Born in West LA — LABAC member traces the beginnings of BMX to a Westside park

The Palms neighborhood has a long bike history dating back to the 1890s; click and zoom in to read. Thanks to Jonathan Weiss for the image.

The Palms neighborhood has a long bike history dating back to the 1890s; click and zoom in to read. Thanks to Jonathan Weiss for the image.

Let’s give notoriously auto-centric Los Angeles the credit it deserves.

Santa Monica’s Z-Boys have long been credited as the fathers modern skateboarding, and the city’s self-proclaimed Dogtown neighborhood its birthplace.

But who knew BMX — aka Bicycle Motocross — racing was born right here in the City of Angels? And that a city employee gets credit for turning a kid’s pastime into one of the most exciting events in the X Games and Summer Olympics.

At least, that’s what a new history from Jonathan Weiss, chair of the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee’s Advocacy & Education subcommittee asserts.

The official history of BMX racing dates the beginning of the sport to the late 1960s or early ‘70s when kids took to their Schwinn Stingrays on a vacant lot somewhere in Southern California. But according to Weiss, the first organized race took place right here in 1969 at the Westside’s Palms Park before evolving to a full-fledged racing season a few years later.

By 1973, BMX racing was thriving. Los Angeles Recreation and Parks youth counselor Ronald (Ron) Mackler, who had planted the seeds for its success with the initial race in ’69, organized a full 10-week Thursday-night racing season. Mackler, who passed away in 2010, is remembered as someone whose “main thing was getting kids on the right track.” Palms Park was the “right track” for pioneering BMX champion Perry Kramer, who had been racing around the park’s sandbox and trees and up a hill on his own modified Stingray. Perry became one of BMX racing’s earliest stars. His namesake PK Ripper bike is still in production, and Perry’s now a Giant Bicycle sales representative and mountain biker.

Meanwhile, racing continued on what Perry described as the ‘prehistoric’ Palms Park track through the ‘70s and into the 1980s.

When Weiss found a nugget about BMX racing and Palms Park, he contacted Kramer to get a first-hand history from one of the sports founders, and started a Palms Park BMXers Facebook Page, which now connects BMX fans from around the world.

Some of what he put together on BMX racing’s birth can be found the History section of the ExpoGreeway.org website. He started that website to support the new water-cleaning, sustainability-demonstrating, open-space preserving Westwood Neighborhood Greenway about a quarter mile west of Palms Park and adjacent to Expo’s Westwood/Rancho Park station, expected to open in 2015/16.

And of course, there’s a Facebook page for the Greenway, too.

According to Weiss, Palms is already one of the most bike and pedestrian friendly neighborhoods in the City, and he sees it being even more so when the Expo bike path opens.

Once it does, he plans to bring BMX royalty and fans together to mark the birthplace of BMX where the bike path connects to Palms Park. And hopes publicity from the BMX connection will encourage school kids to take the new bike path to Hamilton High, Palms Elementary and Overland Avenue Elementary schools.

In addition, Weiss wants to help Angelenos appreciate their city’s history – something that can be missed by those speeding past Palms Park at the northeast corner of the Santa Monica Freeway at Overland Avenue.

Then again, that’s not the area’s only page in LA bike history.

Weiss also notes that “The Palms,” which was subdivided in unincorporated Los Angeles County in 1886 and annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1915, played an important part in late-Nineteenth Century bike racing.

Palms was the midpoint of the Los Angeles to Santa Monica bicycle races, and its depot — now relocated to Heritage Square — provided convenient access to those who wanted to watch early racers barreling down Palms Hill.

That, too, can and should be marked on the Expo Bike path, though there are currently no plans in place.

Thanks to Jonathan Weiss for sharing his research with us, and his help in putting this together.

Look for the red arrow marking reference to Palms; image courtesy of Jonathan Weiss.

Look for the red arrow marking reference to Palms; image courtesy of Jonathan Weiss.

Ditto.

Ditto.

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9 comments

  1. Interesting, SoCal is also the home of Go Karting and minibikes, one invented by a welder in a race car building shop that made about half the field for the Indy 500 during the ’50s, and the other in the plant he built in Asuza(sp?) in the early ’60s to mass produce go karts.

  2. Tomato 72 says:

    Thanks for sharing the Herald article about the race. People often forget the rich history of cycling and racing in SoCal.

  3. Sodbuster BMX says:

    Little known history but not unknown history. There has been a thriving sub-culture and on line communities dedicated too and all about “Old School BMX” for over twenty years now. To the truly core enthusiasts among us the historical significance of Palms Park to the sport of BMX is very well and widely known. Palms was the first and needs to be more widely recognized for it. This is the kind of stuff I like to see thanks for writing it.

    Ride On.
    Sod.

  4. Sodbuster BMX says:

    By the way, the first recorded BMX race at Palms Park was held on June 10 1969. Thanks Ron Mackler. R.I.P.

  5. bikinginla says:

    I think the significance here is that while the BMX community may have been aware of the significance of Palms Park, the larger bicycling community — and LA as a whole — have no idea. Lord knows I didn’t.

    But let’s give credit where it’s due. Jonathan Weiss is the one who did all the research and wrote up the initial history.

  6. Sodbuster BMX says:

    “Once it does, he plans to bring BMX royalty and fans together to mark the birthplace of BMX where the bike path connects to Palms Park.”

    When this event happens you can count on me to be there with a batch of my 70′s vintage BMX bikes for folks to see and talk about. Some of us on the collector side of the hobby have been wanting to do an event at Palms for a few years now but have not been able to logistically put something together. Should be fun!

    • Joe D says:

      And I’ll be there with my 80′s BMX collection to support the event!
      I think it would be awesome if we can start a petition to build a city-owned BMX track in the park, so kids will have a great activity to focus on instead of joining gangs, doing drugs, etc. It will be the ultimate tribute to the BMX history at Palms Park!

  7. Tim Dodd says:

    I competed in a BMX event the summer of 1968 at the Buena Park Boys Club, I was 10. They couldn’t get interst in a baseball league, so they held a race around the baseball dimond and out in the out field. They put some small berms up and some mounds to add interest. Yes I rode a Schwin Sting Ray!

    I hope my year is correct.

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