DENVER ATHLETIC CLUB
Members of the Denver Athletic Club (DAC) proved very susceptible to the bicycle craze of the 1880’s and 1890’s. As early as 1885 they invited spokesmen from the Colorado Wheel Club to address the membership. Soon afterward the DAC formed its own ‘bicycle division’. In 1890, the club leased a 15 acre site from the Colorado Land Board and transformed it into Colorado’s leading outdoor sports complex. It was located on the South West corner of Detroit and 17th Ave.,across from City Park, land that would eventually be Denver’s East High School.
The bicycle division held races on their new quarter mile elliptical track at the DAC Park. This was probably the first Board Track in Colorado. It was not a “bowl” as other tracks constructed later would be, but an elliptical ring, with high sides, then dipping down, before banked turns. The leased land also had ball fields, a cricket field, bleachers, and a grandstand seating 4,000 housing dressing rooms and concessions stands.
May 1, 1894 TheDenver Daily News had an article, titled “SLICKER THAN SILK. THAT’S WHAT THE NEW CYCLING TRACK WILL BE. It states that the Denver Cyclists Union decides to go ahead with the Broadway Park improvements and make a three Lap Track that will be finer than anything in the country. They were waiting on permission to extend the course over a portion of South 14th street. The DAC did not sound happy about this possible competition and were very anxious to have the races on their grounds and the directors considerablyreduced the terms of their proposal to the city.
There is no mention that this would be a Board Track, but the language sure sounds like it. $2500 will be expended on the grand stands, seating capacity for 6000. $3000 on the track and “it will be the best third of a mile racing track in the country”. In 2018 dollars, the combined moneys to be spent on the track and grandstands would be $142,550. That’s a tremendous amount of money for a dirt track,50 feet wide on the home stretch, 45 feet wide on the back stretch, 35 feet on the turns.
The Rocky Mountain News,Dec 14, 1897 stated that, “Surveyors have just completed a careful survey of the old power house at Colfax and Broadway and made estimates of the cost of putting in a BoardBicycle Track there.” No record of this Board Track being completed, or even started has ever surfaced.
THE CHUTES PARK
The land that is bordered by Speer Blvd and 8th Ave, between Pennsylvania and Downing was purchased by a group of men including Robert W. Speer in 1889. Development started in 1891 with the northern portion designated for new houses, and the southern portion was to be an amusement park. This was the third amusement park to be built in Denver. Development of the land was halted in 1893 by the Silver Crash and ensuing depression. It was named “Chutes Park” in 1898, and was developed to include a railway, bicycle track, and even a waterfall to travel down in small boats. The official address of the “Chutes Park” was 4th Avenue and Corona Street.
In the late 1800’s there had been various mentions of a Board Track being built at Chutes Park, but not tillMarch 23, 1898, was it confirmed.The Denver Post wrote, “A Board Bicycle Track is being built, banked eight feet and one inch as the highest points on the turns and 18 inches on the straightaways.” The Rocky Mountain News added, “…The track is a quarter mile…each straight away is 123 feet 7 inches.The track will be painted a dark green …, that color being thought the best to relieve the eye. The work is of Mexican Pine, well-seasoned and the laying is being done with the greatest care. Inside the inner edge of the track will be about three feet of earth, leveled with the track, so that a too careful rider who goes inside the line may be able to regain the track.”
Professional racers from the East Coast, who tried the track before the grand opening, commented that “the track is one of the fastest in the country” and it should be a big draw for the local bicyclists. The League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.) estimated that there were 25,000 Wheelmen and Wheelwomen in the “Queen City”.
It appears that the DAC was possibly more interested in racing at the Chutes than at their own track. They notified the L. A. W. that The Denver Wheel Club does not desire to hold the twelve dates recently reserved for races during the coming summer. This will give the management of the new Chutes Park the benefit of Saturday afternoon racing during the (1898) season.
Sunday May 22, 1898 was the official GRAND OPENING of the Chutes park, with Exhibitions on the New Board Bicycle Track. The new track was to be one of the most carefully nurtured features of the resort. It was felt that in the past two years bicycle racing had declined in favor, in the Denver area. Many believe, it was due in part to the actions of the riders themselves, who ride around in a pack for ¾ of the race and then sprint the last leg. Management wanted racers that wanted to race and desired to go faster!
It didn’t take long for the cyclists around the country to figure out that if they had a rider or two in front of them, they could benefit from the slip-stream that the “pacer” bike would give them. Tandem Pacers were first and then riders figuredif two is good, then three would be great, Triplet Pacers.Naturally four has got to be even better, known as Quad Pacers. It was not unusual to have pacers of triplet’s, and even the classes were designated non-pacer, dual pacers, and triplet pacers. The Rocky Mt News ran an article in Dec 1897 pointing out that, “The middle distance paced racing will be the greatest attraction…At present there are two triplets, a quad and another under contract to be brought to Denver…”.Many times,bicycle suppliers and builders supplied these Pacers.
June 4, 1898 was designated as the official first race meet of the summer for The Chutes. The program comprised of quarter mile open professional and amateur races, one mile paced amateur and professional, two-mile handicap races for both classes of riders, and triplet and quad pursuit races, the latter two events being the “hot” portion of the card.
The first year of racing at the Chutes, was covered heavily by the press; constant advertising, detailed results, coverage of records being broken, and high praises from visiting professional bicyclists. But the crowds were not there. In 1898 the track showed a profit on only two races. For the end of 1898 riders said they would race for a percentage of the gate instead of a flat fee. Many of the bicyclists felt that the gate receipts would be higher if the sanctioning body, the L.A.W., would let tracks race on Sunday. The struggle between the local riders and the L.A.W. became so heated that the L.A.W. blacklisted the track and forbid any members from riding on the track. For most of 1899 the track was silent.
A small note in the July 7, 1900 Rocky Mountain News stated that G. A. Wahlgreen, a noted promoter of racing events will attend a bicycle meet in Milwaukee and will also meet with the L.A.W. to decide to bring back the pacing machines. He was trying to make arrangements to get control of the Board Track at the Chutes Park and wanted to re-introduce bicycle racing here once more.
The park was destroyedby fire in 1901 and re-opened 1902 as Arlington Park. On June 4, 1902, another fire raged through Arlington Park. It never re-opened and in 1903 the remains were torn down. In the 1920’s Alamo Placita Park, just North of Speer Blvd., was built on the former site, with flower beds occupying the filled-in lake.
The pursuing years the pacers moved from pedaled pacers to motor pacers, which were basically light motor-cycles with custom built frames, the rider would sit over the rear tire and cut the wind for the racer. There was usually a roller behind the rear tire and the racer would try and keep as close to the roller as he could without hitting it.
The magazine MOTOR FIELD covered the reopening of bicycle racing in the saucer track at the DAC park…September 17, 1905, the “motor paced races were exciting, keeping the spectators in a constant roar of approval. Tworiders had never before competed on a track slightly elliptical, they held their places well. Almost all other board tracks in the country are circular, which makes a great difference, as the riders may take one position and hold it all the way. The motor paced races were exciting, keeping the spectators in a constant roar of approval.The (other) events were tame.”
TUILERIES AMUSEMENT PARK
The last Denver area amusement park built before Lakeside was Tuileries Park, located at the end of South Broadway, between Floyd and Hampden, in Englewood. The park was patterned after Coney Island in Kansas City. It was built on the site of Orchard Park, a popular beer garden in the late 1890s.
The park was noted as the most beautiful natural park in the state. It included a lake, Skating Rink & Dance Hall, Japanese Tea Garden, Baseball Diamond, Dirt Track for bicycle and motorcycle racing, miniature railroad train, and many of the rides you’d associate with a play-ground.
It was just east of what would eventually become the Cinderella City Shopping Center in 1968. Tuileries opened onJuly 29, 1906 and covered 35 acres. From almost the beginning Tuileries had a very good dirt track, which was banked, and was used for both motorcycle and bicycle races.
The first purpose-built motorcycle Board Track was opened in March 1909 in Playa Del Ray, California. It was aone and a quarter mile long track.
April 26, 1911, Rocky Mountain News stated, “NEW TRACK AT TUILERIES. Third-Mile Saucer Board Course Will be Laid Out.” “Contracts were let yesterday for a modern third-mile saucer board motorcycle track at the Tuileries… The track will be built at an angle of 47 degrees and safe in every way. Construction will start next week.”
May 14, 1911, Denver Post, “TUILERIES TRACK TO BE OPENED NEXT SUNDAY. Just one week from today the followers of the motorcycle racing game will be subjected to a most gratifying surprise, …the board track, which is reported bymany to be the best this side of New York City. For three weeks 100 men have been engaged in constructing the one-third-mile course. It is a perfect circle, thus eliminating much of the danger attendant upon the use of elliptical tracks. It is almost unbelievable to hear that 160,000 square feet of lumber will be used to complete the course. Two-by-two boards are being used and when the first race is run the track will be as smooth as pavement. The track slants at a 47-degree angle, with a five-foot runway. Beneath the track at the north end is a subway which allows the entrance of automobiles to the center of the enclosure. It is believed that the largest crowd ever attending the park will be there next Sunday. The management has also made arrangements to have the track open today in order that the visitors at the park may see the progress of the new course.”
The park was open most days, however the motorcycles only raced on Sundays before and after the building of the Motordrome.
From the Denver Municipal Facts, July 6, 1912. “The $25,000 Motordrome is the big feature and one of the greatest drawing cards ever installed in a summer resort. This third of a mile board saucer track is second to none in the United States; its grandstand seats 5,000, while the bleachers will accommodate twice that number. On this track some of the world’s fastest ‘speed demons’ have appearedand established world’s records for various distances. Races are held every week, and huge crowds attest to the popularity of this thrilling sport.”
From the very beginning Tuileries drew some of the best names in Motorcycle racing, even on their dirt track. In the June 21, 1911 issue of the Denver Republican there was an article about two world’s records being set at Tuileries. The article states, that the setting of these two records, “has made Denver the center of the motorcycle racing world. Inquiries from riders all over the country are being received daily…and unless indications are misleading every noted motorcycle pilot in America will be in Denver within the next month.” 1911 and 1912 were the heydays for the Tuileries Board Track. Numerous records being set and re-set. Tuileries welcomed visiting professional riders from across the country, with some re-locatingto the Denver area. This gave them a Central location and an easy trip to East or West coast to compete at othersanctioned tracks.
Even though the press printed glowing stories about the races and the competition, all was not good. The park was just not up to the rides and excitement of Lakeside Amusement Park. Due to increasingly poor attendance the park closed in 1913. Possibly the last advertisement for the MOTORDROME racing was August 10, 1913. In 1915 classified ads were placed in the Denver Post: “TULLIERIES PARK for rent-3305 S. Broadway”. May 13, 1917, classified advertisement in the Rocky Mountain News: “AT TUILERIES PARK, ENGLEWOOD. We are dismantling the old bicycle (probably meant motorcycle) track and have 150,000 feet in 2x2s, 2x4s, 2x6s, 2x8s, 2x10s, 2x12s boards and 18-foot and 20 foot round poles with about 6-inch butt, and some corrugated iron.” May 27, 1917, classified ad in the Rocky Mountain News: “AT TUILERIES PARK, ENGLEWOOD. We have 50,000 ft. of 2x2 lengths from 6 ft. to 18 ft., and 50 loads of kindling wood. Salesman on grounds.”
“Lakeside Park, Denver’s newest and most up-to-date summer resort, will be formally opened to the public Decoration Day, Saturday, May 30 (1908), The construction of the White City in Berkely, which represents an actual expenditure of over, $300,000 has been in progress for the last eight months, but there still remains a great deal of work…with this monster playground.”
From early postcards and newspaper photographs it appears that theBoard Track was near 44th Ave and Chase. Some believe it was on the location of the Midget Race Car Track. Documents do not support this; it looks like the track was further north and closer to 44th Ave than the newer midget racing track.
May 20, 1911the track opens. The track was a ¼ mile Board Track, compared to Tuileries 1/3 mile track. This was the first motordrome of its kind in the West. This would be classified as a “short track” and therefore a dangerous track. The track was built at an angle of 47 degrees. It was said that riders must be doing at least 50 mph to stay on it. Adjoining it around the upper edge is a grandstand seating 4,000 persons. Races were planned for every Saturday night during the season, but by mid-June, management had decided to hold three programs weekly because of the great popularity. By June management had installed 16 arc lamps that surround the course plus 32 tungsten lamps.
Spectators loved the racing at both venues, Lakeside and Tuileries. The Denver Republican stated that “Denver probably possesses more motor enthusiasts than any city of its size in the country.” Followers of the sport could follow their favorite racers on ¼ mile and, or 1/3 mile board tracks. They could usually see motorcycle racing at least 4 days a week, Lakeside would run on Tues, Thursday and Saturday Evenings, Tuileries on Sunday afternoon. Racers could, and many did, compete at both tracks only 13 miles apart.
It was mid-June 1911, lifewas good, competition was fierce,seemed everybody was happy!Then George Renel, the French champion, who had recently won the championship of Colorado on the ¼ mile track, enters into anexclusive contract with Lakeside! A week later,Arthur Mitchell, known as a dare-devil from coast to coast has signed a contract with Tuileries. Locals Armstrong, Goode, and Albright also sign with Tuileries.
Theremust have been some question as to the length of the Lakeside Track. An engineer of the bureau of survey for the city of Denver took an accurate measurement of the Lakeside track at the “pole line”, eighteen inches above the joint of the running board and the track proper, as required by the sanctioning body. The engineer certified that the course is exactly 1,321 feet in length. His figures show it is just four feet over one mile every four laps. This makes all records reported absolutely beyond dispute, as the four feet takes care of any fractional seconds that might possibly be missed by the timers.
By July 12, 2011, management had made notice that races would only take place on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Two days later there was an advertisement, in the Denver Post, in the classifieds under the FINANCIAL section. “5,000 SHARES capital stock. Denver Motordrome Co., par value. $1 each. This company has just completed and has in operation ¼ mile motorcycle track at Lakeside. Make an offer for this stock, either cash or will trade for real estate or automobile.”
Saturday, August 5, 1911 “The largest crowd of the season witnessed a six-event card last night at the Lakeside motordrome. Fully 2,500 lovers of the motorcycle racing game enjoyed the evening’s programe…”, from the Denver Republican. Also noted the next day is that the sanctioning body, F.A.M. is determined to imposeregulations looking to clean up the sport at motorcycle meets, beginning with suspending participants racing at unsanctioned meets, and other infractions. It seems as though every time a sanctioning body begins to flex its muscles, bicycle or motorcycle, things start going bad!
The final race for the 1911 season was also its last race, Saturday Sept 2, 1911.
During December of 1911 the directors of the Lakeside Realty and Amusement company were making plans for the immense Colorado State Industrial Exposition to be held at Lakeside in the spring of 1912. The Expo was to open in May and continue for 100 days. It was expected to be the most extensive and revealing of the resources and industries of Colorado ever attempted. The exposition grounds are to cover the greater part of Lakeside Park. The board decided to construct 5,000 stalls for livestock around the motordrome.
There is little mention of the Lakeside Motordrome in the local newspapers during 1912. Twice in April it is noted that the infield would be used for baseball games. Once in June and again in August, the infield was used for Broncho Busting events. When F.A.M. came to Denver for their yearly meeting in 1913, nearly all the motorcyclists went out to Lakeside to be entertained by the local members of the F.A.M. This was possibly an event of visiting the amusements, humor and hospitality and not a speed contest.
Maybe management heard rumors or saw the writing on the wall.By 1913, Board Tracks under 1/3 mile lost sanctioning for Championship events.
And so ends the short existence of the Board Tracks in Colorado. It was typical throughout the United States though. The Motorcycle Board Tracks were dangerous and needed a lot of upkeep. Oil and rain being their biggest nemesis. Some were calling the Motordromes, Murderdromes. On Sep 8, 1912, racer Eddie Hasha, a Tuileries racer, from Texas and who had made his home in Denver, was competing at the New Jersey Motordrome along with a Denver boy, Johnny Albright. The two were involved in an accident, both being killed along with four young boy spectators, ten other people were also injured. That track was closed permanently shortly after the accident. By 1916 all short tracks, including those of 1/3 mile were blackballed by F.A.M.