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The Last Days of Hollywood Park, an Interview With Photographer Michele Asselin

Michele Asselin, Chantal, 2013-2016.

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]n December 22, 2013,  Hollywood Park Race Track closed its doors forever. The next year, demolition began and 75 years of history was turned to rubble, from which a new neighborhood will rise.

In the last two weeks before it closed, celebrated native Angeleno photographer Michele Asselin spent every day at Hollywood Park, taking over 25,000 photos of the site, its patrons, and its labor force which ranged from bright-suited ushers to jockeys to back-of-house kitchen staff. The result is Clubhouse Turn: The Twilight of Hollywood Park Race Track, her newly released book published by Angel City Press.

L.A. Taco had the chance to interview Michele in advance of the book's release to discuss tacos, changing Los Angeles, and her 7-year process to produce an extraordinary book. 

What's your favorite taco?

Gish Bac is right by my studio and super tasty.

What attracted you to Hollywood Park?

I learned about it in my studio less than a mile away. I was intrigued by the enormity of it and the finality of its ending. Every corner seemed to tell a story and I was compelled to preserve what I could.

Michele Asselin, Gary and June, 2013
Michele Asselin, Gary and June, 2013

You grew up in Los Angeles, which part? What parts of Los Angeles do you like the most?
I grew up on a tiny little cul de sac off of Barrington in West L.A. The back of our cul de sac bordered the VA hospital. But my favorite part of Los Angeles would be the canyons. I love the dry, wild vegetation, the windy roads, and the tucked-in feeling.

a pink bench
Michele Asselin, Pink Bench, Super Mezzanine, 2013
Michele Asselin, Pink Bench, Super Mezzanine, 2013

You took 25,000 photos of the park and its community. What ended up being the criteria for inclusion in the book?

I chose the images that I was interested in looking at. After going over the work, again and again, images that initially I liked might fall away and others would emerge as the most important. My initial feeling for the images is very important, and, of those, only some survive the test of time. I hope that the imagery tells a story of a Los Angeles that is changing, captures the imagination, can be seen simultaneously as document and abstraction, form and content, personal and social.

a jockey
Michele Asselin, Drayden, 2013-2016.
Michele Asselin, Drayden, 2013-2016.

What do you think Los Angeles has lost now that Hollywood Park has closed?

I think Hollywood Park for a long time was a question mark. It was home to some, but a small number given the density of Los Angeles. I think Los Angeles has lost a piece of its past, its history, and a huge beautiful building that represented a time and place. It is too bad that it wasn’t used by more people, but the reality is, it wasn't in its later days. It is quite possible that this is the last time Los Angeles will have such a huge area, 300 acres, transformed in one fell swoop, so it’s a pretty historic moment.

exterior of a horse track
Michele Asselin, Starting Gate, Turf Course, 2013-2016
Michele Asselin, Starting Gate, Turf Course, 2013-2016

Was there a certain person you met who embodied what Hollywood Park really was?

So many different people in this project embodied what Hollywood Park was: the jockeys in their bright silks, the longtime patrons and gamblers, the security guards, the trainers, the trumpeter, the café owner zipping around with concessions in her golf cart, the hot walker, the groomers, the stable workers. It was a place where reality and fantasy mixed and Angelenos of all stripes interacted.

Michele Asselin, Sandy, 2013.
Michele Asselin, Sandy, 2013.

Do you have a lucky number?

3.

Michele Asselin, Shoe Shine Hallway, Clubhouse Mezzanine , 2013
Michele Asselin, Shoe Shine Hallway, Clubhouse Mezzanine , 2013

What was the most unexpectedly beautiful part of Hollywood Park?

The infield in the early morning: quiet, forgotten with incredible L.A. December skies. For some reason, daybreak in December in LA is insanely gorgeous. And the small practice track on the far east side of the grounds-- with no lights, or turf --felt so rural and very beautiful.

Michele Asselin, Chantal, 2013-2016.
Michele Asselin, Chantal, 2013-2016.

What's your favorite hidden corner in L.A.?

I have a friend who lives on 24th Street between Cimarron and Gramercy Place and it’s a magical block. I can’t tell you why exactly, but there is something special about it. I also have a fantasy that someday I will be able to live with all of my friends in the Village Green.

an empty room
Michele Asselin, Green Pillars, Clubhouse Mezzanine , 2013
Michele Asselin, Green Pillars, Clubhouse Mezzanine , 2013

What keeps you in Los Angeles? What do you wish would change?

I stay in Los Angeles for my family, my friends, for the food, the culture, the nature, the surrounding areas, and the proximity to mountains, desert, and ocean. If I could change anything (and I think most people would agree with this), I would change the TRAFFIC!

Read more about Clubhouse Turn here.

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