Historic Roosevelt Raceway, Long Island’s landmark entertainment venue, is the focus of a new two-year project announced today by the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame. With the aid of a 2007-\'08 $15,000 Museum Collection & Research Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), the museum will begin to record and digitize the more than 8,000 photographs, videos, programs and posters that were rescued from the raceway prior to its demolition in 2000.
Following the closing of Roosevelt Raceway in 1988, one of New York State’s finest harness racing venues, the property and all its contents lay deteriorating. The loss of this important racing facility was grave but the loss of the historic records and artifacts that tell its amazing stories would have been devastating. In 1995, with demolition of the property imminent, the museum’s staff was requested, by the track’s ownership, to retrieve what they could for the museum’s archives. A fine oil painting of track founder and president, George Morton Levy, was among the artifacts rescued. The extensively damaged portrait of Levy was pulled from a dumpster and repaired under the expert care of a conservator and funding provided by museum members and friends. It can now be found, in pristine condition, on display in the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame’s Founders’ Room in Goshen, New York. Six filing cabinets from the track’s publicity office, containing a wealth of photographs and press releases, together with a multitude of boxes containing video tapes, books, movies and other archival materials, were also rescued. A cursory look into the cabinets reveals images of exuberant fans, elegant social events and superb racing that brought excitement and drama to the 20,000 people who nightly crowded the grandstand.
The history of the property on which Roosevelt Raceway stood is unique. The Newmarket Course at Hempstead Plains, established in 1665, was situated close to the site Roosevelt Raceway would one day dominate. In the 1920’s the nation’s first aeronautic club established an airfield on the site to promote flying and member Charles Lindbergh used the field to launch his landmark flight across the Atlantic in 1927. In the 1930’s the eastern end of the airfield was developed into a venue for auto racing and in 1940 horses retook the land with the founding of Roosevelt Raceway. From that day until the final race on June 15, 1988, Roosevelt Raceway, the “Dream Track,” was a point of innovation in the sport of harness racing. Night racing, the mobile starting gate, air-conditioning, and closed circuit television were showcased by the $20 million dollar entertainment venue built by Levy in his 1957 renovation. Since the track’s closing, the property has been redeveloped, becoming part of an urban landscape that now hosts a shopping mall and housing developments.
Although some progress has been made in preserving the Roosevelt Collection, improvements have been slow due to staffing levels and budget constraints. With the generous support of the museum’s members and friends, through the annual Restoration Raffle, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a comprehensive computerized catalog of these materials will be developed. The final result will provide improved access and enhanced interpretation through future exhibition and publication.
It is important to note that NYSCA can only provide half of the money that will be required to correctly and systematically record and digitize this significant collection. Additional funding is therefore eagerly invited. Fans and the children of fans, employees, and horsemen and women of Roosevelt Raceway can contact the museum’s director at (845) 294-6330 for more information on how to support this major initiative. Visit the museum, just sixty miles north of New York City, and discover more about the fascinating history of harness racing and the Standardbred horse, as well as the museum’s educational programming and other services that support the sport. The museum, located at 240 Main Street in Goshen, NY, is open daily 10am-5pm. Admission, thanks to The United States Trotting Association, is without charge. Please call (845) 294-6330 for more information or visit the institution’s website at www.harnessmuseum.com.(Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame)