As the weather warms up, everybody in University City is talking about the crowds of teenagers coming to the Loop on weekend nights. U. City and St. Louis are discussing whether they should standardize their curfew laws, and about how to coordinate policing across the City Line. But crowds of pleasure-seekers and jurisdictional debates are nothing new in U. City. Things were a lot worse in 1905, when City and County law enforcement had a furious public quarrel about betting at the Delmar Race Track.
The Delmar Race Track opened for business in 1901. It occupied part of the area that is now the Parkview Gardens neighborhood, with the location of its entrances preserved in the names of Eastgate and Westgate avenues. On July 25, 1905, about 100 St. Louis policemen, including mounted police and a “rifle corps” armed with repeating rifles (the SWAT team of the day, evidently) swept onto the race track grounds and arrested 11 bookmakers. Detectives had been investigating the track all week, and had applied for warrants in St. Louis County, but hadn’t waited for the warrants to be approved.
County prosecutor Rowland Johnston declared that he would not prosecute the arrested men and furiously protested the St. Louis City police “invasion of the County.” That wasn’t enough for his assistant prosecutor, J.C. Kiskaddon, who resigned and wrote an open letter to Johnston, accusing him of bending to the will of Missouri Governor Joseph W. Folk, a zealous reformer nicknamed “Holy Joe.” In addition, the Delmar Jockey Club, which operated the track, sued Folk and the Chief of St. Louis police. Missouri’s Attorney General responded by starting proceedings to lift the Club’s charter and put the track out of business.
The troubles now coming to a head had been brewing for a long time. What lay at the bottom of it all, said Kiskaddon in his letter, which was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was prejudice and partisan politics. The race track arrests were just the latest of Folk’s “militia spasms,” he said; Folk had been tyrannizing and calumniating the people of the County for some time, enforcing laws no one had bothered with in years—especially the one closing the bars on Sunday.
But for Folk and his supporters, the race track was a simple law enforcement issue. A month before the arrests, the Breeder’s Law had been repealed, making organized betting at Missouri racetracks illegal. But bookmakers continued to operate at the Delmar track, and St. Louis County Sheriff Herpel turned a blind eye. So Folk ordered the City police to enforce the law. “There has been entirely too much making of laws to please the moral element and then allowing the laws to be ignored to please the immoral element,” he declared.
The next day, July 26, the City police came again, to find the gates of the track shut against them. They pushed through, with Chief Kiely threatening to bar everyone from the track if any more attempts to exclude the police were made. County Sheriff Herpel had belatedly remembered his duties and was on hand, with warrants for bookies. But he wasn’t very zealous. He could find only two of the seven men he had warrants for. Folk ordered Chief Kiely to station city cops permanently at the track. Two days later, the track shut down for the season. The courts revoked the Jockey Club’s charter.
NiNi Harris, in Legacy of Lions, writes that this was the end of horseracing in St. Louis County. But other sources say the track re-opened. Whether it held horseraces or car races only is unclear. In any case, it closed for good in 1911.