Thursday, August 30, 2012

“The Pettibone Club”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

While searching the vast reserve of online newspaper archives for stories about Geauga, I encountered an unexpected truism: illegal gambling was once present in our county.

According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, diligent police action in Cleveland forced organized crime bosses to seek refuge in outlying areas around the city. Thus came the Pettibone Club to our region - one of an Ohio network that included the Jungle Inn, Mounds Club and Colony Club.

A bit of hunting in cyberspace uncovered this description of the shady establishment:

History of Bainbridge -

“The Pettibone, or Arrow Club, operated from about 1939 until 1949 on Pettibone Road across the line from Solon. This gambling casino was designed with a large central room surrounded by smaller rooms. The walls between the center room and the outside rooms were 3 to 4 feet thick and hollow, with a catwalk running through them. From the catwalk, any of the rooms could be observed through peepholes in the walls. The club burned down some years later.”

Further investigation delivered old stories about the club:

Youngstown Vindicator, November 10, 1947

“Chardon – By overwhelming votes, Geauga County residents expressed themselves as sure of three things in a newspaper poll conducted over the week-end. They are sure that gambling is conducted at the notorious Pettibone Club, that the club should be shut down, and that grand jury foreman Martin Miller has their hearty approval in conducting his anti-gambling campaign. Farmers, businessmen, crossroads merchants, truck drivers and clerks were covered in the poll, and over the county as a whole there was little doubt in the minds of most of them that gambling went on at the Pettibone. ‘It’s the same old story – the same officials being in office for too long,’ said a Chester Township resident. ‘It is only fair to assume that as long as the club operates, someone is being paid off.’ Said an Auburn businessman. ‘That is only fair logic.’ ‘More power to Miller,’ a Munson man said. ‘I see no reason why Sheriff Stuart Harland and Prosecutor Bostwick shouldn’t be forced to close this place. The notoriety Geauga receives from it is disgraceful to all of us.’ In one of Geauga’s 15 tow(n)ships – Bainbridge, home of the club premises – the people thought the club should be left alone.”

Painesville Telegraph, June 28, 1950

“CHARDON – Nine witnesses were prepared today to present further evidence of gambling at the Pettibone Club as the Geauga County Grand Jury began its second day of its special anti-gambling session. The jury heard four witnesses Tuesday, including two state liquor agents who it is reported, described how they had visited the Pettibone Club during the last six months and played slot machines dice games and other devices at the club which is located in southwestern Geauga County. Two of the nine men who will testify today, Charles McGue and Nick Rogers, were expected to tell the Grand Jury of their frequent visits to the club where they posed as ‘habitual gamblers.’ Four of the witnesses called today include Joseph Harrell, Steve Nemeth, Stanley Cmich, and A. G. Kopan who will tell of the raid at the club Saturday night when efforts were made to resist their entrance. It was understood that the generally well kept secrets of the club operations were revealed Tuesday when State Liquor Enforcement Chief Anthony Rutkowski and three other witnesses testified before the jury. Two of these witnesses were Donald Van Horn and Tom Paonessa, state agents who revealed how they posed as gamblers to gain evidence which classifies the Pettibone Club as one of the state’s biggest gambling casinos. Another witness was Paul Van Dame an Ohio Penitentiary prisoner who is serving a term for embezzlement after losing $20,000 in gambling clubs, including the Pettibone Club. When the jury adjourned at 4 p.m. Tuesday a considerable amount of evidence, including photographs and papers, was turned over to Common Pleas Court Judge William K. Thomas by County Prosecutor H. K. Bostwick… it was learned that the state has many photographs of the Pettibone Club interior. One photo reveals a chair placed in front of an opening which permits the observer to gain a clear view of every person entering through the grilled gates of the club.”

Painesville Telegraph, May 9, 1951

“CHARDON – Reported long distance phone calls made from the sheriff’s office by county jail inmate George Gordon, manager of the defunct Pettibone Club, were being investigated by the Geauga County Grand Jury, it was learned today. The jury is in its third day of investigation of charges that Gordon has been a privileged prisoner at the jail. First witness called before the jury when it reconvened at 10 (o’clock) this morning was Yetter Snyder, manager of the Chardon Telephone Co., who, it is believed, will testify concerning the alleged long distance calls. One such call reportedly was to Las Vegas, Nev., where Cleveland gambling interests operate the plush Desert Inn. Beginning at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the panel which had started sessions Monday afternoon, did not adjourn until 5 p.m. Testifying before the jury during the morning were Leonard M. Hammer and Robert J. Drake, reporters, whose account of the alleged privileges was published in a Cleveland newspaper. Called to the jury room in the afternoon were Mike Farinacci, Chardon auto dealer; Deputy Sheriffs George Spiel and John Brindo; Chief of Police John Bohl, Patrolman Walter Bookman. Just before adjournment, Mr. Hammer was recalled for further questioning. Prosecuting Attorney Harold Bostwick was in the jury room during testimony of all witnesses with the exception of Chief Bohl and Partolman Boobman. Mr. Bostwick was not present when the grand jury went into session this morning nor when Mr. Snyder was recalled. Scheduled to testify today are: Edward Wettstein, bakery owner; Louis Robisky, Chardon policeman; Deputy Sheriff and Mrs. Spiel, who were in charge of the department during Sheriff Stuart Harland’s vacation; Richard A. Linke, radio operator at the sheriff’s department; Deputy Carl Kronk; and George Mischnie, owner of the Green Lantern Restaurant.”

While the thought of underworld gamblers making a home in Geauga County might seem fantastic, once again, truth proves to be stranger than fiction.

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