It appears the Saugus Speedway, a Santa Clarita Valley fixture since the 1920s, may face its final checkered flag, if a pair of developers get their way.
Shadowbox, an international studio with “very ambitious” plans underway for Placerita Canyon, is looking to partner with home builder Integral on an auxiliary project that would use 35 acres of the historic property, which last hosted racing in 1995 and is now home to the twice-weekly Santa Clarita Swap Meet.
Santa Clarita received an application for a mixed-use, residential development to be located on the 40-acre Saugus property in October 2021, according to city senior planner Hai Nguyen, who said Wednesday that project was still in the “initial study” phase.
Called the Riverview Project, presumably a nod to its location across Soledad Canyon Road from the Santa Clara River, the project is intended to offer commercial and residential support for another planned development that’s large enough to rival any other current studio in the SCV.
“The (Riverview) project includes a subdivision into five lots/planning areas to include a total of 318 residential units and recreation amenities,” according to an email from Jason Crawford, director of community development for the city of Santa Clarita. “The commercial portion is proposed as the Shadowbox Studios, which consists of six 11,000-square-foot sound stages and a parking structure.”
The sound stages portion would be built by Shadowbox and intended to augment the studio’s Newhall plans.
Shadowbox would build the commercial portion and Integral, which is hoping for approval to build its second housing development in Saugus, would be responsible for the housing portion.
According to the California Environmental Quality Act, the initial study determines which appropriate environmental study would come next, whether that’s a negative declaration, a mitigated negative declaration or an environmental impact report, Nguyen said in a phone interview.
He added the initial study could be finished by the spring, depending on what’s found during the preliminary review.
A city official noted Wednesday it’s one of a number of discussions that have involved the historic track’s potential next use over the years, but also one that appears to be gaining traction.
“This one that’s in front of us now is getting pretty far along,” Crawford said. “I know they’re a ‘real group’ and I know they’re hoping to cross the finish line.”
The property has been owned by the Rodeo Land Co. since 1972, according to property record listings with the L.A. County Assessor’s Office.
Currently the property hosts the Saugus Swap Meet at the site every Tuesday and Sunday. The Swap Meet’s office is closed on Wednesday, per a number listed online for the market. The Bonelli family owns Rodeo Land Co.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Doug Bonelli indicated he was bound by a confidentiality agreement that precluded him from making an announcement, acknowledging the history of the property and the company’s nearly three dozen employees who would be impacted.
Shadowbox is currently in the environmental impact review phase for its “full-service film and television studio campus” near the northeast corner of 13th and Arch streets in Newhall.
A preliminary one-stop review by the city was initiated in October 2020 by the project’s previous owner, Blackhall Studios, which was sold and became Shadowbox in June 2022.
A representative from Shadowbox was not immediately available Wednesday.
The Shadowbox project in Newhall calls for the 93 acres to include “approximately 473,000 square feet of sound stages; approximately 561,500 square feet of workshops, warehouses, and support uses; approximately 221,000 square feet of production and administrative offices; and approximately 37,500 square feet of catering and other specialty services,” according to planning documents obtained from the city dated March 29, 2022.
Integral received approval from Santa Clarita more than two years ago to build a maximum of 375 units on Bouquet Canyon Road just north of Plum Canyon, according to Nguyen.
“The development was approved in 2020,” Nguyen said. “I know they’re hoping to start soon, hoping to start this year.”
The Saugus Speedway property is probably as steeped in the SCV’s historical cowboy Western tradition as any, according to information available on SCVHistory.com.
Purchased by Roy Baker in the 1923 and intended as a horse farm, the brother of former shoe magnate C.H. Baker started hosting rodeos on the property in 1926, ostensibly to attract buyers for his horses, according to an SCVHistory.com post about the property.
The post notes that “cowboy actor” Hoot Gibson purchased it in 1930, continuing its use as a rodeo venue that attracted the likes of William S Hart, Tom Mix and John Wayne, until it was sold to William Bonelli.
Bonelli, famous in his own right — or infamous, depending on one’s perspective, as he developed the first post-war tract of homes, also in Saugus, and later became known for his feud with the L.A. Times and then an indictment on corruption charges — eventually introduced auto racing in the late-1930s.
Bonelli lived out his life in Mexico as a fugitive after his 1939 indictment, according to SCV History, but the racing remained a fixture in the area until July 1995, when the track’s owners announced races would no longer be held at the speedway due to the deterioration of its grandstands.