It must be the case that only a small fraction of the people passing the white colonnaded gateway on Chester Road, perhaps on their way to see the football match at nearby Old Trafford, have any idea why the gateway is there beside that busy road and adjacent to the White City Retail Park. The fact is that it was once the entrance to a Victorian Amusement Park called White City.
On this site once stood the Royal Manchester Botanical Gardens but in 1907 it was sold to Heathcote and Brown, who used it to build the "White City Amusement Park." The prospectus of the White City Company indicates that it was formed for, "the purpose of establishing and carrying on a pleasure garden of the highest class"
The White City Program said this of the venture, "In 1907, when the grounds were taken over from the Royal Botanical Society, the work of transforming them into a modern and up-to-date place of popular resort was undertaken and was carried forward to completion in the incredibly short space of ten weeks, and the WHITE CITY was opened to the public on the appointed date, as the most perfectly equipped resort in England for the entertainment of the people generally."
The company committed itself to, "explore all the Parks and Fairs of Europe and America, and wherever it is possible to find a genuine novelty either in a Mechanical Device or Show, to at once make an effort to place it among the attractions at WHITE CITY." They were as good as their word as you can see from the images below.
The amusement park lasted for 21 years closing in 1928. In 1930 a track and grandstand were built on the site. It can be seen in the image below dated 1953. The white gates are indicated by the red arrow.
It operated as a greyhound racing track. On Saturday, June 16 of 1928 though, Joe Carley in his book "Old Friends - Old Times -Manchester Memories 1908 - 1938" (published by Neil Richardson - 1990), reports that he visited White City, Old Trafford, "to see the very first Speedway meeting held in Manchester. (It was then known as dirt track racing).... Trick-riding and other stunts were included in the opening programme to interest the crowds in case the new sport did not 'catch-on'."
(The image above is shown with the permission of the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archive. If you click on this link you can see more historic images from their Flickr Photostream)
In July 1953 a six lane cinder track for athletics was created. It took four and a half laps around the track to do the mile. This venue attracted some of the most famous names in international athletics. Paavo Nurmi once ran on the track and apparently looked at his stopwatch all the time. There is a picture of a race here in 1955 between Emil Zatopek, Gordon Pirie and Derek Ibbotson in the book "The Impossible Hero" - a biography of Gordon Pirie by Dick Booth. This shows that the track had at least 6 lanes and very possibly seven although the 7th "lane" may have just been a narrow bit of spare room between the 6th lane and the outer curb. My high school, Ardwick Tech, used to use the track for Sports Days in the 60s.
Les Cotton tells me that stock car racing came to the track in 1972. Mike Parker Promotions ran stock car races at White City as well as other tracks in the North West at Nelson, Stoke, Blackburn, and Rochdale. In 1976 MPP had the track asphalted.
Les adds, "This produced an enormous increase in speed, unfortunately within months of the resurface, I witnessed local star driver Brian Wallace #119 suffer a throttle jam wide open. He went straight through the safety wires flat out, which chopped the roof off the car, killing him instantly.
The stadium closed in 1982 and was demolished making way for the White City Retail Park that occupies the site today.
You can read more about the White City Site by selecting the "Our Manchester" button on this page and choosing the "White City" button on that page.