Jan 05 2015

Mystery Foto 2015 #1: Roosevelt Field and Roosevelt Raceway in July 1937 (Updated with a Then & Now)

The first Mystery Foto of 2015  has never been published before or posted on the Internet.

Answers to the Mystery Foto questions:

-Identify the location

The photo was taken at a Roosevelt Field building.

-What is the approximate date of the photo? Provide a rationale.

The likely date of the photo was Saturday, July 3, 1937 or Monday, July 5, 1937. See rationale below.

-What is the large structure in the background?

The grandstand and banked curve of Roosevelt Raceway.

-Identify the three automobiles and three airplanes in the foreground.

"The Great Silver Fleet" airplane was an Eastern Air Lines DC-2.

The two biplanes are Curtiss Model A Fledgling Juniors.

The best matches for the automobiles (from right to left): 1931 Chrysler Six, 1936 Pontiac, and 1935 DeSoto Sedan.

Congrats to Greg O., Steve. L., Gary Hammond, Jeff Payne, Tim Ivers,Walt Gosden, Arthur Emerson, Steve Lucas, Jeff Payne, Sam Berliner III, Art Kleiner, Gary Kupfer and Frank Femenias (see below Femenias Findings) for correctly identifying Roosevelt Field and Roosevelt Raceway.

Kudos to Greg O., Gary Hammond, Tim Ivers and Sam Berliner III for the correct approximate date of July 1937.

Special kudos to Arthur Emerson, Steve Lucas, Sam Berliner III and Simon Favre and Frank Femenias for identifying the DC-2. Super kudos to Steve Lucas for identifying the Curtiss Model 51 Fledgling.

Special auto kudos to Walt Gosden, Ted, Steve L., Jeff Payne, Tim Ivers,  and Steve Lucas for identifying at least one model of our three Mystery Foto automobiles.

A special shout-out to automotive race pioneer Janet Guthrie for her contributions to the discussion!






-The Roosevelt Raceway grandstand (active 1936-1958)

-Flags above the grandstand

-1930s automobiles in parking spaces

-Large banked curve


-Brand on two-engine "The Great Silver Fleet" airplane with circular logos

-Rain puddles on the tarmac


-Two biplanes with distinctive vertical stabilizers


-A real challenge to identify these cars!

Location: Roosevelt Field and Roosevelt Raceway

As shown in this aerial of the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race, the location was Roosevelt Raceway (Westbury)  and Roosvelt Field (Mineola, now East Garden City).


-There were no parked cars between Roosevelt Field and Roosevelt Raceway in 1936.

-The curve before the reaching the grandstand was not banked.

The photographer likely took the photo from this building.

The building eventually became part of the Avis World Headquarters complex at 900 Old Country Road. This 2007 photo was taken before the entire complex was taken down.

A Google Earth aerial of the Mystery Foto location. Roosevelt Raceway was huge.

This is the Mystery Foto location as it looks today- another shopping mall "The Galleria at Westbury Plaza".

Approximate Date: Saturday, July 3, 1937 or Monday, July 5, 1937

There are several clues that the photo was taken during the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race rather than the 1936 race. As noted in Joel Finn's excellent book American Road Racing- The 1930s: "the last turn has been banked 13 feet with a maximum angle of 67 percent."

The last turn for the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race was not banked. Moreover, as seen in the above 1936 aerial, no cars were parked between Roosevelt Field and the track.

The weather on Friday, July 2, 1937  allowed qualifying for the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race to proceed without a hitch. However, rain began to fall on the scheduled race day on Saturday, July 3, 1937 at 9:00 am before the 2:15 start. With less than 30,000 spectators in the stands, the race was finally postponed at 1:00 pm until Monday, July 5, 1937. As seen in this photo, approximately 70,000 - 75,000 spectactors attended the delayed race. 

Based on the large rain puddles on the tarmac and the sparse number of sectators in the stands, I believe this photo was taken on Saturday, July 3, 1937 before the Vanderbilt Cup Race was postponed.

"The Great Silver Fleet" Airplane: DC-2 or DC-3?

The brand "The Great Silver Fleet" belonged to the Eastern Air Lines DC-2 and DC-3 airplanes. The big question was the Mystery Foto plane a DC-2 or a DC-3?


-Shorter vertical stabilizer in comaprison with the DC-3

-Distinctive nose lights

-Great Silver Fleet logo and emblem

DC-2 (Douglas Commercial-2)

As found on the edcoatescollection website, " in 1935,  (former Vanderbilt Cup Race driver) and  World War hero Captain  Eddie Rickenbacker took over at the "new" Eastern Air Lines. His first act was to get rid of all the old Condors and Kingbirds and replace them with a fleet of new DC-2s and Lockheed 10A Electras. The DC-2 (seen on the left) cut the flying time from New York to Miami to 8 hours and was an instant success.   It was in vogue in those days to display the airline slogan trade mark name instead of the corporate name itself, and hence all Eastern's equipment bore the legend "The Great Silver Fleet". 

DC-2 Observations:

-Short vertical stabilizer (see above photo)

-Nose lights

DC-3 (Douglas Commercial -3)

Considered by many as the greatest airplane of all time, the DC-3 was introduced in June 1936 as a longer DC-2. It was the first airplane that became profitable by hauling passengers without government subsidies. Almost 80 years after it was introduced, over 400 DC-3s are still flying!

The first DC-3s were delivered to "The Great Silver Fleet" in May 1937.

DC-3 Observations:

-Longer vertical stabilizer in comparison with the DC-2

-No nose lights

-Larger plane than the DC-2

Conclusion: The "The Great Silver Fleet" airplane in the Mystery Foto was an Eastern Air Lines DC-2.

The Single Engine Biplanes

The Mystery Foto biplanes are Curtiss Model 51 Fledgling Juniors. Note the matching vertical stablizers.

More information  and photos to be posted on Tuesday


Best Match: 1931 Chrysler Six

Best Match: 1936 Pontiac

Best Match: 1935 DeSoto Sedan

Femenias' Findings (Submitted by Frank Femenias)

1938 Eastern Air Lines DC-3A with extended vertigal stabilizer.


Jan 02 2015 Ted 1:56 AM

What are you doing? If it was never published, how’d you get it? knowing you, you can get anything. All I can say right now is, by looking at the cars it’s the late 30s early 40s. I had a 47 Plymouth and my uncle had a 44 or45 and these cars are older than that. Can’t even make out the state on the license plate. The large structure is some kind of stadium. It’s just a lot of guessing right now

Jan 02 2015 Bill Chun 6:55 AM

Mitchel Field in the mid 1930’s. In the background, it is probably Roosevelt Raceway.

Jan 02 2015 Greg O. 9:53 PM

-Identify the location and approximate date of the photo.

Looking across Roosevelt Field at Roosevelt Raceway, Westbury- July 5, 1937.

-What is the large structure in the background?

The 1936/1937 Vanderbilt Cup/Roosevelt Raceway Grandstands

-Identify the three automobiles and three airplanes in the foreground.

I’m unclear on the cars and the biplanes, but Interesting to note; Former WW-I hero, Eddie Rickenbacker- (Ace of Aces and Vanderbilt Cup Participant/mechanician-1906 American Elimination Trial, 1915 & 1916),  created the “new” Eastern Air Lines in the early 30’s. All Eastern’s panes had “The Great Silver Fleet.” on their sides. Douglas DC-3’s were delivered to The Great Silver Fleet in May of 1937. Identifying the larger passenger plane on the left.- Maybe this was a ‘corporate flight’ awaiting its’ CEO who would have been watching the races?

Jan 02 2015 Greg O. 11:56 PM

I’m revising my guess on the date to July 3rd 1937 due to the rain delay. It is clearly raining in the mystery photo and the 1937 VCR was postponed 2 days due to rain.

Jan 04 2015 Steve L 11:08 AM

My guess is Roosevelt Field,1938-9. The Raceway grandstand in the background, A DC2 and a pair of Jennys. The cars? Maybe a early 30s Ford(A) and two Plymouth sedans(cabs).

Jan 04 2015 Gary Hammond 11:10 AM

It’s the George Vanderbilt Cup Race at Roosevelt Raceway (looking SE) from the eastern edge of Roosevelt Field.  I would guess the July 5, 1937 race, as the race originally scheduled for July 3rd had to be postponed 2 days due to rain (note the wet pavement & puddles in the foreground).  In the background is the Grandstand.  The large aircraft is a Douglas DC-3 marked “The Great Silver Fleet”.  Operated by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s Eastern Air Lines.  Note the EAL’s falcon logo on the nose of the a/c.  Eastern operated with 76 DC-3’s from 1936-53.  The 2-seater, open cockpit biplanes might be 2 of the 5 Roosevelt Aviation School’s Fleet Model 2 a/c used in flight instruction.

Jan 04 2015 Jeff Payne 11:53 AM

Location Roosevelt field airport
About 1931
Roosevelt raceway
Large plane DC-3
Biplanes Curtis
Autos Franklin dodge chrysler

Jan 04 2015 Tim Ivers 2:53 PM

Location: Roosevelt Field
Date: July 1937.  It appears to be a crowd for a special event, like the Vanderbilt Cup Race
Background: The Roosevelt Raceway grandstand
Autos left to right: ‘36 Pontiac, ‘36 Chevy, ‘32 Dodge
Airplanes: (2) Stearman army biplanes
The large aircraft appears to be an Eastern Airlines DC-3

Jan 04 2015 Janet Guthrie 3:50 PM

Hi Howard—

I can only do one, but that is an Eastern Air Lines DC-3. I would say approximately 1939; I think Eastern ordered its first DC-3s in 1938. My father flew them from the time he joined Eastern Air Lines in 1941.

I thought the airplanes might be the ubiquitous Jennys, the WWI JN-4 trainers, but apparently not.

Last time I rode in a DC-3 was in Haiti, in about 1970, from Cap Haitien to Port-au-Prince. Beat the heck out of a tap-tap passenger truck that I’d taken on the way north.

Janet Guthrie

Jan 04 2015 Walt Gosden 5:25 PM

I agree with Janet about the DC-3, (in military use it was called it a C-47 I believe) I would date the photo about 1938 as in the distant back ground group of cars there seems to be a Chrysler product sedan from that year. The cars in the foreground are 1931 or 32 Chrysler 6 cyl. coupe, 1935 DeSoto sedan, and a 1935 or 36 Pontiac 6 cyl. sedan. The structure at the distance is the grandstands for the Roosevelt Race way.

Jan 04 2015 Arthur Emerson 7:39 PM

(Coincidentally, I just read an article about the history of Eastern Airlines last week!)

It appears to be Roosevelt Field.

I’m thinking it is either the 1936 or 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race, although the rain is making me consider that it could have been 1938 when there were hurricane relief flight coming into Long Island using Douglas aircraft.

Roosevelt Raceway and grandstands in background.

I pass on the automobiles.  With the ultimate respect for Janet’s answer, I believe that the airplane is actually an Eastern Airlines DC-2 judging by the rudder hinge shape and lack of a color stripe down the side in the paint scheme.  Eastern bought 10 of them in 1934-1935, and sold the lot to Australia in 1941 for military use since the DC-3 had 3-row seating (21 passengers) versus the 14-passenger DC-2.  I wish that the registration tail number was visible!

Since Eddie Rickenbacker was actively involved with re-starting the Vanderbilt Cup Race at Roosevelt Field and also served as head of Eastern Airlines during this time period, it seems plausible that he was using one of their DC-2’s as transportation to the race for himself and/or other VIP’s…..

Jan 04 2015 Steve Lucas 8:47 PM

That’s a photo taken at Roosevelt Field looking southeast from either the roof of one of the hangars or an upper window. It is probably from 1936 as the structure in the background is the grandstand for Roosevelt Raceway, built for the 1936 & 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Races. The two bi-planes are Curtiss “Fledglings”, also known as Curtiss models 48 or 51. They were used primarily by the US Navy as trainers who called them “N2C’s”. The larger plane is probably a Douglas DC-2 since Eastern Airlines only started using the slightly larger DC-3 in 1935. As for the cars, I think one might be a 1935 Plymouth but they all look like the same black box to me. No other guesses.

Jan 04 2015 S. Berliner, III 9:15 PM

Roosevelt Field.  1937 because of the Raceway grandstands and banked track.  Looks like Fleet Model 2s with Kinner K-5 radials, probably belonging to Roosevelt Flying Service, like the one George Dade flew and restored (hanging in the Cradle of Aviation Museum) - whoops - wrong - different rudder and landing gear strut.  Sorry to disagree with the great Janet Guthrie but that’s an EAL DC-2 (NOT -3); seven side windows; early DC-3’s only had six; but the kicker is the jog in the vertical fin and rudder!  I flew in a -2 from LaG to DC in one in 1941.  The car in front is a 1932 (twin bumpers with curved upper bars, straight grille, and external horns) Chrysler 6 (short hood); the other two are ordinary Detroit iron.  Sam, III

Jan 04 2015 Art Kleiner 9:19 PM

-Identify the location
Roosevelt Field/Roosevelt Raceway

-What is the approximate date of the photo? Provide a rationale.
Early 1940s - Eastern Airlines operated DC-3s as part of their Great Silver Fleet in the early 40s.  Also if I’m correct about Roosevelt Field, it operated at that time as a civilian airfield before the US military used it during WWII.

-What is the large structure in the background?
Roosevelt Raceway grandstand

-Identify the three automobiles and three airplanes in the foreground.
Only answer is the above mentioned DC-3. 

Jan 04 2015 Simon Favre 9:35 PM

I believe the passenger plane is a DC-2 of The Great Silver Fleet of Eastern Airlines. The DC-3 engine nacelles look different. For the cars, I’ll go with a ‘31 Chrysler Coupe in front, a 36 Plymouth sedan, and a 36 Plymouth Deluxe Coach in back. The biplanes are either early Stearmans, before the ubiquitous PT-17, or they are Pitcairn Mailwings, which were used for air mail service. I believe the year of the photo is 1939, because there was a scandal about airmail contracts that was resolved a few years earlier, and the Great Silver Fleet was running in 1939. 1939 was also the last year of production of the DC-2. The photo could be as early as 1936. Eastern was flying from Newark, but if this is Long Island, it is probably Glenn H. Curtiss Airport, now known as LaGuardia. I have no idea about the structure in back. It looks like a grandstand.

Jan 04 2015 Ted 11:35 PM

Like I said before, this is going to be all guess work. This is before my time. I’m trying to think where a stadium and airfield was I can guess on a airfield, maybe LaGuardia Airport? As for the date, I’ll go with 1939, because of the years off the cars. On the aircraft, a DC3 and trainer planes.

Jan 05 2015 frank femenias 12:56 AM

Many guesses, with some researching to further complicate things. 
This post 1934 photo includes an auto race event at Roosevelt Raceway with cars trying to exit onto Old Country Road. And there’s the lining of aircraft outside maintenance hangars at adjacent Roosevelt Field.
This rear view angle of Roosevelt Raceway gives a much clearer perspective how immense the structure really was! The occupied observation tower on the left shows that there was an event taking place. The light attendance in the grandstand indicates the race is over. The exiting cars in the background are all facing north towards Old Country Rd and waiting patiently for the light to turn green. The cars in the foreground are parked in nearby Roosevelt Air Field for the maintenance workers. The race could have been the 1936 or 37 Vanderbilt Cup, or even the 1939 Midget Race held at the same location.
The DC-2’s maintenance was just completed in a hangar and needs to make room for other aircraft. It is being rolled out but not onto that flooded field. It will turn around and park alongside the older aircrafts. The DC-2 has a narrower body and shorter vertical stabilizer than its successor, the DC-3. The aircraft first flew on 5/11/1934, documentation here.
The Great Silver Fleet emblem was later replaced with Fly Eastern Air Lines. Eastern Airlines (one of the big four) under general manager WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who had nearly monopolized U.S. eastern coast flights.
Guessing the bi-planes could be iconic Keystone B-5 bombers? I’ll leave those and the cars to the experts. I believe identification of the cars will get closer to the photo date. Motor Pkwy is running along the tree-lined stretch behind the raceway on the right of the photo, but impossible to see here. Waiting for the mystery answers and the final solution…….Happy New Year to all.

Jan 05 2015 Gary Kupfer 5:55 AM

I believe that is Roosevelt Field.  The building is Roosevelt Raceway. Initially created as a venue for motor racing but was converted to harness racing in 1940.

Jan 05 2015 Ted 9:20 PM

You certainly got a lot of replies on this and good ones too. I didn’t even realize the ground was wet, I was trying to think where this was. You guys did a great job noticing things and I thought I was very observant, not this time

Jan 06 2015 frank femenias 12:48 AM

Howard, a Super wealth of historical and educational information here produced by all, for all to benefit from. Kids learn best when they’re having fun. Please keep this forum going.

Jan 11 2015 Howard Kroplick 11:23 AM

From Cyril R:

As usual excellent piece on the mystery photo of Roosevelt Field / Raceway.

Please pass along an email of appreciation to Janet Guthrie. 

Had the pleasure and privilege of seeing her race at the beginning of her career.  This was a Lime Rock CT and some other SCCA venues of the day, Bridgehampton and Thompson (CT). I had also been to Watkins Glen and Upper Marlboro MD, but memory is not sufficient to recall if I saw her race there too.

She was pushing her Jag at the time and was the only woman driver. The amateur team I was with was pushing a Lotus 11 which was in a different category than her Jag.

In any case, I remember her well (with the sharper memory of youth- I am 70 now)  Then the US Army,  service in Vietnam,  aftermath, followed by a career took me on different of interests

It was good to see her name once again. Bought back nice memories, she was ( is ) a hard charger. Again, it was privilege.

Have a good 2015

Jan 11 2015 Ted 12:33 PM

Cyril R. I know that feeling too, I’m 73

Jan 11 2015 Howard Kroplick 12:48 PM

From Gorden:

This is so great thanks

Jan 11 2015 S. Berliner, III 9:05 PM

Howard, I’m not miffed but you did NOT read my 04 Jan 9:15 PM post!  DC-2s had a jog in the rudder hinge line; DC-3’s had a straight hinge line.  By the way, nacelles on the first EAL DC-3, as pictured above, were NOT different from the DC-2’s.  1931 Chryslers had an internal horn (behind the grille); dual external horns didn’t appear on production models until 1932 (http://sbiii.com/chryslr4.html#grilles).  Loves ya ennyhoo.  Sam, III

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