Chicago-St. Augustine-Palm Beach-Lexington
“He had a small place on Clark Street, but it was large enough to make some pretty good money.” — Thomas S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
Having relocated to Chicago’s South Side and moved their stable to Memphis, the Bradleys organized a gambling house with faro, roulette, hazard, and poker under the patronage of Boss John Condon. At the same time the house provided the cash flow, the Bradleys continued to expand into horse racing. In 1892, Chicago legalized horse racing. The Bradleys also opened several other concerns, often having associates listed as owners, including a tailor shop and a clothing business operated by brother Peter Garvey Bradley.
“… Rap on the door, a peep hole opens, and you name your game … the merry whir of the rollerball, the click of the dice, and the call of one of the stud poker dealers. The quiet excitement of gambling was apparent on every face.” — Chicago Tribune, 1893.
During the spring of 1893, E. R. and Jack Bradley set up a “palatial” gambling house in St. Augustine on Cordova Street, directly across the street from the dining room of Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel. Although the Bradleys have always been regarded as owners of the Bacchus Club in St. Augustine, contemporaneous newspaper reports indicate the brothers may have actually been managers, as part of the “Condon clique,” run by Chicago’s John Condon. According to The Miami News, they operated the club until 1910 when the Bacchus Club was sold to New York sportsman and bookmaker John F. Olive.
During the Bacchus Club’s second season, the Bradleys, along with Dan Stuart and Joe Vendig, promoted a prizefight in Jacksonville between English fighter Charley Mitchell and James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, world heavyweight champion. Despite having set up an organization called the Florida Athletic Club, they failed to win the political approvals. Nonetheless, the Bacchus Club gained national publicity as the English prizefighter Charley Mitchell trained in St. Augustine and spent evenings at the Bacchus Club’s roulette wheel. While the bout was not a winning bet for the Bradleys, Mitchell did leave the Bacchus Club an IOU for his gambling losses.
In July 1894, the Chicago Tribune reported E. R. married Agnes Cecilia Curry, a St. Louis native, in Milwaukee. Following, the ceremony the couple left for Saratoga. Several months later, E. R. was back in the headlines. This time, in front of a Chicago grand jury. Bradley and 44 other owners of Chicago gambling houses were indicted. Bradley eluded jail, paid a fine and reopened on Clarke Street with other Condon-affiliated outfits.
Palm Beach: The Beach Club
Building on the success of the Bacchus Club, the Bradleys followed Henry Flagler from St. Augustine to Palm Beach. Two years after Bradley’s first reported visit to Palm Beach in 1896, construction began on what became the Beach Club.
Just as St. Augustine’s Bacchus Club was located steps from the Ponce de Leon Hotel, the Bradleys’ new club was located on a lake-to-ocean parcel paralleling Flagler’s resort. As the train crossed the railroad bridge onto Palm Beach, visitors looking south first glimpsed the Royal Poinciana Hotel and The Beach Club on the north side. By late August 1898, construction of the 15-room clubhouse was underway by St. Augustine builder William Markle and supervised by Tip Reese. The club opened late December-early January 1899, staying open through March.
“They could play roulette, hazard and chemin de fer. Those were the only things he had. But roulette was the most important game.” Thomas S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
While questions remain whether or not Henry Flagler actually disapproved of the gambling houses at St. Augustine and Palm Beach, letters written by Flagler clearly state he believed gambling was a scourge. However, it is evident the clubs thrived. “Flagler’s displeasure might have been more that Ed and Jack Bradley were Catholics rather than they were gamblers,” remarked a longtime resident. “Bradley and Flagler were for the most part friends for many years; the letters were Flagler simply covering his public image.”
At the end of the first season, the club was expanded with a kitchen addition doubling the available space. The second floor was transformed into a larger banquet hall or “entertainment area.” Having acquired the nearby Spitzer cottage, Bradley added more staff rooms. The south and west open areas were sodded. E. R. and Agnes Bradley and Jack Bradley arrived from Chicago the first week of December 1899 to make certain all work was completed before the next season. “Florida Has A Monte Carlo” became the national headline.
“The dice were guarded as close as the money.” Thomas S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
Beginning with the first raid in 1901 and sporadically during the next decade, The Beach Club as a covert gambling mecca was caught in the crosshairs of Florida politics. With West Palm Beach’s Law & Order League its primary opponent, attempts failed to close the club, no doubt as a result of Ed and Jack Bradley’s political skills developed dealing with El Paso sheriffs and Chicago politicians.
“He did not have small-time gambling. The people who came into the club supported gambling … not just anybody was allowed to gamble there … He only wanted people there who could afford to lose … He had a $5,000 limit on chemin de fer and roulette … though he did have one rule, every member set their own limit … once the limit was reached, the member received no more credit … 75-80% of his business was IOUs.” Thomas S. Bohne, March 30,1962.
Having opened the Beach Club from late January through mid-March with an exclusive membership of 150 of the country’s richest patrons, the Bradleys developed further stakes in Chicago. In September 1898 Jack Bradley returned to Chicago from London where he and Dan Stuart promoted exhibition boxing matches. That same year, E. R. bought a colt and named it for his brother, Friar John, that led to the acquisition of Brigade followed by other thoroughbreds. In his debut race with Bradley’s green-and-white silks, Friar John won $300.
While E. R. Bradley was never officially named to Chicago’s Rogues Gallery, he was first listed in 1897 in Chicago’s Blue Book of prominent people, in residence at the Hotel Ontario. The 1901 Blue Book named Mr. and Mrs. Edward R. Bradley registered at The Hotel Del Prado. The following summer, he was among the ten bookies arrested at Chicago’s Washington Park Club. “Bookmaker Bradley, half-owner of the Hotel Del Prado, protested more vigorously than any other bookmaker against arrest.”
Idle Hour Farm: 1905-1947
In 1905, E. R. Bradley leased a Lexington horse farm for five years, known as the Ash Grove Stock Farm. By 1910, he bought the most of what became the 400-acre Idle Hour Stock Farm. In 1907 he incorporated the Idle House Stock Farm with John Bradley holding a minority interest.
For the next forty years, E. R. Bradley became synonymous with thoroughbred racing in the United States. His horses were in the winner’s circle from California to New York.
“As far as Palm Beach is concerned, he only went to two people’s houses for dinner and that was with the understanding there would not be another guest.” — Thomas S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
At Palm Beach in March 1910, E. R. and Jack bought a large ocean-to-lake parcel embarking on plans to develop a subdivision, Floral Park. They paid $55,000 for a 264-foot-wide ocean-to-lake parcel adjoining the north side of their Main Street holdings. During that summer, they filled in five-acres of marshland and built a road along the lakefront where both brothers planned to build their homes on the northside of the existing Beach Club. By December, the Bradleys had spent more than $35,000, dredging 60,000 yards of soil creating an acre of new lakeside ground.
In May 1911, a grand jury was convened in Miami, at the time, Palm Beach was still a part of Dade County — The State of Florida vs. E. R. Bradley, John R Bradley and Thomas T. Reese. Tip Reese attended the sessions. The grand jury failed to make an indictment.
“The club was not elaborate at all. It was simple, everything was white, and the carpets were green. It had good lighting, though dull. He said an orange light mad a woman’s complexion much prettier than the bright lights … The dining room seated 212, that was the limit, and that was a big night. If people came in late, maybe 225 or 230. But, of course, he never made money on the food … Every fall the chef went to New York to get the best menus from the best restaurants and compare them … and whatever the highest charged, he would add ten cents … He still lost money on the food.” — Richard S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
In 1926, Bradley purchased the Businessman’s Association that operated the Louisiana Jockey Club and Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans where many of his horses had raced. The Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap at the Fair Grounds is named in his honor. For a time during the 30s and 40s, New Orleans, Miami and Havana formed thoroughbred racing’s winter triangle. He sold his interest in the Fair Grounds to Chicago investors in 1934. He was one of the class of inductees of the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame in 1971.
In 1929, E. R. Bradley acquired 40% of the common shares and 50% of the preferred shares of Joseph Widener’s Miami Jockey Club, according to The Miami News. Two years later, the Florida legislature legalized pari-mutuel betting, allowing Widener and his “silent partner” to move, rebuild and create a venue for thoroughbred racing. When Hialeah opened the following year, it was regarded as a showcase for thoroughbred racing. The mechanized betting tote board at Hialeah was invented by Henry Straus who organized the American Totalisator Company (AmTote) in partnership with Palm Beach’s Munn family, Charles, Hector and Gurnee Munn. Charles Munn was the company’s first president, and later, chairman of the board.
“The best player I ever saw at The Beach Club was Robert Young who was a real gambler. He could stand to win money because when he came in there, and he won, he kept pressing his luck. He would go out and win $175,000 one night and he walked out and took the money, and he came back to pay his dues.” — Thomas S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
“One night he pitched camp in a nice spot and some horsemen rode up and he invited them to his camp for the night … After supper they got out a deck of cards and started to play three-card monte. He said before the evening was over, he had lost all his money and his mule team and his harness and everything. He was out of business … all of a sudden he became a gambler.” — Richard S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.
Click here for Palm Beach Icon: E. R. Bradley — Part 1.