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The latest Churchill Downs renovations look both forwards and backwards

How do you remain historically faithful to a building as dynamic as Churchill Downs?

The two tall spires at churchill downs against a blue sky

The iconic twin spires predate the name Churchill Downs by almost 40 years.

Photo by LOUtoday

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As the 150th Kentucky Derby gets close to the starting gate, Churchill Downs is putting the finishing touches on a $200 million renovation project to the paddock area — a move that brings the track forward, while also looking to the past.

Historic preservation was a major priority of the renovation. When asked about working within the guidelines for historic places, a foreman said “there’s things we couldn’t touch, but we wouldn’t want to.”

But with a site as old as Churchill Downs, it’s not as simple as keeping things original.

History worth preserving

The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875, but the original lodge, grandstand, clubhouse, and stables were all gone by 1896. The Twin Spires were constructed in 1895 as part of the second grandstand, but the building looks significantly different today than it did then.

As the Derby grew, so did Churchill Downs. The grandstand was extended with a clubhouse in 1902 and with more seating around the first curve in the 1940s. By the 1960s, VIP skyboxes had replaced the original clubhouse. Much of the current structure was added during the early 2000s.

Bringing the past into the future

The latest round of renovations pays homage to many different phases of Churchill Downs history. As seen in the first image above, the second grandstand featured an exposed red brick foundation. But by the 1940s, that had been painted over to give the track it’s now-famous green-and-whitewash color scheme.

During this round of paddock renovations, the team chose to keep the best of both worlds. The exterior of the grandstand retains its pristine white brick finish, while the inside corridor was stripped back to exposed brick to honor the building’s original design.

Here are a few other new features:

  • Two new paddock-side clubs sponsored by Woodford Reserve and Sports Illustrated
  • Balcony seating with covered outdoor dining
  • A new terrace with 360-degree views of the paddock and track
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