Then & Now: June 2010 Archives

Les Richter, former head of the now defunct Riverside International Raceway, passed away this weekend in Riverside. He was 79.

richter.193.jpg
Les Richter
(NASCAR.com)

RIR-logo-125.jpg
RIR logo

1969-rir-track.JPG
Post-1969 track configuration
(wikipedia)

1970s-rir-petty-allison-001-500.jpg
1970s
Richard Petty, Bobby Allison


rir-winston-400.jpg
Winston Cup Series

1982-rir-003-400.jpg
1982
Winston Cup Series

rir-control-tower-600.jpg
@1990
RIR control tower
(AP)

Probably no one else is more responsible for putting both Riverside International Raceway on the map as well as expanding stock car racing beyond its southeastern U.S. environs in the early days of NASCAR than Richter.

From 1963 to 1984, Richter ran the famed Riverside road course, one of the most challenging stops on the NASCAR circuit. For several years, RIR hosted either the first or final race on the NASCAR schedule as well as various other major races, including the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix.

Through the years, the track proved its versatility by hosting nearly every form of racing, including CART, IMSA, INDY, F1, Can-Am, Trans-Am, SCORE and IROC (one | two; whom Richter was a co-creator). Its proximity to Los Angeles also made it a prime location for advertising, television and movies. It also served as a testing track for automotive (one | two | three | four) and motorcycle companies.

RIR, which sat on the eastern edge of Riverside, was sold to Texas-based developer Fritz Duda in 1984 with the last major race in late 1988 and the track officially closing in early 1989.

Today, the 600-plus acres of the former racetrack include homes, apartments, parks and retail uses as part of Moreno Valley's master-planned Towngate development. The largest parcel, on which both the grandstands along Highway 60 and the famed "esses" (one | two | three) were once located, has been home to Moreno Valley Mall since 1992 (view overlay image here). The track's southern end, where the sweeping Turn 9 once was, is now comprised mostly of single-family residential.

Prior to managing the raceway, Richter was a football star at both UC Berkeley and the NFL's Los Angeles Rams for nine seasons, where he was a first-team, all-pro linebacker. After RIR, Richter went on to be a NASCAR executive for nearly 10 years until the early 1990s, when he was tapped by Roger Penske to oversee the development of California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) in Fontana, which opened in 1997.

Richter's influence went beyond the race track, however. He was a long-time Riverside resident and was involved in several civic organizations, including the city's influential Monday Morning Group.

Photos: Riverside International Raceway

Related

Previous

RIR_1963_cscc_cover.jpg
1963
SCCA magazine cover
(view overlay image here)
RIR_1970_AD_can_am.jpg
1970
Advertisement
RIR_1988_sign_last_weekend.jpg
1988
After the last major race
(Earlier view | 2002 view | 2003 view)


RIR_1963_MT_riv_GP_cover.jpg
1963
Riverside 500
RIR_1965_MT_riv_GP_cover.jpg
1965
Riverside 500
RIR_1969_LATimes_GP_cover.jpg
1969
LA Times
Grand Prix
RIR_1970_LATimes_GP_cover.jpg
1970
LA Times
Grand Prix
RIR_1980_LATimes_GP_cover.jpg
1980
LA Times
Grand Prix

pc-riv-1950s-motel-003a-A-600.jpg
1950s
Town & Country

pc-riv-1960s-motel-004a-A-600.jpg
1960s
Sage & Sand

pc-riv-1960s-motel-007a-A-600.jpg
1960s
Caravan Inn

riv-2010c-university-1510-002-600.jpg
2010
Courtyard by Marriott

Prior to the building of the 60 Freeway through Riverside in the early 1960s, the main highway heading into downtown from the east was Eighth Street. Visitors traveling between Palm Springs and Los Angeles could grab some rest at any one of the half-dozen or so small, roadside motels scattered along a two-mile stretch between UC Riverside and downtown. As such, Eighth Street -- now University Avenue -- became the city's "motel row."

With its proximity to the city's early industrial areas, UC Riverside, March AFB and the now defunct Riverside International Raceway, the accumulation of motels, hotels and restaurants grew considerably during the 1960s and 1970s as national chains the likes of Ramada Inn and Holiday Inn began popping up. And by the 1990s, larger hotels, such as Days Inn (now Courtyard by Marriott), had sprung up as well.

However, as in many cities across the nation, when the newer and larger hotels arrived, the smaller motels began decaying, eventually leading to seedier surroundings. Likewise, the 1987 opening of downtown's 12-story Sheraton (now Marriott), the closing of Riverside International Raceway in 1989 and the 1993 reopening of downtown's historic Mission Inn dealt a tough blow to even the larger hotels. By the mid-1990s, control of the former Ramada and Holiday inns would be assumed by UC Riverside, which uses the adjacent properties for offices, classrooms and exchange student housing.

Since 2000, however, Riverside has invested millions of dollars in implementing the University Avenue specific plan that included refurbishing and/or phasing out the older, seedier motels and adding landscaping to the curb and street medians. More recently, several of the decaying motels have been demolished. A large, mixed-use apartment complex for UCR students replaced one, a retail center replaced another, while a few others have become empty lots awaiting redevelopment.

Over the ensuing months, we hope to spotlight a few of these motels and hotels and maybe even a couple of the eateries, some of which no longer exist. For now, below are a few photos from the three mid-century neon signs that remain from "motel row's" past.


riv-2010c-university-1393-005-400.jpg
2010
Farm House
riv-2010c-university-2140-005-400.jpg
2010
Skylark
riv-2010c-university-2711-006a-400.jpg
2010
Thunderbird
riv-2010c-university-2711-008ac-600.jpg
2010
Thunderbird
riv-2009c-university-2711-009-400.jpg
2009
Thunderbird


Sources: City of Riverside, Riverside Public Library


About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Then & Now category from June 2010.

Then & Now: May 2010 is the previous archive.

Then & Now: July 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the RXSQ Main Index or look in the Master Archives to find all content.

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