Friday, May 3, 2013

HYDROMANIA - SLOT MACHINES, THE ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE, AND THE BEGINNINGS OF THE DIAMOND CUP FOR UNLIMITED HYDROPLANES

Let me take you on a brief flashback to the way things were in the early spring of 1958 in Coeur d’Alene. It was such a different world from what we all experience today.

Coeur d’Alene was still very much a small town in a sparsely populated western state. The 1960 census tells us that the population of the City by the Lake was a nearing 14,000 people where it now has nearly 45,000 citizens.

In the world of entertainment, your only source for movies was the local theater. Not everyone had a television and video and DVD technologies were more than a decade away for the common consumer. Color television technology was also still a few years from becoming affordable to the average homeowner.

In the world of sports, the Pacific Northwest region was bereft of professional teams. Baseball, football, basketball, and soccer teams were all amateur or semi-professional in the five state region surrounding Idaho. To see a professional team of any kind, significant hours (if not days) of travel were necessary.

In the area of transportation, the interstate highway system was many years from being complete, and two lane roads and highways connected the towns and cities of the northwest states rather than the modern day multi-lane freeway system. Those roads and highways generally ran through rather than around towns and cities, adding precious time to even the shortest of road trips.

In the area of economics, the United States as a whole and North Idaho in particular were both suffering from the effects of a deepening recession, the worst that had been suffered by the country and the region since the end of World War II. The effects of the recession were particularly impacting the Coeur d’Alene area with the prices for wood and mining products spiraling downward and large numbers of workers being laid off or terminated.

It was in this environment that the Diamond Cup for unlimited hydroplanes was born.

Like their counterparts during the deep recession of 1913, the city fathers of Coeur d’Alene looked to tourism to stimulate business and job growth. Once again the lake and the sport of inboard boat racing would become the focus of the business community in an effort to grow the local job market and weather the receding economy.

In researching for my upcoming book on the Diamond Cup, I found that the actual birthplace for the races was Coeur d’Alene’s Athletic Round Table (ART). The ART was a member’s only cocktail lounge and informal meeting place located in the bottom level of the Desert Hotel at First and Sherman. Its membership included many of Coeur d’Alene’s most influential downtown businessmen and the movers and shakers of the entire lakeside community.

Outside entrance and parking lot of the Athletic Round Table on the
west side of the Desert Hotel facing First Street – The parking lot eventually gave
way to a pool and outside bar

From its very beginnings in 1933, the ART was a popular meeting place where forward thinking business people could meet to talk of the events of the day.

Their role expanded during the post war years to include support of civic activities and contributions to many area charities. This was largely due to two laws passed by the Idaho legislature that were to directly benefit the clubs bank account. In 1947, a change in state laws allowed the ART to become the first drinking establishment in the state of Idaho to be allowed to sell of liquor by the drink since the repeal of prohibition in 1933. The same year, a local option vote authorized by legislature permitted the ART to install slot machines on its premises.

ART entrance sign on the south side of the Desert Hotel facing Sherman Avenue

Museum of North Idaho Photo

Benefiting directly over the next few years from the largess that came from ART liquor sales and gambling were the cities athletic teams, its high school band, the restoration of the historic Fort Grounds Church, and the construction of the float that would represent Idaho at the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. The club was also able to funnel some of the money into an upgrade of its clubroom and lounge, making it an even more attractive gathering place.

A change in state law that came in 1954 would make the slot machines illegal, but the club would continue to benefit greatly from its hard liquor sales. The loss of revenue did nothing to diminish the groups support of civic activities and projects, and it was a natural outgrowth of this civic focus for the ART to be at the center of the movement to bring hydroplane racing to the community when the time came.

That time came in the early spring of 1958.

Although, I have not been able to determine the one person who came up with the idea, I have been able to determine that the initial discussions on bringing the big boats to Coeur d’Alene took place in the clubroom of the ART in early months of 1958. Those present more than likely included ART board members John S. Richards, Lee Brack, Carter Crimp, and Doug Downing.

Cover of Athletic Round Table match book advertising the Diamond Cup Races

Glenn Raymond Photo

The earliest public reference to what would become the Diamond Cup race is found on the cover of the Thursday, March 20, 1958 edition of the Coeur d’Alene Press, which announced “Hydro Racing Sought On Lake” in two-inch cap letters on page one. The accompanying article predicted that the race would become the biggest promotion that the city had ever seen and generously predicted that it would attract 200,000 to 250,000 visitors to the city for the inaugural race.

The Press article also revealed that an application for a race sanction had been sent off to the American Power Boat Association, the sports ruling body, the night before following a get together in the ART meeting room. At that same get together, the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association (CUHA) was formed to act as the sponsoring body for the races.

The same article was also the first written referral to the race as being the “Diamond Cup”.

The leadership of the CUHA was elected at the meeting and the first board of directors included Atlas Tie lumber mill manager John S. Richards as race commodore, Coeur d’Alene Press advertising manager Duane Hagadone as vice commodore, ART general manager Ron McDonald as secretary, and First National Bank manager Martin Chesnut as treasurer. It was a very influential group.

What was most interesting about the application for the race sanction was the dates the committee had selected: June 14th and 15th. Using the March 20th announcement of the race as the starting point, the organizers had roughly sixty-eight days to get funding arranged, the committee organized, and the race facilities ready for the arrival of the race teams.

The task facing the CUHA was indeed monumental – Could they possibly get past all of the obstacles in their path and get it all together in time?


NEXT INSTALLMENT: The Race to Get Ready and Getting the First Boats Wet
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: The Greyhound, The Fire Chief, and The Wasp


Steve Shepperd
Author/Historian
Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs

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