Washington Park memorial to be unveiled Sunday in Homewood
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com October 25, 2012 3:12PM
Overview of Washington Park, a horse racing track that stood for more than 50 years at 178th and Halsted streets in Homewood. | Supplied photo
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:25AM
Washington Park Race Track, a large piece of Homewood’s past, will be remembered at 2 p.m. Sunday with the unveiling of a historical marker.
The marker, at 17800 S. Halsted St., will recall the glory days of Washington Park, one of the nation’s premier horse racing tracks for more than 50 years.
Now, the west side of Halsted Street is home to a retail shopping area. But on July 3, 1926, the racetrack opened its doors to excited patrons willing to plunk down a few dollars on horse racing. That continued for five decades until Feb. 5, 1977, when a fire destroyed the grandstand, Homewood historian Elaine Egdorf said.
The marker, sponsored by the Village of Homewood Heritage Committee and the Illinois State Historical Society, will feature text that discusses the track’s historic impact on horse racing.
It was at Washington Park on Aug. 31, 1955, where 35,262 people filled the grandstand to watch the year’s two top horses and two legendary jockeys meet in a match race. Swaps had defeated Nashua in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, 1955. This time, Nashua and jockey Eddie Arcaro beat Swaps and jockey Willie Shoemaker by 6 1⁄2 lengths in a race that got global attention.
“It was a big race at one of the foremost tracks in the whole country. It came as a result of public demand. The people wanted to know which horse was the better horse,” Egdorf said.
The track, which started hosting concerts in the 1970s, was preparing for the upcoming racing season when the fire broke out on Feb. 5, 1977, Egdorf said.
“Firefighters entered at the north gate, and by the time they got in, it was to the south end. There was no saving it,” she said.
Egdorf, who grew up in Homewood, recalled how trainers brought their horses to cool off after races at ponds at Izaak Walton Preserve.