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The Drags & Historical South Hill Intersection

by Carl Vest

Some areas around the intersection of Meridian Avenue and 160th Street on South Hill have an interesting history.  This crossroads was, for example, the southernmost point of the first planned thoroughfare on South Hill, the Ball-Wood Road, which dates from the 1890s.  It was also where that path was turned eastward to terminate at a Hop farm.  Later, this same junction was the end-point for what is now east-west 160th Street, originally named Muehler-Berger Road, which connected the hop farm to what is now Canyon Road.  In the 1940s the close-by airport was started.

However, some of the most interesting happenings around this intersection took place shortly after World War II and were locally famous for some twenty years.  The most controversial was an automobile drag strip.  It was located just to the east of the present-day Meridian-160th Street meeting point. It paralleled the airport runway and was actually between the airport runway and 110th Avenue. Today there is little physical evidence to show where it existed.

The actual start date of the drag strip is unknown.  A 1980 Pierce County report states that it was in existence when the County’s 1962 comprehensive plan was adopted.  Some folks believe it was initiated to keep unofficial racing events off the airport runway, an obvious safety problem for aircraft operators.  If that is true then the start date was probably the mid to late 1950s.

During its existence the drag strip was extremely popular.  It must be said, however, that while it was exceptionally well-liked by racing enthusiasts it was despised by local residents.  Noise was a big complaint.  Also, during most of its lifetime the facilities were not adequate to accommodate crowds.  Parking was always a problem.  The local roads were jammed during meets, requiring police to focus on the area and keep a presence to insure law and order was maintained.  Toilet facilities were so limited that health problems were a concern and local residents were always complaining about the sanitation behavior of people attending the affairs.

In 1971 the County attempted to bring things under control.  The operators of the drag strip proposed to improve the property but also wanted to add a motorcycle track to the complex.  The Sunrise Village shopping center now occupies the area which was the motorcycle addition.  The County approved the plan but at the same time imposed a number of conditions, to which the operators had to conform in order to keep permits.  Such things as noise control, fencing, crowd control, and other requirements were mandated.

The County’s actions apparently doomed the racing center.  Subsequent yearly inspections noted that the directed requirements were not being adequately addressed.  In 1979, for example, an inspection reported the tracks to be in a state of disrepair and apparently unused.  Also, statements by local residents suggested that the race track had stopped formal operations, probably around 1978.

So, over the years this location has been a very active South Hill spot.  Its present day commercial center does not reflect these past uses.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.