A group of USC archaeologists received an unusual request. Their services would be required to dig up several large mammals—but not the Ice Age fossils that dot the L.A. landscape. They needed to unearth three horses buried under a racetrack.
Hollywood Park was built as a lavish horse-racing facility in 1938 with investors such as Bing Crosby and Walt Disney. The structure is being demolished for a mixed-use development, so the three racehorses buried and memorialized on its property—named Native Diver, Landaluce, and Great Communicator—must all be exhumed and relocated.
This ritualistic un-burying is a particularly surreal example of historic preservation, where the dead bodies of famous horses have met the unstoppable churn of Los Angeles urbanization. It's as if the city is peppered from below with lost animal armies—like the horse burials of ancient Thrace, with their horses buried standing, ready to thunder through the afterlife—the landscape of greater Los Angeles subject at any moment to a re-emergence of its abandoned creatures.
But what's interesting about this story is not that horses are being moved (they're just horses!). What's interesting about this story is the way these animal bodies are being treated—somewhere between delicate relics of urban history and mysterious archaeological remains—and that this tide of body parts exists beneath the city at all, needing to be removed as Los Angeles itself continues to change above it.
In any case, the horse pictured here is Native Diver, who was the first horse bred in California to earn over $1 million, winning 34 stakes races.
Richard Shapiro, whose grandfather Louis raised Native Diver, came to the site to watch the horse's skeleton be transferred.
Native Diver was so famous that his death made global headlines when he died, according to the Los Angeles Times:
Native Diver was a wild-eyed black colt so fast and so beloved that when he died in 1967, he was buried at his hometown track. An elaborate stone memorial marks the grave, a testament to a bygone era when horses and their owners were national celebrities, and when tens of thousands of fans packed the stands of Hollywood Park to cheer on their favorite steed.
The archaeologists are working to extricate the three horses and move them to different graves. Native Diver's remains will be placed into storage before being reburied as part of a new memorial at a racetrack in Del Mar, just north of San Diego. [Los Angeles Times via Curbed LA]
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