JEFFERSONVILLE — Today, the strip running along US 31 and Interstate 65 between Clarksville and Jeffersonville is somewhat of a motel row.
Tucked between the assorted inns is CC Powersports, a speed junkie's paradise where owners Tina Gonzalez and Chris McCarty pack in motorcycles and ATVs from wall to wall.
When CC Powersports moved into the space from their former location on Emery Lane, it was already known to McCarty.
"My mother bought milk here when I was a child," McCarty said. "We had a 1962 Volkswagen bus, and my mother and two or three other mothers in the neighborhood would make this journey over here to buy milk because it was so much cheaper."
That's because the building was previously home to the Greyhound Supermarket — the "discounter of the day" as McCarty put it. A different grocery chain bought the store in 1999, but closed up shop within a year, leaving the building vacant from about 2000 to 2003.
"It was this terrible, blighted location," McCarty said. "When I took over the building, there were still birthday cakes on the shelf. I mean they left. They just left."
Go back even further in time and you'll find a much more exciting history on the lot. You see, the building currently occupied by CC Powersports was constructed in two phases between 1979 and 1984.
The older building that once sat just yards away was transformed into the supermarket in 1953. When it did so, a newspaper printed, "You can now buy lemons, limes and cherries without pulling the lever."
This was a clever allusion to the previous occupant's notoriety as a gambling joint.
A Greyhound racing track by the name of the Jeffersonville Dog Mart — also referred to as the Falls Cities Kennel Club — opened up just off of what is now Eastern Boulevard in 1929. The track was quite popular, with a capacity of roughly 3,000 people who would come out for events like Monkey Night. What is Monkey Night, you ask? Think of it as a mini-Kentucky Derby, where monkeys dressed like jockeys even tinier than the human version would zoom around the track atop saddled dogs.
That popularity gave the Gavin brothers — Jim, Tom and Weezer — an idea. To capitalize on the dog track's success, they built a hotspot known as the Greyhound Club directly adjacent to it in 1932.
Though the business thrived, its ambiance did not live up to the Gavins' vision. What came next was the much ritzier Club Greyhound, which was erected in 1934 on the lot where CC Powersports now sits.
Unlike the first spot, Club Greyhound was similar to the fanciest of Vegas casinos, contributing to Jeffersonville being known as "Little Las Vegas."
"It was very high-end," said Paul Bender, author of the Joints of Jeffersonville and Southern Indiana. "The dining room was fabulous. It had the best food around. Of course, food was the draw-in to get them to gamble. It was a destination. People came from New York, Chicago and all over. It was much higher-class than you would think of at the boat or something like that."
With such elegant surroundings came a similarly elegant clientele. The biggest bands of the era would play tunes to dancing crowds throughout the night. Major celebrities from the silver screen also joined in the action.
In 1939, the legend himself Clark Gable lost $68,000 in a mere 27 minutes. Adjusted for inflation, that's nearly $1.3 million, meaning this man lost $46,485 a minute in 2019 dollars. Frankly, my dear (readers), that is too much money to not give a damn.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, well-known individuals of a seedier nature would make appearances as well. Like any place where so much money was changing hands, people like this were sure to follow.
Among them were notorious bank robber John Dillinger and infamous Chicago tax evader Al Capone.
I'd like to take this opportunity to bring to the attention of a wider audience that despite being known by the fear-instilling sobriquet "Scarface," Capone's closest friends referred to him as "Snorky" — a much more adorable nickname.
"The people would rather they hadn't been there, because they were a pretty hot item," Bender said of Snorky and Dillinger. "The police were always looking for them. The people at [another joint] actually tried to have the feds come in and capture [Capone] so he wouldn't cause any trouble. He was bringing notoriety to the place."
Unfortunately for the Gavins and other gambling joints in the area, the presence of the Chicago mobsters would ultimately be their downfall. As more and more associates of the mafia began moving in, they continued antagonizing some of the local proprietors.
Among the outsiders was Walter Maddox, who had ties to Chicago mobsters like Snorky. On July 2, 1937, a group of men — including Joe Clark, Whitey the Goop and Jimmy James — caught wind that some Chicago goons were at a joint owned by Maddox called Walter's Place. With a machine gun in tote, they decided to head that way and take action.
"They were going to chase the guys from Chicago away," Bender said. "Things went bad. They accidentally shot an innocent man, and the three thugs from Chicago got away. The killing raised the ire of the people around here, and that was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back."
Once the smoke cleared, New Albany resident and innocent bystander Clarence Amster was dead from a gunshot wound. The incident prompted law enforcement to crack down on gambling in the area.
The Club Greyhound was raided in the aftermath and closed for several weeks. In 1938, James L. Bottorff was elected judge, announcing that gambling would not be tolerated. The next year, the Club Greyhound closed its doors for good.
The Gavin brothers would operate a much smaller operation known as the Little Greyhound above their new venture, Antz Cafe, which was located on Court Avenue from 1939 to 1948.
No trace of the building remains, as it now serves as parking for Chase Bank.
For a comprehensive history of gambling and casinos in the area, Paul Bender's The Joints of Jeffersonville and Southern Indiana can be purchased at Sugar Maples Antiques & Gifts. Special thanks to Roger Fisher and the staff of Budget Print Center, as well as the team at CC Powersports.