Golden Gate Park's Hellman Hollow (Speedway Meadows)

In doing some research for Chapter 2 of ‘San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park West’ book, I came across an article on SF City Guides detailing some of the history of Speedway Meadows, now renamed Hellman Hollow. This article on Atlas Obscura also filled in some details and offered a few more pictures.

In this chapter, we start at the west end of Old Speedway Meadows, cross the Polo Fields, crossing over to Lloyd Lake to visit the Portals of the Past, taking a quick detour to Rainbow Falls, and walk along Hellman Hollow back to where we started. A 3.5 mile walk with a modest elevation gain.

Back when the Golden Gate Park was first being built, a group of wealthy businessmen lobbied for a speed track to be built in the park in order to allow them to race their horses. At the time, there was an enforced speed limit of 10 mph for all traffic. None of the Park Commissioners wanted this, but allowed the group to raise $35,000 in order to construct the speed track.

The road started construction in 1888, but within a year the funds were all used up. Rains the following year left the road in terrible condition. Park Commissioners tried to get the group to repair and complete the track, but eventually assumed responsibility for the road in 1889.

Finally in 1894, the road was completed, at one and a quarter miles in length and 100 feet wide, graded and paved with clay, and a divider down the middle.

Unfortunately the road became a big problem for the park. The wealthy people who put up the original money for construction and upkeep considered it theirs, but wouldn’t take responsibility for maintenance. It was also difficult to patrol, and with the advent of the bicycle as a popular mode of transportation, many fights broke out over who had the right to use it.

By 1900, the track had become too run down needing a major overhaul. Around that time, another group petitioned the Park Commission to build an athletic field, which is what we now refer to as the Polo Field, constructed right in the middle of the speed road.

Speedway Meadows extending northeast and southwest from the Polo Fields was transformed into a grassy meadow following the 1906 earthquake, after it was used for housing victims from the fire for 6 months — Camp Speedway.