Page 8 THE SAUGUS ADVOCATE – Friday, June 28, 2019 Last Call this weekend Suffolk Downs will soon join Saugus’s Franklin Park as a racetrack of yesteryear By Railbird Special to The Saugus Advocate L ast Sunday, to fanfare, the games of chance commenced at the glittering new Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett. The flip side of that story will play out a few miles down the road in East Boston this weekend. Late Sunday afternoon, when the last horse crosses the finish line in the final nightcap at Suffolk Downs, the laws of modern progress will go into full effect. Where champions like Seabiscuit and Whirlaway, Cigar and Skip Away dazzled throngs, 10,000 units of new housing will be raised, part of a massive new community. The book will slam shut on 84 years of often glorious history at the East Boston Oval. Perhaps the Gaming Commission’s decision to grant the casino license to Wynn Resorts will prove wise over time. Out of the gate, however, the storyline is unappealing. For the better part of 20 years, Suffolk Downs rattled the Commonwealth’s cage seeking a casino license. It was finally within reach when a carpetbagger – Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn – swept in at the 11th hour and snatched it from the Gaming Commission’s upturned palms. Racing fans, smarting from the perception that a Boston fixture had been kicked to the curb, were soon left to ponder the diligence the Gaming Commission had devoted to investigating the two applicants. THE WAY IT WAS: The entrance to the Old Saugus Race Course – also known as Franklin Park – where Saugus hosted harness racing up until 1905, when the track closed. (Photo Post Card Courtesy of George Brown to The Saugus Advocate) Wynn’s name is not on the Lawnmower Tune-Up and Repairs • We repair all makes & models! • Authorized • FREE PICK-UP for all Tune-Ups! all m • We r d K-U makes & mo ma akes & mo D KU for all Tun UP fo 1039 Broadway, Revere • (781) 289-6466 Biker’s Outfitter (781) 289 , ee (8) 89 www.bikersoutfitter.com Dealer casino, because soon after the license was granted he was dethroned from the helm of Wynn Resorts amid allegations that he had been a sexual predator for years. (He denies the allegations.) That news was late. The race had gone “official.” So, there is just a last chance to visit the scene of so many victories and defeats, the arena where such vast numbers of sporting men for years, like pilgrims, paid their devotions. They will all be back Sunday, jostling toward the betting windows. They will crowd the grandstand apron, 505 Broadway Everett, MA 02149 Tel: 617-387-1120 www.gkdental.com • Family Dentistry • Crowns • Bridges • Veneers/Lumineers • Dental Implants • All on 4 Dental Implants • Emergency Dentist • Kid Friendly Dentist • Root Canals • Dentures • Invisalign Braces • Snap On Smile • Teeth Whitening We are the smile care experts for your entire family craning their necks to see the horses thundering headlong down the stretch. The ghosts of men in hats. All that will remain after Sunday is the job of demolishing the old racetrack. When it was constructed on mudflats in 1935, Suffolk Downs’ grandstand was the largest in the country. It is solid concrete, and may not go easily. Thunderous explosions will likely rattle the good china in homes on Orient Heights and Beachmont. Perhaps the shock waves will reach Saugus, passing over the Pines River, the marshes and the site of Saugus’s 19th Century track, Franklin Park. Built in 1859, Franklin Park In House Dental Plan for $399 (Cleanings, X-Rays, Exams twice a year and 20% OFF Dental work) Schedule your FREE Consultations today survived until 1905. According to the late Thomas Mahlstedt, the chief archaeologist of the old Metropolitan District Commission, Franklin Park prospered for years as the largest racetrack in the area. For the well-heeled sporting crowd, a luxurious four-story hotel was constructed by the track in the 1880s. What heroics were enacted on the track? Which horses were the glory of that time? What were the great betting coups talked about for years and years? None of the answers can be summoned up on the internet. Franklin Park’s demise is the part of its history best recorded. Mahlstedt and Wikipedia agree that Saugus residents became disenchanted with track habitués. The MDC archaeologist wrote: “Slowly as more and more cardsharks, prostitutes and other characters of questionable repute frequented it, local neighbors, church groups and finally the Board of Selectmen agitated for the park’s closure. The swell of public opinion, combined with lessening profits, culminated in the track and hotel’s ceasing business in 1905.” After closing, the track briefly became a site for circuses and carnivals. In 1911, the old horse stalls were converted to airplane hangers, and an early aviation school was founded. When pari-mutuel wagering was legalized in 1934, a group of investors sought to revive racing at the site but lost out to the developers of Suffolk Downs. Never too late. Perhaps the current stewards of the property, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, would be interested in returning the site to its 19th Century glory. While waiting for that longshot to come in, you can pay a final visit to one of the last old places in Boston. Post time at Suffolk Downs for 12-race cards both Saturday and Sunday is 12:55. Sunday, the track will be selling T-shirts commemorating its 84-year history, with proceeds going toward thoroughbred aftercare. Admission and parking are free. So are the memories... Editor’s Note: Railbird is the pen name of a former newspaperman. He now confesses that he occasionally stopped at Suffolk Downs to play his favorite horses while on the clock.

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