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Twin Spires History and More

The Twin Spires at historic Churchill Downs have been an icon of all things Derby and probably the most famous landmark in all of Louisville. In this Et Cetera, we look at its history and trace the origin of another Kentucky Derby tradition that has evolved to become a Derby icon.

The Twin Spires were constructed from fall 1894 to spring 1895 - two decades after the inception of the Kentucky Derby.

They were designed by Joseph Dominic Baldez, a local draftsman from the firm D.X. Murphy & Brothers. Baldez was only 24 years-old at the time.

While working on the plans for the new $100,000 Churchill Downs grandstand, the young architect felt that the blueprints were lacking pizzazz. To fix this, he added two hexagonal towers for symmetry and balance. This simple but monumental decision has made the Twin Spires Baldez’s most famous work.

According to Churchill Downs, it is reported that former Churchill Downs President Matt Winn once told Baldez that the Twin Spires would never be taken down. More than a century later, the spires still stand.

During a $121 million grandstand renovation that took place between 2001 and 2005, the Twin Spires were refurbished but not replaced.

Today, the Twin Spires continue to symbolize both Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby - towering over the famous homestretch.

But their 1895 debut isn’t the only noteworthy event of from that time period. The tradition of adorning the race winner with roses was implemented the following year.

When Ben Brush won the Kentucky Derby in 1896, the horse received a collar of pink and white roses. The color of the flowers was officially changed to red in 1904.

The garland of roses that we know today was first introduced in 1932, by Kingsley Walker florist.

The Kroger Company took over the making of the garland in 1987. It is constructed for public viewing on Derby Eve.

Fittingly, the garland includes an image of the Twin Spires.

Etc.:

  • The Twins Spires is a registered trademark and was used to create the logo for Churchill Downs Inc.
  • Joseph Dominic Baldez died in 1957.
  • According to the Central Kentucky Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-CKC) the firm D.X. Murphy & Brothers was a successor to Henry Whitestone's (1819-93) firm. Whitestone was considered to be Louisville’s most famous architect of the nineteenth century and it is believed Whitestone was behind the beautiful Peterson-Dumesnil House in the Crescent Hill neighborhood.
  • According to Horseracing Suite 101, Kentucky Derby founder Col. M. Lewis Clark, made the rose the official flower of the race in 1884.
  • Burgoo King was the first horse to wear the rose garland as winner the 58th Kentucky Derby.
  • The winning jockey of the Kentucky Derby is annually presented with a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses by the Governor of Kentucky and other dignitaries.

For more Kentucky Derby fun, check out our Et Ceteras on famous Black Jockeys and Derby collecting.

Program 424
"Louisville Life" celebrates the Kentucky Derby! Join in the fun as we visit a popular hangout near Churchill Downs, check out designer hats, salute the twin spires and more. (#424)