, especially, identifications are welcome at Great Valley Images

Steve Hammond writes-
"I may be mistaken, but I think all of those photos were taken in 1964 at the conclusion of a week long festive of French culture in San Francisco. The rides headed out were, IIRC, actually going to Half Moon Bay and back. The reason I mentioned the French Festival was most all of the races I remember at the Polo Grounds were held on either Tuesday and/or Thursday nights and were part of the Twilight Series we had. Pedali Alpini had a nice road course we use to ride on also. The only time I remember a major race day at the Polo Grounds was the French Festival - the tip off is the picture showing the spectators and the young women in costume. I do remember that day as I was involved in a spectacular crash involving Peter Rich and Bruce Schatmayer."

Dave Capron writes-
"I never remember a clear day there. It was always cold & windy. I would wrap up in a blanket between races. I was ridding the Nor Cal State Track Championships as a junior there (I think it was 1961) when the senior riders had a spectacular crash just short of the finish line. They flipped up on and over the cyclone fence. Jack Hartman, Pete Rich and several others where involved. Pete had scars for years (and probably still does). What a mess. Oscar Juner was the ABL Rep and race organizer. He had a Schwinn Bike shop in SF near the Polo Fields.
Also, in +/- 1959 or 1960 we had a "roller race" demonstrations at the Cow Palace Sports and Outdoors show. I'll have think to remember the name of the guy who set it all up, but he had a home built set of 2, wood rollers with 2 dials on a "clock face". The hands indicated who won the sprints. Those were some of the hardest races I ever rode to nowhere! (One more note:Larry Walpole was the man [owner of] behind the wood rollers.)"

Owen Mullholland writes- " The events at the S.F. Polo Field were part of the 1963 San Francisco French Day Festivities (run by a guy named Emile Lacampagne), all based on Bastille Day, July 14, as I recall. I know I have the year correct. There was a handicap road race that left the Polo Field (and not just for a lap in the park), went south down Skyline Blvd., over the peninsula hump and down to Half Moon Bay, and then back up the coast to San Francisco and the Polo Field. That took close to 3 hours, so meanwhile there were track races to entertain folks. The track around the Polo Field was originally designed for bike racing in the 19th c. and the pictures you have here are probably the last time the track was used for track racing."

A group gets off the line. I believe that's Owen Mullholland (San Francicsco Wheelmen) at 2nd from left, Bruce Svihus (Belmont B.C.) at 4th from left, and Dave Baruch (Berkeley Wheelmen) at far right. Steve Lubin writes- "The guy with the dark glasses is Don Howarth and behind him looks like Dave Brink."

A group of young looking juniors get intructions from the course marshall before lining up at the start line.

Approaching the finish line in a match sprint race. The day's program included these along with mass start events. Steve Lubin writes- "I think this may be Dave Staub and Pete Rich."

A rider turns back onto the course after coming through the pedestrian tunnel in a criterium style mass start event.

Riders leave the track for a loop through the park.

A.B.L.of A. district rep, Wally Gimber, explains the rules. The lady on the left is Kathleen Gimber. The fellow wearing glasses just behind the Belmont B.C. rider is Vic Black from Pedali Alpini. That looks like Barney Pugh (Belmont B.C) just to the right of Vic. That's Mike Piper (Pedali Alpini) second from right. Steve Lubin writes- "Is that Chris Ziegler next to Kathleen?"

The Hellyer Park Velodrome

The Hellyer Park Velodrome was opened in 1963 by Santa Clara County for their park on Hellyer Road. San Jose had been a good town for track racing going back to the 1890's so Hellyer became the 5th or 6th velodrome to be built in the "Garden City". It was preceded by the Burbank (aka Garden City) Velodrome in the 30's and Murphy Sabatino's Tully Road velodrome in the 50's. The group promoting construction of the track was spearheaded by county enigineer and cyclist, Ed Steffani, and former 6-day racer, Joe Colla. I took these photos at the Northern California District Track Championships there in around 1964. Comments, corrections, and, especially, identifications are welcome at Great Valley Images

Riders at the line for the start of a mass-start event. As the markings indicate, Hellyer is 1/3 kilometer per lap. It is banked at 25 degrees. Steve Lubin writes- "There is Don Howarth with the glasses again and Bruce Schatmeier is above him." Bruce Schatmeier writes- "Walter Gimber 2nd from the top and Bob Solomon at the bottom."

Riders on the turn during a warmup lap.
John Gallagher writes- "Bob Solomon and Walter Gimber at the new track??"

Into the south turn at speed.

In the infield. Bruce Schatmeier (Los Gatos B.C.) is on the left, Jim McCann (Pedali Alpini) on the right, and behind working on the tire is Steve Lubin (Pedali Alpini). In the distance, it looks like Steve Hammond and a Baruch brother (Berkeley Wheelmen).

The view from the top of the turn as you start to shoot down to make a change. Steve Lubin writes- "Don Howarth again on the bottom Mike Steffani #8 (?) Dave Capron #15 (?)." Dave Capron writes- "I think Steve Lubin is correct on the names and numbers. I believe this was the 1964 NorCal Track Championships, Senior division. I (in the white helmet) was on a yellow Schwinn Paramount track bike. It was the prize for winning the "All California" State Championship (Jr Div) in (I think) 1962. That was held on the, then new, Encino Velodrome."

Yet another south turn shot. While not built to full UCI specifications, Hellyer continues to provide rider development opportunities for Northern California .

The Olympic gym bag belongs to Jack Disney, three time Olympian sprinter. Disney was here at Hellyer to coach his daughter, Jackie, and local rider, Genevieve Fire (Pedali Alpini). photo- Genevieve Fire

Genevieve Fire (Pedali Alpini) on the track at Hellyer in about 1975. photo- courtesy of Genevieve Fire