Bayshore City was built for the dogs

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum The track at Baden was a little north of Tanforan in this 1938 photo.

Dog racing was so popular here in the last century that they even created a town for it. San Mateo County was known for being the place that San Franciscans could find a little fun, and dog racing was one form of fun in those days.

The sporting crowd came down from The City to gamble at various places including the dog races. It was outlawed briefly when racetrack betting was made illegal. It was revived, however by an ingenious loophole, the option system. Here one was not actually betting on the outcome of the race, but putting in a bid to buy the dog. While challenged in court, judges deemed the system legal. Options were purchased in the grandstand.

A Belmont Kennel Club program of 1933 outlines the daily life of a typical racing Greyhound. Beginning with a leisurely stroll at 6 a.m. and a light breakfast, the day continues with rest until race time. Then there is a weigh in and a check by the Vet. Grooms muzzle the dogs and parade them before they are harnessed into the starting device. After the race, the dogs are walked to cool down, then rubbed down, massaged, feet brushed and cleaned, and finally a dish of steak and canine delicacies before bed. Sounds like quite a life.

The same program has an extensive explanation of the operation of the mechanical harness starting device and electrical timing clock. Complete with diagrams, the article emphasizes the safety and comfort of the animals in the device and the reliability of the timing system. "All of these appliances are fully covered by patents in U.S. and foreign countries.”

Dog fanciers had held informal races on the peninsula estates of kennel club members, but with option betting, three dog tracks were open in the county. One had been established in Belmont in 1924. It attracted out of town gamblers, of course. Belmont incorporated in 1926 and was trying to build a new image. It could regulate and tax the dog track, but it could not eliminate it.

A second track opened at Baden, part of today’s South San Francisco. A third one was built on some open land near the border of San Francisco behind where the Cow Palace is located today. This last spot was incorporated into Bayshore City in December 1932. The mini town had only one industry – the dog track. There were hints of "mob” involvement. This option system allowed big time gambling and off track betting to flourish on the peninsula. Financial backers of the three tracks included local politicians and newspaper owners.

In 1939, under pressure from horse racing interests, California declared dog racing illegal. The tracks shut down. Since the track at Bayshore City had been its major taxpayer and the reason for its existence, the city also shut down and disincorporated. Tiny Bayshore City disappeared.

Meanwhile, work had begun nearby on a convention hall and sports arena. Bayshore City and its dogs were to be replaced by the Cow Palace. This was during the height of the Depression. The name grew out of a newspaper article that complained that people were being evicted from their homes while the government was building a palace for cows.

Rediscovering the Peninsula appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal. For more information on this or related topics, visit the San Mateo County History Museum, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City.

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