Apr 27th 2008 07:04 pm |
The Atlantic City Race Course attracted 25,000 fans when it opened on July 22, 1946. Conceived in 1943, smack in the middle of the Second World War, the track was funded by a group of local investors headed by Jack Kelly, Philadelphia business man and father of Grace Kelly. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin wrote in May 1947 of Jack Kelly and his track, “you can see in his gait that he’s might pleased of his $4,000,000 establishment. He is running nose to nose with the gentlemen who turned Gulfstream into a paradise. Improving the breed, as they say, is doing a lot to improve the landscape.”
Atlantic City Race Course represented all that was new and modern in post-war America. The appeal of the “new” along with the growing popularity of racing made the track a popular destination, consistently drawing crowds in excess of 10,000 during it first years of operation.
What follows are some highlights from James Roach 1946 piece in the New York Times about opening day:
In thousands of autos and dozens of buses, by train and by plane the fans arrived. They came early, eager for a thorough inspection of the 657-acre plant and its up-to-the-minute features, and long before the first post time of 2:30 all the 16,000 seas were filled. Late comers had to settle for standing room out in the sun in the concrete lawn.”
The track, built in the middle of the New Jersey pines on a site that once was a golf course, was about 95 per cent complete for this inaugural program. Benches were borrowed from Delaware Park because all the seats weren’t in operation, the automatic sprinkler system wasn’t ready to do any sprinkling and the television tower wasn’t doing any televising, but all the essential machinery in a smooth-working race track was working — and apparently working well”
My comment: Can anyone imagine a race track being built over a golf course today? It was built over the Atlantic Pines golf course.
Jon Sloan, the architect who was a member of the New York Racing Commission from 1934 to 1942 designed the track – and he planned it with the comfort of the fans firmly in mind. He built the Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City and the Garden State track at Camden; he also built such notable New York City structures as the Graybar Building, the Chanin Building, the Pershing Square Building, 29 Broadway and 80 Broad Street.”
Image: Crowd watches the field pass the stands, September 4, 1947
Among the features of the seashore course, which is about 120 miles from New York and 45 from Philadelphia, are sun decks, dining terraces, cocktail lounges in both clubhouse and grandstand, a seafood bar, a sunken walking ring with stepped tiers around it and a parking lot with accommodation’s for 10,000 automobiles. Every seat is a good one, and the stress is on visibility.
John B. Kelly Sr. of Philadelphia, the former Olympic sculling champion, is the president of the association. He stepped to the microphone and welcomed fans prior to the first race.
All was sweetness and light out front, but there was some squawking in the stable area about inadequate facilities.”
Oh well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. With the exception of the occupants of the “stable area”, the Atlantic City Race Course’s fan-focused facilities and its proximity to vacation destinations made it a popular place to spend an afternoon.
THEN AND NOW
The following images of the ACRC were taken July 16, 1946 by the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, about a week before opening day (click to view full image):
These photographs were taken on April 25, 2008, day 3 of the 6 day all turf meet. Some of these images above might not convey the current condition of the facility. It is certainly showing its age. My wife called it “Pimlico-like.”:
To see additional images:View a web album from April 25, 2008
THE FUTURE OF THE ATLANTIC CITY RACE COURSE
The signs of the eventual fate of the Atlantic City Race Course literally surround the facility. In every direction, development looms and the days of the historic oval seem numbered.
Delaware Park is my home track. Coming from a place where the live racing is secondary (at best) to the slots and simulcasting, makes me truly appreciate race meets where the live racing is the primary focus. Pure racing venues are becoming less typical in the era of racinos. It is highly unlikely that a horse racing only facility will be constructed in the foreseeable future (odds are against such an occurrence in my lifetime). ACRC is as pure a race venue as they come. To see it torn down would be a real loss to the local fans who really seemed to enjoy the races and to those who respect the history of thoroughbred racing.
Considering the appeal of boutique meets like Saratoga, Keeneland, and Del Mar, reviving ACRC for a short spring and/or fall meet would be a viable way to keep the track in operation. The success of the current 6 day meet with very little publicity is evidence that live racing can draw a crowd at ACRC. The venue is the key. When it goes, so goes a great opportunity for a boutique meet in the region. Let’s hope that it chugs along for another season. As long as it’s standing a chance remains that something constructive might be done to keep the wrecking ball away.
“Application is Filed for Construction of $2,000,000 Race Track in Jersey,” New York Times, November 23, 1923
“New Moon is First at Atlantic City,” New York Times, July 23, 1946
“Racing Opens at Atlantic City,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 26, 1947
Historic images courtesy of the Urban Archives at Temple University