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