Long before I had a driver’s license, I was a fan of English race car driver Stirling Moss who won 212 of 529 races. During his 14-year career (1948 to 1962), he drove a Lotus, Maserati, Jaguar, Ferrari and Porsche. (But never a Buick.) Knighted in 2000, Sir Stirling is 82 and living in London with his third wife, Susie, who’s 57.
Moss recently came to mind one night last week as I was maneuvering up Ocean Park Boulevard on my way to Albertsons. If you haven’t traversed Ocean Park Boulevard between Main Street and Lincoln Boulevard lately, you might want to continue to avoid it until Dec. 31, the projected completion date of the $5 million, year-long “Ocean Park Boulevard Green Street Project.”
If I seem a tad testy about “construction” it’s possibly because since February at my apartment building we’ve been subjected to jack-hammering and possible asbestos dust as a result of extensive exterior cement work. Even though I’ve asked numerous times, I have absolutely no idea when it will be completed.
Living in a construction zone and driving through one is not the most serene set of circumstances. For example, from April 16 to July 16, outside my window and blocking my view, were three ugly cables hung from the roof connected to scaffolding. (Ugh.)
And yet during those 90 days not a lick of work was done. (Unless you count blocking my view.) After a month I contacted management again and was politely told “not to worry.”
Then, one morning shortly thereafter, I casually opened the vertical blinds and was startled to see three men in eerie-looking HazMat suits on a scaffold right outside my window just staring at me. Actually, they may have been more startled as I was shirtless and in baggy boxer shorts.
After a minute “stare down” the scaffolding suddenly descended out of view. I went back to bed, hoping it was all a bad dream. (It wasn’t.)
And yet, curiously, I never see the workers anymore. Then again, I never see the workers on Ocean Park Boulevard, either. Recently I counted a grand total of two workers between Main and Lincoln. It’s as though these companies bid on the jobs, start the work and then disappear into space. (Or, possibly elves do the work at night?)
I called City Hall about the progress of the project and was told the city engineer in charge was on vacation. (Maybe he took the workers with him on a cruise?) Actually, Mark Cuneo, principal civil engineer, courteously answered all my questions. (Essentially saying the project is on time and on budget.)
In my opening I joked about road racing, but it turns out they were actually a significant part of Santa Monica’s history. From 1909 to 1919, as many as 100,000 spectators from all over the country would gather along the race route, which started at Ocean and Montana avenues and headed south to Wilshire Boulevard. There they made a sharp left turn at the intersection the newspapers dubbed “Dead Man’s Curve” to stimulate fan interest.
Actually, no one died there but a noteworthy injury did occur in 1910. At 70 mph, George Clark’s race car smacked dead center into a palm tree sending an unsuspecting spectator, perched high up in the tree to get a better view, falling head first 20 feet to the ground, lucky to only break his arm. (He was rushed to the hospital in a horse-drawn ambulance!)
The race would whip down Wilshire to San Vicente and then back, a total of 8.4 miles and do that 20 times or approximately 200 miles. But fate finally caught up to Santa Monica when Lewis Jackson, at 100 mph, failed to negotiate the “S” curve along San Vicente. He knocked down two huge trees, instantly killing himself as well as a very unlucky lemonade vendor, Lulu Juratch. Two others later died at a hospital.
Famed drivers of the era, like Barney Oldfield, participated in these races, exemplifying “the days of chain drive, wooden spokes, and hair-for-helmets,” wrote Harold Osmer and Phil Harms, authors of “Real Road Racing: The Santa Monica Road Races.” Others included Terrible Teddy Tetzlaff and Eddie Rickenbacker. (Who would become the most decorated American flying ace in WWI.)
Another unusual facet of the races were the pit stops. They were accomplished by getting the biggest guy one could find to heft a wedge of lumber to lift the car up in the air while the “crew” changed the tires. (Not exactly high tech.)
Interestingly enough, historians credit the enormous popularity of the road races in keeping Santa Monica from being annexed by behemoth Los Angeles. If not, the city of L.A. might be in charge of the Ocean Park Boulevard street construction. If you think progress is slow now, just imagine that.
If he isn’t too busy avoiding Ocean Park Boulevard or men in HazMat suits on scaffolding outside his window, Jack can be reached at email@example.com.