Original Construction Longacres Park Horse Track, Renton Washington
Extant architectural drawings signed by B. Marcus Priteca, along with historic photographs and aerial views, together provide a relatively complete visual record of Longacres in its formative first decade.
The site which Joseph Gottstein had leased just a little over a month before opening day was situated in the heart of a rural landscape, at a country crossroads known as Renton Junction. To the north the valley narrowed between low hillocks, opening into the broad floodplain of the Duwamish, Seattle's developing industrial corridor. To the south stretched the fertile valley of the Green River dotted with dairy farms and truck gardens, still untouched by urban expansion. In the distance rose a breathtaking, unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier.
Gottstein's parcel was L-shaped, bounded along its 1,740-foot northern perimeter by the Renton Junction Paved Highway (now S.W. 16th Street), and along its 2,695-foot western perimeter by the right-of-way of the Northern Pacific Railroad, now the Burlington Northern. The acreage was a flat, open pasture, largely cleared of trees and stumps in previous decades by dairyman James Nelson. The only vegetation remaining on the site were some stubborn cottonwood trees which had to be dynamited out. The sandy, alluvial soil was free of stones and well-suited to the creation of a springy track. In its First Biennial Report to the Governor in 1934, the Washington Horse Racing Commission remarked: "The Longacres racing plant, operated by the Washington Jockey Club, proved to be one of the world's fastest race courses. Of a river bottom loam, it proved at the same time the kindliest of racing strips for the running of thoroughbreds."
A key drawing among the collection of original Priteca designs from the summer of 1933 is the "Plot and Track Plan." The drawing depicts a racing track oriented north to south, 32 feet in width, with a notation to dimension the one-mile oval in exact accordance with the directions of the Track Master. Ranged along the west side of the oval, north to south, are a detached Grandstand, Clubhouse, Paddock, and Jockeys' Building. At the northeast corner of the property in the ML" extension, are shown 15 stables with room for more. "Auto parking" is indicated all along the west and north boundaries of the property. Most intriguing is the delineation of a wooden fence to entirely enclose the racing oval, the frontside facilities, and the horse barn complex. Detail drawings show flagpoles to be posted along this fenceline every 200 to 250 feet.
A comparison of the original site plan with photographs and aerial views from 1933 to 1939, reveals that Longacres was in fact laid out much as planned, but with additional stables. Some continuing modifications occurred over the remainder of the decade. During the first racing season, the infield retained the muddy scars of construction traffic over much of its surface. Rudimentary paths were worn by the horses moving from the stable area to the paddock and returning from the winner's circle. A 1936 view reveals patterns of mown grass or hay over much of the infield. In this view a drainage channel, which appears to follow a former stream meander, is visible at the south end of the oval. Embracing the north and south turns are distinct single rows of newly-planted Lombardy poplars, the earliest of Joe Gottstein's efforts to landscape the site. Photographs of opening day of the 1937 season document the beginning of a long tradition of floral landscaping in the infield, with "Longacres" delineated in a color-contrasting flower bed just northeast of the tote board.
Five original Priteca drawings from June and July of 1933 depict the design of the 60 x 300-foot Grandstand. The structural system consists of steel columns and wooden beams. Wood and steel-laced members frame the hipped roof. The rear or west face of the grandstand is clad with "rustic" siding. Expansive multipaned windows shed light into the open pari-mutuel betting area beneath the grandstand. There, 34 "buying booths" and 17 "paying booths" are ranged along the west wall, and behind them in a single-story wing are specialized offices and accounting rooms.
The drawings further indicate wooden bench seating of uncertain capacity, and, separated by a "promenade," 33 box seats grouped in five bays. A combination of pipe and wood railings are shown. On the roof at its south end is a polygonal "broadcasting room" with rustic siding. Two garabrel-roof dormers appear on the west slope of the roof. Another drawing depicts a decorative pattern of red and black composition roofing, in a geometric Art Deco theme that was incorporated in design details throughout the race track complex. Along an ornamental wooden parapet six flagpoles are evenly spaced.
A comparison of Priteca's 1933 grandstand drawings with historic photographs of the first racing season indicates that it, too, was built much as designed with some small variations. Eleven flags instead of six, for instance, were put up along the parapet, and minor last-minute changes were made to the ground-floor offices. But, at the close of the first meet, architect Priteca began almost immediately to plan for an expansion of the grandstand's seating and parimutuel capacity. Subsequent drawings and photographs dating from November of 1933 through 1939 trace the evolution of the grandstand. In place by the summer of 1934 were an additional row of box seating, a new single-story betting wing extending to the north, and additional open pari-mutuel windows at the south end of the grandstand. Wooden open-air bleachers with a seating capacity of 5,560 had been erected north of the grandstand. Below these bleachers a lunchroom, bar, and restrooms were installed. In 1935, Joe Gottstein's office and all other important administrative functions including the Racing Secretary's office were relocated into the small north betting wing. In 1937, an important visual change was made to the roofline with the introduction of a festive, Art-Deco styled "steward's booth" above the original broadcasting room. A smaller version of the same stepped, ziggurat roofed structure was placed at the parapet further to the north.
Four drawings for the original Clubhouse at Longacres remain in the McCann collection of Priteca drawings. Early-day photos show that the building was constructed much as designed, in a crisp Colonial Revival style. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Society pages described the Clubhouse on opening day as "a small model of Mt. Vernon,....gay with flags." Of wood-framed construction on concrete footings, the building's most distinctive exterior feature was a handsome, two-story veranda or gallery, articulated by eight wooden posts, with tiered seating on both levels offering full views of the finish line. Priteca's plans called further for rustic exterior siding and "slate surfaced ready roofing in two colors." At the south end of the building was an observation tower, square in plan, its open deck enframed by a geometrically styled railing that echoed the theme of the ornamental balustrades along the gallery below.
In section, the Clubhouse was rather ingeniously designed and constructed to enclose an offset, secondary gable that served as the "vaulted" ceiling of the clubhouse bar. The lounge, and a small private dining room adjacent to it, were the only public interior spaces -- the kitchen and other service functions were housed under a shed-roofed extension along the rear (west) side of the building. Priteca's 1933 drawings for this interior specify 12-inch cedar-board paneling for walls and 3/8-inch tongue-in-groove paneling for the ceiling. Exposed structural members consist of 6 x 12-inch beams, 6 x 8-inch rafters, and chamfered trusswork. A massive cut-stone fireplace with a simply carved mantlepiece and decorative brick hearth are depicted. At the far south end of the clubhouse bar is an open flight of stairs with molded wood detail, giving access to the second story veranda.
Although no historic photographs of the clubhouse interior have come to light, remaining physical evidence today indicates that the room was executed much as designed, with the exception of pine wall paneling in lieu of cedar. Few changes were made to the clubhouse during the 1930s. By 1937, however, dated photographs reveal that a raised connection between the clubhouse and grandstand had been put in place, creating a sort of open court with betting windows between the two structures. In a 1939 photo, the viewing deck on the clubhouse roof has been remodeled over the east slope of the roof with the addition of an enclosed observation booth.
Architect Priteca's design for the Paddock is dated June 28, 1933. The drawing depicts a wood-framed gable-roofed structure to be situated south of the clubhouse and set back from the track. Not including the generous roof overhang around its perimeter, this open shelter measures 41 x 57 feet in dimension. The upper gable ends are sided in rustic, and the roofing is "slate surfaced ready roofing in two colors laid horizontally." Fourteen stalls are delineated within the shelter, but apparently, no particular design was originally envisioned for the open space that fronted the track. In several early 1930s photographs, the open paddock appears simply as an area enclosed by picket fencing. By 1939, however, the paddock had been more formally landscaped, with a boxwood hedge inside the fence, a saddling ring around which horses and riders might parade prior to a race, and a central "green" embellished with an ornamental flowerbed at its center.
Priteca's original design drawings include plans for the Jockey Building to be located just south of the paddock. A small, gable-roofed structure with a single-story, flat-roofed wing to the east, it measures 40 x 22 feet in dimension. A screened entry faces the paddock, and from the attic level jockeys could exit out to the roof deck for a full view of the racing oval. Inside the building is a large dressing room with steel lockers; a scale for weighing in; a shower, toilet and utility room, an office, and a "drying attic," accessed by a ladder, for drying of the silks after a race.
Among the original design drawings dating from the summer of 1933 are those illustrating smaller, Auxiliary Structures to be located around the main buildings as well as within the infield. Photographs document that most of these elements were in place for the opening meet that year. But many had been altered or removed altogether by the end of the decade. These features contributed aesthetically to the larger design theme of the racecourse, but they were functional in nature and some were vulnerable to new technology.
The perimeter fence around the track and grandstand area, according to Priteca's detail drawing, was to be constructed of 7/8 x 6-inch solid boards with a decorative stepped detail and flagpoles at regular intervals. Although no flags or flagpoles can be identified in the available aerial views from the 1930s, the overall configuration of this perimeter fence with its stepped detailing was clearly built as designed. Access to the grounds within the fence was possible at three gates: Gate #1 gave access into the stable area east of the racing oval; Gate #2 was the main entrance for patrons located just north of the grandstand; and Gate #3 opened at the rear of the clubhouse for members only. A second, more decorative fencing design was employed within the complex to control circulation. Low pickets composed of 1 x 3-inch and 1 x 6-inch boards of staggered heights, separated the members-only apron in front of the clubhouse, encircled the paddock, set off a space around the tote board and timer's stand in the infield, and separated fans along the frontside from the racing oval itself.
A drawing dated June 30, 1933, depicts the main ticket offices and ticket-taking booths to be situated at the entrance gate just north of the grandstand. These three ticket offices had hipped roofs, projecting bay windows, and board-and-batten siding. Aerial views confirm the placement of these structures as planned, with little change until their redesign in the following decade.
Early 1930s photographs document that an elaborate judges' stand was originally built as designed (drawing dated July 3, 1933) on the grandstand side of the finish line at the winners' circle. It was an ornate octagonal tower with a copper-clad roof and spire, interior stairs, and a second-story perimeter balcony with a pipe railing. At ground level the stand was encircled by picket fencing within which the official jockeys' scale was situated. By 1937, this tower had been dismantled, perhaps because it blocked crucial views of the finish line from the grandstand and clubhouse.
Priteca's 1933 designs also encompassed important functional details pertaining to the racing oval itself, including the inner and outer rails, starter stands, patrol judges' towers, and the colorful marker poles. The original rails were simple wood fences angled toward the track and constructed of 4 x 4-inch and 4 x 6-inch lumber.
Across the finish line from the judges' stand was the timer's stand (also known as the infield steward's stand), included in a Priteca drawing dated June 30, 1933. The timer's stand was built as designed, and is visible in many 1930s photos of the race track. Similar in appearance to the judges' stand across from it, the timer's stand was equipped with loud speakers and ornamented with flower boxes at its base. The timer's stand was removed by 1938, its function outmoded by the brand-new automatic Totalizer or "tote" board installed at Longacres that season.
The original tote board was, like the rest of the earliest features at Longacres, a simple wood-framed structure with a certain picturesque quality. It was manually operated, and provided racing fans a display of horse number, rank in the morning line, and approximate odds. At its base was a planter of flowers and latticework. In its picket fence enclosure next to the timer's stand, the original tote board remained in place until its replacement by the Totalizer in 1938.
At the rail line between the old tote board and timer's stand was a manually-operated decorative clock that gave the post-time reminder. The clock appears in a detail drawing of July 18, 1933 and in at least one early '30s photograph, but by the 1937 season it had been removed.
Priteca's original designs include one drawing of a prototypical Stable. Longacres stables, or horse barns, were to be constructed in the backstretch at the northeast corner of the property. The infield path to the paddock led out from the far south end of this barn complex. Initially, the entire acreage at the north end of the racing oval was reserved for auto parking, and no barns extended into that area until later years.
Each original wood-framed stable at Longacres was constructed by an independent carpenter/contractor. With dimensions of 100 x 20-feet and gabled roofs with 4-foot overhangs, each barn enclosed nine bays on either side, seven of which would function as horse stalls and two as tack rooms. Concrete footings, 2 x 4-inch stud construction, rustic siding, and "slate surfaced ready roofing" are called for in Priteca's original design, dated June 27, 1933. According to this drawing, each barn was to be wired for electricity, and was to feature stall doors with "sliding shutters."
The backstretch continued to grow and evolve over that first decade of operation in the 1930s. Photographs and floor plans among the property records of the King County Assessor indicate that some stables built in the 1930s were only of single-stall depth. These narrow barns are those that clearly appear in the 1936 aerial view of Longacres along the perimeter at the northeasternmost corner of the site. They also include the barns which came to be known as "Canadian Row," under construction in 1936 and nearly complete by 1938. Another change which can be traced through photographic evidence is the extension of the 4-foot roof overhangs to 10-foot shedrows with wood frames and canvas awnings. In the 1936 aerial, about half the barns are making use of these temporary canopies, but a 1940 view shows almost universal use. The large Thoroughbred Racing Association barn, where Joe Gottstein stabled his own thoroughbreds and celebrity horses were boarded, appears at the center of the original 36-barn cluster along its eastern edge. The Drumheller Barn, occupied by horses from the extensive stables of the Drumheller family in Walla Walla, stood at the far east end of "Canadian Row." William Boeing also brought race horses to the Longacres backstretch in the first decade -- his stable location has not been documented.