Want to own a piece of Arlington Park? Kitchen auction begins racetrack's liquidation

From Arlington Million Room china plates to a popcorn machine, more than 600 pieces of commercial kitchen and food service equipment are among the first items from the shuttered Arlington Park racecourse to go up for public auction.

The online-only auction, which started this week and closes Tuesday, is the first in a series of perhaps 10 to 15 such events over the next three months as the historic Arlington Heights venue liquidates its assets and prepares to close on a $197.2 million sale to the Chicago Bears.

“The one way to eat a big apple is one bite at a time. There are a lot of assets at this location and we'll be creating multiple events in order to sell everything that they would like us to sell,” said Judd Grafe, owner and operator of Grafe Auction Co., which was hired by track management to catalog the thousands of items and conduct the public bidding process.

Online bidding for kitchen items has begun at, ahead of an in-person preview at the track, where the public can look at the merchandise between noon and 6 p.m. Monday.

The lot of 645 items includes a portable 4-door beverage display cooler for $900 on the high end, to an old metal drinking fountain for a dime. There are meat slicers, food processors, toasters, microwaves, pots, pans, and a whole host of dishes and glassware.

An eight-selection soda dispenser goes for $160, a three-tier chocolate fountain for $24, and 6.69-pound cans of unopened cheddar cheese sauce for $2.10.

There's even a velvet Santa Claus suit for $21.

But what's expected to be more sought-after are the nostalgia pieces. Track memorabilia, artwork and bronze are expected to go to auction in mid-September, Grafe said.

That could include things like the finish line pole, other pole markers, benches and the starting gate, he said.

It's still unknown if it might include the iconic “Against All Odds” bronze statue that pays tribute to the inaugural Arlington Million photo finish.

“Some of those are still to be identified whether they will be sold or relocated,” Grafe said. “Arlington Park is owned by Churchill Downs, which has other properties, so some of the nostalgia items would be marked to be transferred to another property.”

The subsequent auctions will each have an associated preview day where the public will be able to view the items in person, Grafe said.

“You think of all the things associated with a horse track and you don't know where that memory is going to come,” he said. “Somebody that sat in a suite at some point may want a piece of furniture from the suite, and that's their memory.”

His staff is still on site labeling, photographing and cataloging every item that is to be sold, with plans to create new online auctions after the first one is complete.

“Every item — and there will be thousands of items — will be offered on a specific day at an event,” Grafe said. “But literally this is one kitchen in the lower level that we're selling, one, as an introduction, and two, to kind of get the ball rolling, introduce the process to the community and introduce the process to the owners. So it's step number one.”

When it issued a request for proposals seeking an auctioneer in February, Arlington anticipated that the sales could bring in approximately $2.5 million in revenue.

The liquidation process is expected to be complete by the end of October.

As the Bears continue their due diligence process for the 326 acres of land they have under contract — and as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made her pitch this week to keep the team in the city under a new Soldier Field dome — Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said village hall hasn't yet received the team's preliminary architectural plans for what they envision at Arlington Park.

An initial public review of those plans is still tentatively set for this fall, ahead of a scheduled closing on the purchase in early 2023.

  Pieces of Arlington Park nostalgia - like racetrack pole markers and benches - will be available for purchase by auction by mid-September. John Starks/, April 2021
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