'I just want Arlington': Fans return to shuttered racetrack for glimpses of nostalgia
Many of the visitors to the catacombs of Arlington Park's shuttered grandstand Monday afternoon weren't particularly interested in bidding on the gallons of Caesar salad dressing or red pepper flakes.
A few, though, were eying the stacks of china plates with the racetrack's crest, upon which brunches were once served in the Arlington Million Room just a few floors above.
Horseplayers, former employees and fans of the Arlington Heights racing palace came to the lower-level kitchen for any glimpse of nostalgia, at what was the first in-person preview ahead of a dozen online auctions of the park's assets through October.
As the first auction of more than 600 items, which started last week, is primarily commercial kitchen and food service equipment, many of those looking for a memento said they plan to come back when the other parts of the grandstand are opened for viewing of memorabilia, artwork and bronze that they can bid on.
"We'll see what they offer up in the future and if there's anything that piques my interest," said Larry Moy of Arlington Heights. "I imagine we're not the only ones, so I think some of the more recognizable items will probably get bidded up pretty high."
The 647 lots available in the first auction range from a double stack portable conventional oven starting at $2,400 to a metal shelf/rack with a starting price of a dime.
Grafe Auction Co., which was hired by track management to catalog the thousands of items and conduct the public bidding process, plans to close the first online auction starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Interested bidders can go to the auction website -- grafeauction.com/event/arlington-park-part-i -- create an account, then place incremental minimum or even maximum bids.
"As soon as the catalog is published on the website, bidding is open. Then it's all a matter of what day does it close -- what day does the bidding stop," Judd Grafe, owner and operator of Grafe Auction Co., told the Daily Herald late last week. "The computer holds up item number one and provides a 20-second bid clock where it counts down to zero. And if there's a bid in that last 20 seconds, that bid starts over at 20 seconds. So the bidding right at the end can go back and forth. Once that item is sold, the computer holds up number two just like a live auctioneer might, and the clock starts again at 20 seconds and goes to zero."
Winning bidders in the first auction will be able to pick up their items at the track starting Tuesday afternoon and no later than Friday.
Some of those who came to the preview event Monday, such as Moy, were in the restaurant and hospitality business. His family runs the Yen Yen Chinese Restaurant on the north side of Arlington Heights.
He says they're "pretty set" with kitchen items and supplies at the restaurant; Monday's visit was more about a trip down memory lane.
"I used to work in a company in Schaumburg and come out here after work on Fridays. It was always nice to come and have a cocktail with co-workers and friends," Moy said. "I miss the park. It's a shame it's not open anymore."
But, he says, he's excited about what the 326 acres at Euclid and New Wilke roads could become, if the Chicago Bears finalize their $197.2 million deal for the prime real estate. A closing is scheduled for early 2023, after the NFL franchise's due diligence period is complete.
"We are hopeful the Bears do a good job with this," Moy said. "If they could pull off something that's not just a stadium, but, you know, I imagine a restaurant-entertainment kind of a complex like some of the other stadiums, I think it'd be a great asset to the neighborhood."
But others who returned to the racetrack Monday wished they were coming to play the ponies instead.
"It's terrible," said Rob Fielding, of the track's September 2021 closure. "To see where it was and where it used to be -- it's terrible. ... The Bears can stay in Chicago. Let them stay there and let us run horse racing here."
His wife, Melissa, said, "There's room for both."
The Schaumburg couple brought along their four daughters to browse the kitchen collection as they recalled memories of their trips to the track. Though Rob Fielding says he's no fan of corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc., the family is planning a trip to the namesake track in Louisville, Kentucky, on Aug. 13, when the Arlington Million and other graded stakes races that would have been at Arlington are hosted there instead.
Horse racing at Arlington runs deep through the family's veins: Rob's grandfather was a jockey, and his dad worked there.
For the track's final season, Rob took a job in guest services, giving tours of the paddock and teaching people how to read the programs and place bets.
"To be honest with you, if I won that $1.3 billion (lottery), I'd be here today to buy this place," he said. "I'd be the high bidder."
"And then you could buy the Bears," said his wife.
"They can have the Bears," he said. "I just want Arlington."