Berry Wall no longer changes clothes 40 times a day to stroll along Broadway, and there are no Rolls-Royces parked in front of the famous Grand Union Hotel these days. In fact there is no Grand Union Hotel. But that doesn't mean there is no Saratoga. The fact is—as railbirds who hastened north to view the Travers Stakes may have learned—that Saratoga, N.Y., a watering place so famed it even gave its name to a trunk, is once again becoming one of the first resorts.
For many years the town seemed to exist only for the 24 days of the year when the Thoroughbreds galloped around the racetrack in Saratoga Springs. At night, of course, a goodly number of gambling clubs operated with just enough class to make Saratoga seem like a mini Monte Carlo. Then Estes Kefauver aimed his horn-rimmed gaze at organized gambling. The gay life began to die, and people began to consider Saratoga a place that had outlived its time.
In 1966, however, the Performing Arts Center was opened in an area a mile from downtown known as Saratoga Spa State Park. The New York City Ballet Company and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra were both in need of summer homes, and somehow Saratoga got both of them.
On those days when the Performing Arts Center is not used for classical turns it is turned over to performers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, the Fifth Dimension, Dionne Warwick, The Young Americans, the Cowsills, Bill Cosby and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Today's Saratoga boasts sports facilities equal to those in any part of the country. There are 15 golf courses within an area of 30 miles that are both interesting and challenging and on the most crowded of days normally beg no more than a half-hour waiting time. There is a trotting track that rates as one of the prettiest and best cared for in the country. Swimming facilities, boating, water skiing, skin diving and sailing can all be found within 40 miles. Fishing and camping areas are ample and good.
The biggest problem in the current Saratoga is where to stay and where to eat. Supermarkets make the main street, Broadway, a visual nightmare. When a projected new civic center is built close to the downtown area it is possible that a class restaurant will appear in it. Meantime, gourmets had better find another city.
Not many years ago Saratoga sold itself on the three H's—history, health and horses. The history had been there since 1777 when General Gates stopped General Burgoyne's march from Canada toward Albany and beat him back in what became the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Each year thousands of people go to the site of the battle of Saratoga and proceed by auto along well-marked routes that describe the action in detail.
For health, Saratoga offers its famous spa, some 2,000 acres located on the outskirts of the city. It has long been known for the "healing springs" that bring relaxation to visitors. Saratoga has the only naturally carbonated mineral waters east of the Rocky Mountains, and today the spa's three major bathhouses can accommodate 4,500 people per day, although the most it has ever handled is 2,700. Of the three bathhouses—the Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt—the Roosevelt is considered the best and, naturally, has the highest prices: $4.25 for a bath and $3.50 for a massage.
Horses? Well, now, Saratoga has remained one of the most prominent racing centers in the world because it has consistently provided its patrons with a 24-day meeting of grand diversification. Over the years the Travers, which this year became the first $100,000-added race in Saratoga's history, has counted among its winners such horses as Sword Dancer, Tompion, Beau Prince, Jaipur, Crewman, Quadrangle, Hail to All, Buckpasser and Damascus.
The yearling sales, conducted at the new Humphrey S. Finney Sales Pavilion only a couple of blocks from the main entrance to the running track, draws bidders from many parts of the U.S., South America, Canada and Europe. Man o' War was sold as a yearling at Saratoga for $5,000, and last year, in a matter of a few short minutes, yearling history was made in such a startling fashion that it will probably never be repeated. A yearling by the French sire Sea-Bird was sold for a Saratoga record of $210,000, and on the same evening a daughter of American sire Hail to Reason, was knocked down at $225,000.
The newest of Saratoga's horsy attractions concerned itself not at all with racing, betting or breeding. The American Dressage Institute conducted a two-week course early in July to try to refine the habits of some of the more promising young riders in the country. Early each morning, long before the dew had been burned from the lush grass at the old Oklahoma track, the young riders were mounted and slowly taken through the art of dressage by Colonel Hans Moeller, Michael Handler, the son of the director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and Franz Rochowansky, the institute's chief instructor.
The old days are indeed gone for Saratoga, leaving only the ghosts of Lillian Russell and Diamond Jim Brady. But Saratoga has survived, dug in and come out to play in a new costume as becoming as the old.