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Street Smarts: Speedway's sports racing roots

Street Smarts: Speedway's sports racing roots

Businessmen in saloon named our main drag after a street in NYC

  • Updated

An 1880 map of Tucson by A.W. Pattiani shows the future site of Speedway Boulevard as just a blank spot. It's the same story on George Roskruge's 1893 map of Tucson.

In December 1896, real estate promoter Lulu May Nelson named this dirt road Wilson Street when she recorded with Pima County a new subdivision called University Extension Addition.

Wilson Street, which ran from the present-day Mountain Avenue to Park Avenue, is believed to have been named in honor of Tucson City Councilman Thomas Wilson. Nelson didn't stay long in Tucson, leaving town in 1898.

After the turn of the century, Wilson Street was changed to Feldman Street, in honor of Alther Marcus Feldman, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who had arrived in Tucson in 1878. He was involved in the photography business as well as land development. He would meet an untimely death in a streetcar accident in 1906.

His house, at 906 N. First Ave., is now home to the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity.

In February 1903, developer Andrew Olsen recorded his subdivision, Olsen's Addition, and listed his part of Feldman Street, from present-day Campbell Avenue to Tucson Boulevard, as Jefferson Street. He also named Olsen Avenue.

According to Vic S. Griffith, a former Tucson City Councilman (1904-1906), who arrived in Tucson in 1898 and was interviewed by Star reporter Thomas Ellinwood in 1948: "A great deal of business in early Tucson was done in bars, and it was in Alex Rossi's Columbia Saloon (correctly called the Columbus Saloon) that Speedway was given its name. A group of men were standing around arguing about it, when George Kitt came in. He had been to New York City and immediately suggested "The Speedway" as a title. It stuck …"

It's likely that Kitt offered up the name of a New York City racetrack because horse racing already existed on this dirt road and to make Tucson sound more like a big city.

In October 1904, Nate Plumer and Fred J. Steward of the real estate firm Plumer & Steward recorded their subdivision, the Plumer & Steward Addition, calling Feldman-Jefferson Street The Speedway. Plumer would later race cars down this dirt road.

A couple of years later, in February 1906, the Speedway Heights subdivision was recorded and the street was listed simply as Speedway Boulevard. It's likely the subdivision name helped solidify the street name as Speedway.

The Speedway, also known as The Harlem River Speedway, was a dirt road in New York City that was built in 1898, and was 95 feet wide and 2 1/2 miles long, from West 155th Street to West 208th Street along the west bank of the Harlem River.

The Speedway functioned both as a horse racetrack and, when not used for that purpose, as an exercise track.

In the 1940s, it was shut down and became part of Harlem River Drive.

Editor's note

Today marks the first anniversary of Street Smarts, through which local history writer David Leighton tells the stories behind Tucson street names each week. If you have streets to suggest or stories to share, contact Leighton at

Sources: Special thanks to Maria Romero and Cristina Ramirez of the Pima County Recorder's Office. Loudon Wainwright, "Look Down, Look Down That Loathsome Road," Life Magazine, July 24, 1970 Lawrence W. Cheek, "Give Our Regards To Speedway," Arizona Highways, Sept. 1994 Clifford A. Truesdell, "The Walker and Feldman Families: Pioneers of Tucson and Benson, AZ," Self Published, 1974 (Arizona Historical Society) "For Example, Take Speedway - Please," Arizona Daily Star, January 28, 1973 Thomas Ellinwood, "Tucson of 50 Years Ago Is Recalled," Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 16, 1948 Jo Connors, "Who's Who in Arizona 1913," Arizona Daily Star, 1913 Tucson City Mayors and Council Members website: Albert Buehman, "Arizona Album," Tucson Citizen, Nov. 10, 1959 Charles C. Sargent, Jr., "A Horseman's Paradise," Munseys Magazine, November, 1898 University of Arizona website: Pima County Plat Maps: MP01001, MP01014, MP01020, MP01021,MP02013, MP02029

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