DEL MAR — In the 1930s during the Great Depression, the feds established the Work Progress Administration, or WPA, to put men to work under the National Recovery Act, or NRA.
The village was designated as one of the recipients of the free lucre. The first project was the construction of street gutters mostly east of Highway 101 that remain in place today. A major component was cobblestones collected from the shoreline — free for the gathering.
The second beneficiary was the fairgrounds. An adobe wall around the perimeter of the grounds was built in keeping with the overall motif of Spanish architecture. Adobe bricks are a mixture of clay and hay, which was plentiful in the area. For weeks the main parking lot was a sea of adobe bricks.
The gutters and wall projects were finished on schedule but then the WPA tapped out with no money to complete the grandstand.
Along came Bill Quigley, a La Jolla financier with close ties to crooner Bing Crosby who owned the Osuna Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe where he kept a small stable of racehorses. Quigley approached Bing about the idea of finishing the racetrack facilities in exchange for a racing franchise. Bing’s enthusiasm was not much. At the time, summer racing in Southern California was regarded as less than favorable because
of the balmy weather. Nevertheless he talked with Pat O’Brien who maintained a summer home on the village shoreline. Pat felt the idea had merit and agreed to involve some of their Hollywood friends like Joe E. Brown, Oliver Hardy, Gary Cooper and others. They became the nucleus of the Del Mar Turf Club with Bing as president. When they had $500,000 in their kip, they presented their proposal to the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the fairgrounds’ state agency. The Turf Club would loan the money to finish the project in exchange for a 10-year franchise for horse racing. Eventually the loan was repaid. Subsequently the franchise was lengthened to 20 years to allow the lessor (now the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club) to make major improvements. There have been several lease holders. Some good, some not. The lease is up for approval next year. Neither the 22nd District or the Thoroughbred Club are in the receiving line for some of the current stimulus cash.
Filed Under: EyeWitness