All Over The Map: What will become of the ‘ruins’ of Longacres?

Feb 25, 2022, 9:24 AM | Updated: Oct 25, 2022, 4:22 pm

Hundreds of square feet of tile floor remain in the "ruins" at the old Longacres horse racing track. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio) Concrete foundations from the grandstand and clubhouse remain where Longacres once stood. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio) A long, low concrete wall that perhaps once separated the track from the grandstands at Longacres still stands; old gaps in the green-painted wall have protective rubber padding, perhaps to protect horses as they entered and exited the track. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio) A 1935 photo from the MOHAI collection shows the clubhouse (L) and grandstand (R) as seen from the center of the track at what was officially known as Longacres Park; the track closed in 1992 and was demolished soon after. (MOHAI)

The Seattle Sounders’ new plan to build its team headquarters at the old Longacres site near Southcenter has a local history sleuth and blogger wondering what this might mean for the “ruins” that still remain from the old horse racing track.

Longacres was a thoroughbred horse racing track that operated south of Seattle from 1933 to 1992. It was torn down in the 1990s, and Boeing built its commercial airplane headquarters there. Boeing moved out just about a year ago, and sold the property in late 2021.

It was exciting news when the Sounders announced last week that the team will mark its 50th anniversary in 2024 with the grand opening of a new headquarters and practice facility at the old Longacres site. From the announcement event and from the team website, it’s clear that majority owner Adrian Hanauer and team leadership care about and embrace the horse-racing history – in fact, the official name of the headquarters will be “Sounders FC Center at Longacres.”

The Sounders, it seems, clearly “get it” when it comes to local history and Longacres history.

Robin Adams of West Seattle certainly hopes this is true. She invited KIRO Newsradio to visit the edges of the old Longacres site with her Thursday to take a look around.

“They’re going to build something spectacular here, and I, loving Longacres, was concerned,” Adams said.

She stumbled across ruins of old buildings and other parts of the race track back in 2015, and is eagerly working to find out “if this was going to be preserved, and if it is our chance to build a museum or a walking [tour] that can show people this is what’s left of what was here.”

And with just a cursory examination, it appears there’s quite a bit that’s still there.

“A good portion of the track is left,” Adams described. “The green wall, the foundations. There’s a lot of stuff still here.”

Adams says that when the track was demolished nearly 30 years ago, for some reason, they left most of the concrete foundations and slabs from the grandstands, and other structures that comprised the public areas of the track along its west side. On portions of that slab is hundreds of square feet of terra cotta-tiled floor, which Adams believes is from the betting window areas and other public spaces on the ground floor of the grandstands.

The “green wall” Adams mentions is a barricade, roughly three feet high and one foot thick, which she believes separated the grandstand area from the track surface. It’s made of poured concrete, painted green, with what might be considered simple art deco flourishes: parallel recessed channels running the length of the wall. It appears that hundreds of feet of the wall survive, and there are occasional gaps, still covered with protective rubber padding – maybe to prevent injury to horses as they exited and entered the track or winner’s circle.

Adams hopes some semblance of the old Longacres ruins will be preserved by the Sounders as part of the construction for the new headquarters – and that maybe there can be historic markers that also double as a self-guided history walk. KIRO Newsradio reached out to the Sounders media office with questions about the old Longacres ruins late Thursday, but as of Friday morning has not yet heard back.

Meanwhile, KIRO Newsradio’s resident Longacres expert, Dori Monson, examined photographs of the ruins and confirmed the authenticity of the old tiles.

“What Wrigley is to Cubs fans and what Fenway is to Red Sox fans, that’s what Longacres was to me,” Monson said Thursday after seeing photos of the ruins. “It was this magical place that had so much history, and it was just such an old school construction. I absolutely fell in love with the place when I was about 12 years old and never looked back.”

Monson says even today, when he drives on 405 past the site of the old track, “There’s still that row of trees — if you were sitting in the grandstand, you always saw that row of poplars. And every time I see those, I’m transported back.”

Monson made countless visits to Longacres beginning in the 1970s, and he was actually there on Sept. 21, 1992 – the last day the track was in business — doing his old KING 1090 show from the iconic race track on the sad and historic occasion.

Monson says for that final race, the track announcer made a special call.

“The horses were loading [into the starting gate], and then the track announcer, Gary Henson, did just one of the most selfless, great things a broadcaster has ever done,” Monson said.

Henson let the horses run the final race while he remained mostly silent, Monson says, letting the hooves poetically thunder on their own, without human accompaniment, for the bulk of the distance around the track.

“I had no idea he was going to do that, and silence is really bad radio,” Monson said, chuckling. “So I tried to call the last race [for the radio audience], so I guess I’m the only person who called the last race ever at Longacres.”

“I got really choked up as they hit the home stretch,” Monson recalled, who has since become a notorious on-air sobber. “That was the first time that opened the floodgates for the rest of my career.”

It’s clear the Longacres site has plenty of history – and, for Dori, some tears – and now, with the Seattle Sounders and people like Robin Adams, that history might have an interesting future, too.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: What will become of the ‘ruins’ of Longacres?