Palm Beach Icon: E. R. Bradley — Part II

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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.

Bacchus Club, St. Augustine. Courtesy St. Augustine Historical Society.
“Little Mosey” Cossman, referenced above, was a lifetime employee of the Bradley brothers. Cossman was known as E. R.’s betting commissioner and acted as a behind-the-scenes manager of the Bacchus Club, the Beach Club and the Idle Hour horse farm in Kentucky. Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper, April 4, 1893.

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.

St Augustine, 1894. “The Roped Arena, How Charley Mitchell served the Bradley Brothers … at the Bacchus Club.”

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.

Chicago Tribune, September, 1894.

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.

Tropic Sun newspaper, 1898-1899.
While earlier references named it the “Tourist Club House,” the Beach Club & Grill’s earliest newspaper ads called it simply “The Beach – Two doors north of the post office.” The Tropical Sun, January 1899.

“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.

During the last week of January 1899, E. R. and Agnes arrived from St. Augustine, checking into the Oleanders Apartments, located on the North Lake Trail between Park and Seminole Avenues. The Tropical Sun provided a detailed account of the newly opened private club. “The gentlemen have established their reputation as most successful entertainers during their management for the past several seasons of the Bacchus Club at St. Augustine … providing ladies and gentlemen an epicure café, music, handsome and costly paintings, and every luxury at hand to gratify …”
Tropical Sun, April 1899.

Tropical Sun, December 1899.

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 Beach Club. Tropical Sun, January 26, 1902.

Sanborn Insurance Map, earliest known detailed plan depicting the Beach Club. Library of Congress.

“The dice were guarded as close as the money.” Thomas S. Bohne, March 30, 1962.

The Beach Club, 1900. “Gambling at Palm Beach.”

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.

Beach Club, c. 1900. Entrance and west elevation. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

“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.

During the summer of 1899, Bradley’s stable was banned from the Harlem racetrack, managed by Boss John Condon, pending an investigation. Judges ruled Bradley’s horse, the favorite, gave an “inconsistent performance.” There was “unanimity that the race was crooked.” Officials scratched the race. Since Chicago’s tracks were members of American Turf Congress, Bradley was prohibited from running on any track. Three months later, the investigation found no cause and reinstated him. At the time, E. R. and Jack kept horses at their Memphis training facilities. Later, Jack set up stables in New York.
1901. E R Bradley & Company at 12 East Madison Street and Bell Tailoring Company, operated by brother P. Garvey Bradley.
Hotel Del Prado, newspaper ad. Edward R. Bradley, proprietor. Bradley always named himself the owner of the Hotel Del Prado, although court records indicated he was a tenant not an owner. In 1901 E. R. acquired a half-interest of Edwin Dyer’s 10-year leasehold to operate the Del Prado as the hotel’s owner was Lewis Ingalls. Bradley paid an annual rental fee of $26,000 to Ingalls. In 1903, Dyer’s share was sold to W. S. Meserve, who was also associated with the Antlers Hotel, Colorado Springs, Brighton Beach Hotel in New York and the Metropole Hotel in Chicago. Bradley renewed the lease in 1910 for another ten years. Image Chicago Tribune.
The Del Prado housed a “blind pig,” a speakeasy-private club that allowed members to drink, and for entertainment, gamble, bypassing prohibition and anti-gambling laws, similar to memberships at his Palm Beach and St. Augustine venues. Chicago’s Law & Order League led the fight against it as it did on Palm Beach. E. R. was arrested once, aid a fine and reopened. When they were not in St. Augustine or Palm Beach or traveling the racing circuit, E. R. and Agnes lived at the Chicago hotel until they began spending more of their time at their Lexington horse farm. Bradley sold his leasehold interest in 1918. The Hotel Del Prado was demolished in 1930. Image Chicago Tribune.
On July 8, 1907, Boss “Johnny Fix’em” Condon’s Chicago mansion at 2628 Michigan Boulevard was bombed, the first of more than 30 bombings by Chicago’s gambling kingpins engaged in an open turf war, “immune against the least interference from the police.” Illustration by Jay Hambridge, The American Magazine.
In the March 1910 issue of Hampton’s Magazine, Charles Edward Russell recounts the two-year period of criminal anarchy when, “dynamiters had wrecked buildings, endangered lives, injured men, destroyed property, and terrified neighborhoods; and while this was clearly the work of a single band operating in the faces of the police, not one of the criminals had been detected or arrested.” While E.R. and Agnes were still at the Hotel Del Prado, they began spending more time at their Kentucky horse farm.

As E. R. pursued the hotel business and developing his string of thoroughbreds, Jack Bradley had acquired a wide swath of oceanfront land in the North End of Palm Beach. In 1902 he established the Florida Gun Club. A decade later, Jack sold the land to Flagler’s Florida East Coast Hotel Company that began building the Palm Beach Country Club. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

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.”

Washington Park Club. Inter-Ocean newspaper, July 12, 1903.

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.

The Bradleys moved their string of thoroughbreds from Memphis and New York to Lexington. Lexington Herald-Tribune, 1905-1906.
Idle Hour Stock Farm, Lexington. 1905-1947. E. R. Bradley developed one of America’s leading thoroughbred stock operations, having bred 128 stakes winners. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Idle Hour Stock Farm, stud fees. Bradley horses became well-known. This newspaper ad appeared two years before Idle Hour won its first Kentucky Derby. The farm imported the French mare La Troienne, breeding as many as 800 stakes winners descended from her offspring’s lineage. Bradley became the topic of every sports writer. Although the Triple Crown eluded him, he owned four Kentucky Derby winners plus two Preakness Stakes wins and two winners at the Belmont Stakes.
Idle Hour Stock Farm, c. 1910. Agnes Bradley behind the wheel at the farm. on the move. Eventually, E. R. and his wife moved from Chicago to their Lexington farm. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
In 1907, Bradley (“Chicago Parties”) became a major shareholder in the Kentucky Racing Association.

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.

Palm Beach

“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.

Floral Park subdivision map. Courtesy Town of Palm Beach.
Bradley Land at Palm Beach. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Bradley Land at the North Pole. Since John Bradley financed Cook’s expedition to the North Pole, a parcel of land was mapped as “Bradley Land.”

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.

August 1911. During the summer of 1911, Bradley was concerned about the anti-gambling fervor. He went to Ireland, staying with fellow Palm Beachers and former Tammany boss Richard Croker and his wife Beulah, exploring the possibility of moving his stables to Ireland and racing the European circuits. Nothing is known that came from the visit.

March 13, 1913. However illegal, an anti-gambling crusade failed to permanently shutter the Bradley operation at the Beach Cub.
A two-page Sunday feature article appeared in a 1913 issue of the Pittsburgh Press, resulting in further investigations and raids. Following the 1915 raid and brief closure, the Beach Club was never again investigated.
The Beach Club, 1915. Open January 22-March 22. In later years, he opened earlier and closed in April. Sanborn Insurance Map, Library of Congress.

“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.

Beach Club, gambling chips. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County Collection. Photo Augustus Mayhew.

Agnes Curry Bradley died of heart failure aboard the liner Belgenland docked at Shanghai while on a year-long round-the-world Grand Tour with a circle of friends. The group included Noma Hammonds, the Bradleys’ adopted daughter, according to numerous published reports, although no other record appears to exist that the Bradleys adopted a daughter. The steamer President U.S. Grant brought her body to the mainland where family accompanied her from Seattle to Lexington for burial. Image Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1926.

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.

Hialeah Park’s E. R. Bradley, left, with New York Governor Al Smith and Lexington’s William F. Kenney. Courtesy Keeneland Library-Cook Collection.

In May 1943 Bradley sold his minority interest to a syndicate headed by Joseph P. Kennedy. Five months later, Joe Widener died, The Widener family heirs redivided their majority share. The Miami News.
E. R. Bradley donated a large oil painting of “Paddock at Longchamp” by Harry Finney that hung in the Beach Club for many years to the Keeneland Clubhouse. The painting is said to portray Edward VII, August Belmont, Lillian Russell, and Mistinguett, among others. Courtesy Keeneland Clubhouse.
May 1945. “Col. Bradley to retire …” The Palm Beach Post archive.

“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.

The year after the Beach Club closed, E. R. Bradley died at Idle Hour Farm. His will provided for family members and longtime employees. Idle Hour Stock Farm’s stable was divided between the Phipps and Whitney families as well as Texan Richard Kleberg Jr. of the 825,000-acre King Ranch, one of the largest ranches in the world. Image Lexington Herald-Tribune, November 1946.
The aftermath.
John R. Bradley died in April 1953 at his Waldorf Towers apartment, far from the Texas border town where he first made a name for himself 65 years earlier.
Bradley Park, Palm Beach.

“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.

Best intentions. Photo John Weathers, Lexington.
In 2014 E. R. Bradley was elected to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, a Pillar of the Turf.

Click here for Palm Beach Icon: E. R. Bradley — Part 1.

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