Monday, January 19, 2015

Past life on the Boulevard

In the summer of 1940 windows at 2860 Southwest Boulevard showed the place was empty and "For Rent."

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Eighty-seven years ago today, in the early hours after midnight,  a small group of regulars were minding their own business at the bar of a "soft drink" place at 2860 Southwest Boulevard when the door burst open and five men wearing dark overcoats, caps and handkerchiefs over their faces crashed in and raised sawed-off shotguns at the startled imbibers. One of the intruders actually shouted Stick 'em up! before forcing the owner, Eddie Nettle, to open a safe; the bartender, Frank Addy, to open the cash register; and the eight customers to empty their pockets. Then they piled into a black Buick and laid rubber with about $900 and change.

That was 1928, deep in the dark heart of Prohibition, when pouring corn whisky in a so-called soft-drink place was, of course, against the law. So Nettle and Addy had to tidy up the joint before reporting the robbery to police. It was sort of routine for Nettle, then 30 years old. His place had been robbed before, and it would be robbed again in years ahead.

Then came repeal, and many of the dives and joints that had operated as soft-drink parlors or drug stores or cigar stands or other types of speakeasies transformed themselves into legitimate night clubs. Or legitimate clubs that operated illegally, in violation of gambling and liquor laws the state passed when Prohibition ended. Eddie Nettle's place became the Sportsman's Club, known as a gambler's haven.

In February 1934 Nettle's former business partner and the croupier of his crap game were found dead on the floor of the Sportsman's Club, both shot in the head. "They were going to kill me," Nettle reportedly told the cops. "But a man has to defend himself, doesn't he?" He was charged with second-degree murder, but the case was dismissed when the only witnesses asserted it was self-defense.

At the end of the Thirties, after Nettle ran afoul of tax laws, the place became the Perkins Club:

Alas, the state finally got tough on clubs in 1939, closing down several of the worst offenders. The Perkins Club, after being fined for gambling and for selling liquor after legal hours, had its liquor license renewal refused.

For several years, until he dropped dead of a heart attack at age 53, Eddie Nettle ran another business out of his building on the Boulevard, the Music Service Company, which leased and serviced juke boxes and pinball machines and other barroom paraphernalia. Later it was home of something called the Industrial Abrasive Company, and the old memories began to fade.

Today, however, a little imagination and tequila will provide access to the dark past of 2860 Southwest Boulevard. The place still exists – since the 1970s it's been part of Ponak's Mexican Kitchen – and you can go there and pull up a bar stool, order a margarita and conjure this town's wide-open days of bootleg liquor and armed robberies, dice and violent death.

For the last 40 years it's been the home of Ponak's.
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