Early Days in Seattle
Morris Jerome Alhadeff (known as Morrie) was born at a house on the corner of 14th Avenue and Yesler Street in Seattle on November 14, 1914. His parents were Solomon David Alhadeff and Esther Almelen Alhadeff. Solomon and Esther Alhadeff came to Seattle in the early 1900s to join Solomon’s brother Nessim, who had arrived in 1904. Nessim Alhadeff sold fish, opening the Palace Market (later the Palace Fish and Oyster Company and still later Pacific Fish Company) in 1907 and then using the proceeds to help his family members emigrate. The Alhadeff family was from the Isle of Rhodes in the Eastern Mediterranean, where they were members of the Sephardic Jewish community. In 1918 Solomon Alhadeff founded the Ezra Bessaroth Congregation, Seattle’s first Sephardic synagogue.
Young Morrie’s childhood was fraught with medical problems, so much so that in later life he said he spent “the first 14 years of his life bedridden with asthma and tuberculosis” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 27, 1985). His parents valued education and the arts, buying their children an encyclopedia, a phonograph, and many opera records. When he was well enough, Morrie, who at one point spent 10 months in a tuberculosis sanatorium, attended Leschi School and then Garfield High School.
After graduating from Garfield, Morrie Alhadeff attended Cornish College of the Arts, then the University of Washington. He butchered fish for his uncle to fund his education and acted in plays at the University of Washington Repertory Theater. In 1938 his acting experience led to a job as a news reporter for Seattle radio station KJR. He went on to work as a news and sports commentator, news editor, and disc jockey for various Seattle stations. From 1940 to 1941 he was the night news editor for station KVI. In 1945 Alhadeff covered the United Nations Conference organizational meeting for network television, then in its infancy. His radio name was Jerry Morris.
Marrying into Longacres
On April 2, 1942 Alhadeff married Joan Gottstein (1920-1996). Joan’s father, Joseph, owned Seattle real estate and also the Longacres racetrack in Renton. In 1933, immediately following the legalization of pari-mutuel betting in Washington state, Joe Gottstein, William Edris, and others co-founded the Washington Jockey Club and built Longacres. (Pari-mutuel betting is a system whereby the winners divide the total amount bet, after deducting management expenses, in proportion to the sums they have wagered individually.) William Edris’s daughter Jeannette introduced Morrie and Joan.
Alhadeff served in the United States Coast Guard during World War II. He was radio chairman for the Washington state United States War Bonds drive, receiving a silver medal for his part in selling more than $7 million worth of war bonds.
In 1947 Joe Gottstein requested that his son-in-law take charge of public relations at Longacres. Alhadeff later told Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Jane Estes, “He was a very outspoken fellow. He asked why I didn’t come out and give him a hand, and I pointed out that I didn’t know anything about racing. He said I did know something about public relations and said: Come on out and try it for three months. That was the longest three months in history” (June 11, 1978). The track would be Morrie Alhadeff’s business for the next 41 years.
Under Alhadeff’s hand, Longacres marketed itself more heavily, especially pursuing the younger market. They created an educational film called The Four-Footed Industry, designed to penetrate the non-racing market segment. In 1956 Morrie Alhadeff created and hosted a live television show called “This Is Longacres.” The program ran every Saturday at 5:00 p.m. on KING-TV.
During Alhadeff’s tenure in charge of Longacres, he oversaw numerous physical improvements, including the construction of the Paddock Club at the track’s south turn and the Gazebo on the north turn. The Gazebo Terraces, a $1 million addition, was less successful. It partially obscured sight lines from the grandstand seats, and was sometimes denounced as Morrie’s Folly. Longacres introduced computerized betting in 1981.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer described Alhadeff’s dedication to Longacres as follows: “He put in long, hands-on work days to maintain the success of the track. He made early-morning visits to the barn area. He was a tough hand in negotiations with horsemen and union representatives. He took a close personal interest in upgrading the track” (November 9, 1994). Alhadeff told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer “You learn this business by walking and touching and doing. You can’t read a book on how to run a racetrack. It’s a unique business, and certainly one of the most exclusive in the world. I learn something every place I go. If you are willing to see as well as look, you have to learn” (June 11, 1978). Alhadeff coupled this willingness to learn with a sense of humor: he often sported horse-themed ties and the license plates on his car read “DOO-DAH” (The Seattle Times, July 27, 1976).
Horses in Art
Morrie Alhadeff collected horse-racing paintings and prints. In 1976 he invited artist Kenneth Callahan (1905-1986) to watch the horses at Longacres during their morning workouts. Callahan’s observations resulted in two series of gouache and oil paintings. One series depicted horses in the backstretch and the other showed the horses on race days. Alhadeff was delighted with Callahan’s work and hung the paintings on the walls of a private dining room at the Turf Club, the Longacres clubhouse.
The Longacres art collection consisted of more than 500 separate artworks. It was the largest on display at any horse track in the country and did much to enhance the track’s atmosphere.
Morrie and Joan Alhadeff had two children, Michael and Kenneth. The Alhadeff brothers were introduced early on to their parents’ love of the arts and culture. The family placed a high value on philanthropy and giving back to the Seattle community. They were prominent supporters of civil rights.
Accolades and Further Achievements
In January 1971, Alhadeff became president and chief executive officer of the Washington Jockey Club, which operated Longacres. On November 23, 1988, he was named Longacres chairman of the board. His sons Kenneth and Michael became executive vice president and track president, respectively.
Alhadeff was a charter member of the Seattle Arts Commission and president of PONCHO. In 1975 he received the first Mayor’s Public Service Award in recognition of his leadership for the Arts Commission. In 1978 he received the Martin Luther King Award for Community Service.
Alhadeff served as chairman of the Seattle/King County Bicentennial Commission for the state of Washington and as honorary chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee, donating more than $25,000 toward construction of a Seattle memorial to King. The memorial was constructed in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at 2200 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Alhadeff served as vice-president of the Seattle Art Museum and a founder and board member of the 5th Avenue Theater Corporation. His club memberships included the Rainier Club, the Washington Athletic Club, the 101 Club, the Columbia Tower Club, and the Glendale Country Club in Glendale, California.
Joan and Morris Alhadeff also co-founded the Joseph Gottstein Memorial Cancer Research Laboratory at the University of Washington. Alhadeff also served on the State Council for Historic Preservation and numerous other cultural and civic boards.
In 1974 Alhadeff received the Thoroughbred Racing Association of North America’s Distinguished Service Award. In 1983 he was elected president of that organization.
On June 26, 1985, Alhadeff was awarded the Seattle Friends of the National Jewish Hospital’s Humanitarian Award. He received the Outstanding Community Service Award from the Boy Scouts of America the same year.
1988 Morris Alhadeff handed over the active operations at Longacres to his sons. On September 27, 1990, the Alhadeff family announced the track’s sale to Boeing. The Valley Daily News described the senior Alhadeff’s predictions for horseracing in the state: “Morrie Alhadeff said he doesn’t believe the sale of Longacres is a sign that horse racing is a dying sport. ‘The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be,’ he said, ‘But the future is ahead. You have to think positive’ ” (September 28, 1990). September 21, 1992, saw Longacre’s final race.
Morrie Alhadeff died on November 8, 1994. Governor Mike Lowry proclaimed November 14, 1994, Morrie Alhadeff Day in recognition of his lifelong contributions to the public good. It would have been Alhadeff’s 80th birthday.
Joan Alhadeff died on February 29, 1996. Thirteen years old when her father founded Longacres, she had been involved with the racetrack in an advisory capacity throughout her adult life. She was a dedicated collector of Northwest Art, board member for the Seattle Repertory Theater, supporter of Planned Parenthood, and (in the words of her son Michael) “a strong believer in human rights and the rights of other people” (The Seattle Times, March 3, 1996).
In 2000 the Alhadeff family endowed the PONCHO Artist of the Year Award in memory of Joan and Morrie Alhadeff’s long commitment to the arts. The annual award recognizes the important role that individual artists play in the Seattle community.