Monday, November 4, 2013

It Was Oklahoma City's Most Exclusive Night Club

The place sat perched high on the tree covered hills where slow moving bands of ground hugging  fogs regularly rolled in from the myriad small creeks all around roadsters came via country roads.  Then, later, where Route 66 snaked past and even later where the fast paced  Interstate traffic could see it waiting to offer them a good time in it latest guise of eating establishment.
When this historic location first opened business it was in the country northeast of the Capitol building. Instead of an address, directions were given, such as this from a 1930 ad " 3 blocks north of State Capitol and 4 blocks east of 63rd." Later ads use the terms "63rd and Edmond Hwy" or "1226 NE 63rd".

Termed a 'speakeasy' in the 1920's the location can be found as the "Lincoln Tavern" operated by Mrs. Mitchell in May of 1928.  In summer of 1929 it was "English Tavern" and then in Spring of 1929 it is listed as "Oak Cliff" and was serving meals and Sunday dinners. During the 1920's in Oklahoma there was a accepted turning of the eyes by many city, county and state officials over the issue of prohibition.  With gangsters, the growth of the KKK and a population boom, there was a lot to deal with in the land.

"Mitchell's Oak Cliff Night Club" can be traced in ads to 1930 in Oklahoma City. Like many early night clubs in the city, they were often in refurbished residences (such as the Abe Hale Night Club).  In 1930 ads stated it was 'newly redecorated throughout' but it is not clear when the established started, or if there was something there even earlier.

Later news articles would say the establishment's history was The Silver Club (1935-1937), Oak Cliff Club (1937-1939), Kentucky Club (1939- ). The dates appear to be slightly off for the clubs occupancy's.  The Oak Cliff Club, commonly referred to as "Mitchell's Oak Cliff Night Club" (W. or E. Mitchell, a former policeman from Arkansas who came to Oklahoma in 1924) was found in newspaper ads as early as Spring of 1930. Mid-decade their partners the Murphy's sued over a dispute on the sale of beer. The Murphy's opposed but the Mitchell's supported it and Jessie Murphy alleged Mitchell was a hard drinker.  The court sided, however, with the Mitchell's.   The owners were in a serious accident in 1937 that might have sparked an early retirement.
The "Kentucky Club" has a grand opening Oct. 28, 1938. In 1961, with the construction of new motel complex nearby, the place becomes "The Ramada Club." It is apparently still under the same management as the previous years, Tony Marneres, at that time.  Then there is another stretch of it being "The Kentucky Club"...hawked as fine dining in posh surroundings. In 1981, it becomes "The County Line" and noted for its BBQ in more causal family style dining.
In the early years it was noted for its racing stables theme with thirteen small dining booths. Every year the Kentucky Derby winner's name would be placed on one of the booths.  There were tales of tables that rotated below the floor to hide gaming surfaces, hidden holes in the floor to stash booze or winnings, and signal bells in the booths for police raids. While some denied these, others, even some who had the opportunity to examine the underside of the old floors, indicated some odd construction features.
Overall, despite its self promotion as a fine dining and dancing club with an emphasis on good food at various times it had a shady past. It had a long history of being associated with gambling, illegal booze, and shady ladies.  Most place these stories in the 1920's and 1930's.  There does seem to be evidence of flaunted local laws on gambling and drinking, despite its label as a swank dancing and dining spot.  During the 1950's it was raided more than once - along with dozens of other similar joints - in irregular law enforcement sweeps.  Since it was 'out in the country' just off Route 66 as it angled into Oklahoma City, and an attractive place for those willing to break the law to gamble or drink,  anything may be possible.
The servant's quarters of the Oak Cliff was where the decapitated body of the wife of employee Will Jackson was found in April of 1938.  The wife was 42 and had been a servant in the home of Lytles of Larchmont Lane.  An early ad if 1930 showed an "Aunt Jemima" style depiction of an "Aunt Willie" who served good cooking at "Oklahoma's most exclusive night club" in December of 1930. Was this Mrs. Jackson?

The original house then burned in 1945 and a neon sign was cited as possible cause in a lawsuit by then owner Tony Marneres.  The extent of the damage is unclear and later stories do not jibe as to the extent of the damage to the original house.  Over time the original house of the  club had been added to and had several small motel like quarters added to house staff.  These gave rise to tales of a brothel and other nefarious activities over time. When they were added is unclear, but the 1938 murder does indicate there were servants quarters there then and this adds some support to those other tales.

The rebuilt establishment became the Ramada Club, and then once more the Kentucky Club until just before 1981 when one of its more notable incarnations emerged as "The County Line" (1981 -200?).

However the time line is a little less clear about some of the early forms of the club.  One item was found for 1934 referring to something called "Silver Club" and saying they were 'formerly Mitchell's Oak Cliff".  Why the ownership interruptus is not clear, but given the time as close to the lawsuit and then the road accident that broke Mitchell's neck, the time may have been ripe to sell out. A date of 1935 to 1938 for occupation by "The Silver Club" at the location may be accurate.  There is a reference to a "Silver Dollar Club" in 1938 when a Floyd "Jelly Clark of Texas was stabbed but it was located at NW 50th and May." So it is probably not the same club.

Over the years, many paranormal teams have investigated the location. Cold spots, EVP's and numerous other observations were made (including some by this author) that added to the lore of the haunted reputation of the locale.

For at least eighty three years, there has been an epicenter of lively activity perched on the hillside above the road.  A beacon of good food, music, a nip or two and the ability to toss the dice in a game of chance.  What other secrets might this 'most exclusive night club' reveal? We will let you know.

This location was one that definitely gave the promised 'kicks'  on the historic Route 66 to passing motorists and thrill seeking locals.

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