May 18 2013

In Search of the Grandstand, Press Box/Officials Stand and Pits in Levittown

From 1908 to 1910, the center of the auto racing world was a 200-yard strip of the Long Island Motor Parkway in the Hempstead Plains, now Levittown.

Here was where the start/finish line, grandstand, pits and press box/officials stand were located for the 1908 Motor Parkway Sweepstakes and the 1908, 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Races.

Earlier this month, with the permission of the current property owner Josato Inc., an effort was made by a few lucky members of the Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society to find these historic sites.


Howard Kroplick

As seen in this view from the press box/officials stand looking east , the grandstand was south of the Motor Parkway and the pits. The grandstand was built off the Motor Parkway right-of-way on property leased from the heirs of A.T. Stewart.

The start/finish line can be seen between the grandstand and the pressbox/officials stand. The grandstand had a capacity of 5,000 spectators and was approximately the length of two football fields.

The "pits" of the Vanderbilt Cup Races were an innovation for auto racing in the United States

For the 1908 and 1909 races, only the driver and mechanician were allowed to work on the car. The pit crew could only pass along the supplies. For the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race, the pit rules were revised allowing two of the pit crew to assist and driver and mechanician. However, this assistance was limited to the replenishment of water, oil, and fuel and the replacement of tires. These crew members could also crank start the car.

As seen from the grandstand, George Robertson and Glenn Ethridge winning the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race in "Old 16" Locomobile. Can you spot referee William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. in the photo?

The view from behind the wooden pits: Harry Grant and Frank Lee winning the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race in the Alco Black Beast.

The view from the press box/officials stand: Grant and Lee repeating their victory in the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race.

Location of the grandstand, Pits and Press Box/Officials Stand

This 1909 schematic shows the location of the grandstand and the temporary road from Jerusalem Avenue. Courtesy of my favorite co-author Al Velocci.

A schematic of the grandstand section as published in the 1928 Motor Parkway Atlas.

A 1914 Belcher-Hyde map of the area. Note the grandstand location is in a straight line from Division Avenue.

Based on the above, these are the locations of key features in the area as seen in this 1928 aerials. Importantly, the temporary road seen in the 1909 schematic, was still visible 19 years later.

A closer look of the 1928 aerial show an area that may be remnants of the pits.

Utilizing the aerial and the position of Division Avenue, the approximate location of the grandstand was determined as seen in this Google map view of Levittown along Orchid Road.

The best guess grandstand location: nine houses west of Crocus Lane.

The historical marker for the grandstand is located at the corner of Orchid Road and Skimmer Lane, further west than the actual site.

Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society Archeological Dig-May 10, 2013

For the last two years, this historic section of the Vanderbilt Cup Races was inaccessible as the property owner attempted to obtain zoning changes to develop the site. Last month, Josato Inc. received approval from the Town of Hempstead to build four houses on this 2.5-acre plot. In response to a request from Art Kleiner, Josato Inc. gave permission for four members of the Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society to conduct an"archeological" dig.

The view looking west from Crocus Lane. Amazingly, the footprint of the Motor Parkway (just right of center) is still visible.

Art Kleiner, Steve Lucas, Ellyn Okvist and me (your photographer) meeting with a representative of Josato Inc.

Remnants of the Motor Parkway looking west at the approximate location of the Start/Finish Line. The press box/officials stand would be located to the right and the grandstand to the left.

Ellyn and Art uncovering a section of the parkway.

Trap rock and concrete of the Motor Parkway.

More Motor Parkway pavement looking west towards Jerusalem Avenue.

Digging on the location of pits...we uncovered earthworms!

Steve Lucas came prepared!

Art, Steve and Ellen retrieved for a Motor Parkway concrete post. We thank Josato Inc. for permitting the dig and the preservation of the post. Learn more about the archeological dig at next Thursday's 7:30 pm meeting of the Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society at the Bethpage Public Library.


May 19 2013 Ellyn Okvist 12:05 PM

This was a great day.

May 19 2013 brian d mccarthy 3:19 PM

I believe Mr Vanderbilt is standing directly behind the gentleman with both arms raised.  The atlas prints are always informative.  There was to be 2 HWY bridges on either sides of the grandstand location?  I’d like to think that Josato will come across artifacts during construction.

May 20 2013 Art K. 7:45 AM

Yes, Ellen - and thanks to your help (and your truck) it was an even greater day!.  Thanks to Steve L. and Howard too!  We’ll definitely keep abreast of construction activities before, during and after they commence.

May 20 2013 Wayne 8:00 AM

Added Grandstand location and a guess of Grandstand Road to google map:

May 20 2013 Ken Harris 8:55 AM

Thanks for the presentation—I really enjoyed seeing that.  If, as Brian d. McCarthy suggests, Josato may come across artifacts, perhaps they would be willing to notify the LIMP Preservation Society.

Jun 10 2014 brian d mccarthy 6:59 PM

I hav’nt been able to be out this way.  Has anyone been around the grandstand area recently? Has Josato Inc finished their house building?

Jun 19 2014 matt 1:25 PM

Did you guys find any artifacts or coins in your search?

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