Longacres racetrack was founded by Seattle real estate magnates Joseph Gottstein (1891-1971) and William Edris and designed by B. Marcus Priteca. It opened in Renton on August 3, 1933. The track was later overseen by Gottstein's son-in-law Morris Alhadeff and still later by Alhadeff's sons Michael and Kenneth. Noted for its beauty, for its fast-track surface (Green River sandy loam with a hard clay base), for the annual Longacres Mile race, and for Morris Alhadeff's collection of equine art by Northwest painters, by the time the track closed on September 21, 1992, it had become the oldest continually operating thoroughbred racetrack on the West Coast.
A Boy and His Horse
During Joseph Gottstein's youth, his father, Washington pioneer, liquor wholesaler, and real estate magnate Meyer Gottstein, owned a racing stable and was one of the shareholders at Seattle's first racetrack, The Meadows (located on what is now the south end of Boeing Field). Joe was given his first thoroughbred horse, Prince Liege, at age eight and promptly lost his heart to the Sport of Kings. However, the Washington State Legislature banned gambling in January 1909, and loss of gambling revenue quickly resulted in the demise of The Meadows.
Joseph Gottstein attended Brown University, then returned to Seattle and began buying and selling downtown real estate. One of his business associates was William Edris, who later ran The Olympic Hotel. Both men loved horse racing, all but non-existent in Washington since the 1909 gambling ban. Wealthy, well connected, and determined, Gottstein and Edris set out to revive the sport. From 1922 on they lobbied to bring thoroughbred racing back to Washington. The economic effects of the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression, along with the support of then State Representative Warren Magnuson, aided their efforts.
Washington Puts its Money on the Horses
On behalf of Edris and Gottstein, Representative Joseph B. Roberts of King County introduced House Bill 59 legalizing parimutuel wagering on horse races. On February 20, 1933, the Washington House passed House Bill 59. On February 23 the bill passed the Senate and on March 13, 1933, Governor Clarence Martin signed the bill into law.
Section 9 of the bill stipulated that 5 percent of the gross handle (the amount of money wagered) be collected as a tax, and that 80 percent of this tax would support the old-age pension fund in the state treasury. The track also paid the state a $100 per-day licensure fee. Passage of the measure opened the way for the foundation of the horse breeding and racing industries in Washington.
On the Fast Track
On June 20, 1933, the Washington Jockey Club, founded by Gottstein, Edris, architect B. Marcus Priteca (1889-1971), Dr. Richard O'Shea, Howard Lang, and M. Ross Downs, was issued a permit to own and operate a one-mile track. They took a 10-year lease on James Nelson's 107-acre dairy farm at Renton Junction in the Green River Valley. Gottstein hired Priteca, designer of his Coliseum Theater and of the Bikur Cholim Synagogue (now the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center) to design the racetrack, giving him one month.
A crew of 3,000 worked around the clock. Gottstein and Edris mortgaged properties and Gottstein took out an $85,000 personal loan to finance construction. Five months after House Bill 59 passed and 28 days after Priteca picked up his pencil, Longacres racetrack -- racing strip, red and silver grandstand, clubhouse, 33 barns, a judges' stand, and parimutuel windows -- was completed. It was the first track on the Pacific Coast to successfully operate under the parimutuel system of betting. The first race meet lasted 40 days.
Although the legalization of parimutuel wagering was controversial both locally and nationally, many Pacific Northwest residents were more than ready to play the ponies. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the track boasted "the last word in racing equipment, the Bahr starting gate, which keeps each horse in a separate stall" (August 2, 1933, p. 5).
Eight races were scheduled, including an inaugural handicap of six furlongs for 3-year-olds and upwards. The purse for this race was $1,000. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer hired Joe Hernandez, described by the paper as "an internationally-known turf-writer," to write stories and handicap during the Longacres season (August 3, 1933). The paper ran a photograph of a broadly grinning Joe Gottstein over the caption, "He Brought The Ponies Back Here." High-profile race fans from throughout the state gathered to watch Vetsera, under jockey Herbert "Little Nell" Simmons, win the track's first race.
Groomed and Very Green
Longacres patrons enjoyed a full view of Mt. Rainier. Gottstein planted Lombardy poplars around the track. Groomed and green, Longacres was planned to evoke comparison to Longchamps racetrack in the Bois de Boulogne outside Paris. The name Longacres paid tribute to Longchamps, which means long fields. The track's soil composition, fine alluvial glacial till over clay, made it a fast track. The racing surface was flooded almost every spring until 1962 when completion of the Howard A. Hanson Dam stemmed overflow on the Green River. The racetrack was an escape and diversion during the Great Depression, and generated much needed tax revenue for the state.
On August 24, 1935, Gottstein instituted the Longacres Mile with a $10,000 purse, the richest purse in the country for a one-mile race. In 1945 the purse was raised to $20,000. By 1985 it was $150,000, and by 1992 it was $250,000. The race was once around the track. It attracted the country's top jockeys and horses and generated copious publicity. So powerful was the mystique of the Longacres Mile that both attendance and betting records were routinely set on Mile Day, most significantly in 1981 when a record crowd of 25,031 (exceeded only on the track's final day) watched jockey Gary Baze ride Trooper Seven to victory. The record handle for the day was $2,770,179.
Early on, Gottstein sold the Coliseum for money to keep the track running. Many of Gottstein's real estate colleagues bought stock in Longacres to help the track survive the early years. But in 1937, William Edris pulled his money out of the track, encouraging Gottstein to do the same.
During the track's initial years, thoroughbred horse breeding in Washington was confined to only a handful of stables, most notably that of the Drumheller family of Walla Walla. This forced Longacres to rely on thoroughbreds from outside the state. In 1940 Gottstein founded the Washington Horse Breeders' Association. The yearly Washington Futurity (later the Gottstein Futurity), open only to Washington-foaled horses, also boosted the Washington breeding industry. In 1940 the track installed a new invention: electronically operated starting gates.
At the outset of World War II, ostensibly due to the potential waste of rationed gasoline and car tires race fans would use getting to the track, Governor Arthur Langley asked Gottstein to cancel the 1942 racing season. Gottstein refused, and demonstrated his support for the war effort by donating three days' worth of the parimutuel handle to the Red Cross, the Army Relief Fund, and the Navy Relief Fund. The Washington Horse Racing Commission, appointed by the Governor, denied the Washington Jockey Club's request for a 1943 season. The track did not open, and 1943 was the only year without a season during Longacres' history. The U.S. Army placed anti-aircraft guns at Longacres to protect the camouflaged Boeing factory nearby. Enlisted men's tents covered the infield and barracks were constructed behind the tote board.
When the track was granted a license for the 1944 season and reopened on June 24, 1944, for a 51-day meet, war workers flooded in for rest and relaxation between factory shifts. Many workers were flush with cash for the first time in more than a decade. Sugar, meat, women's stockings, and many other tempting items were rationed, but betting was not. Three weeks worth of the 1944 handle was donated to the Washington Veterans of Foreign Wars.
A New Generation
In 1942 Joe Goldstein's only child, Joan (1920-1996), married radio announcer Morris Alhadeff, known on the air as Jerry Morris. In 1947, at Gottstein's urging, Alhadeff joined the staff at Longacres. When Joe Gottstein officially retired in 1963, Alhadeff assumed management duties. Upon Gottstein's death on January 1, 1971, Alhadeff became president of Longacres.
During the 1950s, Longacres led the racing industry in efforts to self-police to prevent fraud. Horses were subjected to urinalysis. In 1952 Longacres became one of the first tracks in the nation to use film patrol. Film patrol allowed judges to review races in order to ensure that jockeys did not engage in illegal rough riding.
In 1971 Alhadeff installed a state-of-the-art television center at the track's finish line. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "Equipment, which includes nine cameras (covering the backstretch, the homestretch, a panoramic view of the racing area, the tote board, the paddock, and the studio), plus some 65 closed-circuit monitors and control panels ... is worth an estimated $100,000 and is leased from Criterion Films in Seattle. Stewards are now able to view instant reruns of the race, complete with stop-action, slow-motion, and backup, long before the horses return to the winner's circle ... previously, the stewards had to wait for film to be collected from three points around the track, then processed, at least an eight-minute delay before the winner is certified and valid tickets cashed" (August 15, 1971, p. 48).
Over the years, the building facilities were improved, first under B. Marcus Priteca's continuing direction and after his death in 1971 by his former associate Richard McCann. In 1972, Longacres underwent a large expansion that increased the Club House by 20,000 square feet, adding a number of separate lounges served by closed circuit television. In 1974, the open-air, six-tiered Gazebo featuring 2,500 seats was added. In 1978 the Paddock Club opened, offering reserved seating for 1,200. In 1982 the track added a 1,500-seat North Grandstand Terrace. In 1984 the North Grandstand was built behind the Gazebo, adding 900 seats, more eating areas, and additional betting windows.
On May 18, 1973, Longacres introduced so-called exotic wagering with $5 Exacta betting. Further exotic betting options such as trifectas (picking the top three finishers of a race in the exact order), and the Pick Six (choosing the winners of six consecutive races) soon followed. By 1981, nearly 10,000 fans attended Longacres each day during racing season. By 1983 these fans were wagering a daily average of $1.238 million.
In 1981 Longacres installed the Autotrack Cash/Sell System, a computerized wagering system. Computerized betting meant that betters could buy or cash tickets at any window, wager in advance throughout the day, and place bets nonverbally by filling in a betting slip. Morrie Alhadeff called the automated betting system "the most exciting single innovation ever presented to racing fans in all the years I've been here" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 5, 1981).
Art and Technology
In 1976 Morrie Alhadeff, long a collector of horse-related art, invited painter Kenneth Callahan (1905-1986) to watch morning workouts at the track. Callahan sketched the horses, later producing two series of gouache and oil paintings from the sketches. Alhadeff hung the paintings in a private dining room in the Turf Club. Other equine art hung throughout the facility.
On July 8 and 9, 1977, undefeated Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew appeared at Longacres for a noncompetitive showing. The Triple Crown races consist of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. For the first time in the track's history, Longacres sold advance tickets for a regular racing day. Admission prices (usually $3.50 for the best seating during the 1977 season) were $5 a head. The event raised funds for human medical research at the University of Washington and for horse medical research at Washington State University. Seattle Slew was bred in Kentucky and never raced at Longacres, but his co-owners Karen and Mickey Taylor were Washingtonians (from White Swan, on the Yakama Reservation).
Washington instituted a state lottery in 1984, diverting some of the public's betting dollars away from Longacres. The state's slumping economy and the growth of the professional sporting industry within the state also siphoned dollars away from the track. On April 2, 1986, in response to the fact that increasingly fewer race fans were free to come to the track during the weekdays, Longacres installed lights on the track and instituted night racing. On June 8, 1988, the first satellite-wagering facility in the state opened at Bellingham, enabling race fans to place bets without being physically present at the track. Another such facility at Yakima Meadows opened soon thereafter.
On November 23, 1988, Morrie Alhadeff was named Chairman of the Board of Longacres. His sons Michael and Kenneth Alhadeff became, respectively, track president and executive vice president.
Summing up the track's all-time luminaries, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Longacres top jockeys included Gary Baze, Gary Boulanger, Gary Stevens, Vicky Aragon, Lennie Knowles, and Larry Pierce. Glen Williams, Ben Harris, Tom Roberts, Wayne Branch, Kathy Walsh, and Bud Klokstad were top trainers. The track's top Washington-bred horses were Grey Papa, Hank H., Trooper Seven, Chinook Pass, Turbulator, Captain Condo, and Belle of Rainier ("Looking Back," September 17, 1992).
On September 27, 1990 the Alhadeff family announced sale of the Longacres property to Boeing. Boeing permitted the nonprofit Emerald Racing Association to operate the track, renamed Longacres Park, rent-free for two more seasons.
Their Final Thunder
Valley Daily News reporter Eric Lucas described the track in its final days: "Longacres has more nooks and crannies than a medieval castle, a wilderness of seating areas, bars, lounges, cafes, restaurants, cupolas, boxes and bleachers added helter-skelter over the years. In each little nook, clumps of race-lovers huddle beneath omnipresent Orwellian TV screens which display the odds and, near race time, the action on the track" (September 20, 1992).
Seattle Weekly writer David Buerge described the timeless quality of life in the backstretch:
"The backstretch, the world of stables and barns where trainers, grooms, and a host of other supporting characters played out this rustic drama, maintained a strong family feeling. Association with the track often spanned generations, and common hopes and needs bound everyone together. Typically, the backstretch awoke each morning when the grooms fed their horses and exercise boys led them out for a gallop. ... What the place lacked in amenities it made up for in romance" (August 19, 1992, p. 26).
The track closed to live racing on September 21, 1992. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "Before the last race, announcer Gary Henson told the crowd, 'These horses belong to you. Listen to their final thunder.'" Then, for probably the first time in track history, the race was run in silence, without Henson's customary calls. (September 22, 1992). More than 23,000 fans crowded the stands to see Native Rustler, ridden by Gary Stevens, win the final race.
Boeing redeveloped the northern portion of the property into a Customer Service Training Center. In December 1994, the City of Renton granted Boeing permits to demolish the Longacres grandstand and dozens of horse barns, sheds and other outbuildings. Demolition began immediately. Only the tall poplar trees that once edged the racetrack remain to mark the former location of Longacres.