Filed Under Crime

The Mounds Club

The story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer read like a script from one of Bruce Willis' Die Hard movies. In the early morning hours of September 29, 1947, a dozen masked commandos armed with submachine guns and referring to each other by numbers attacked the Mounds Club, one of the Cleveland area's most glamorous night clubs. They penetrated the electrified fence surrounding the Club, overwhelmed the Club's security forces and then robbed 300 club patrons of an estimated $450,000 in jewelry and cash. While both the local Mayfield Mob and the infamous Purple Gang from Detroit were suspected of the armed robbery, no one was ever charged and the crime remains unsolved to this day.

The Mounds Club was built in 1930 by Thomas "Black Jack" McGinty, a second generation Irish-American who was then known as Cleveland's biggest sports and gambling promoter. He was also known to be an associate of the Cleveland Gang, an organized crime group that controlled gambling and other illegal enterprises in Cleveland in the decades of the1930s and 1940s. Several members of the Cleveland Gang, including Moe Dalitz and Morris Kleinman, were reputed to be silent owners of the Mounds Club.

Located on Chardon Road in Willoughby Hills, just across the Lake County line at the site of present day La-Vera Party Center, the Mounds Club was conveniently placed just out of the reach of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County law enforcement officials. The Mounds Club did indeed offer its patrons opportunities to gamble and drink illegal liquor. It also, however, featured some of the best entertainment in the Cleveland area in that era. Well-known singers like Sophie Tucker, Helen Morgan and Lena Horne, and comedians like Joe E. Lewis, performed there. When the Club was attacked by masked robbers in 1947, comedian Peter Lind Hayes and his wife, singer Mary Healy, were actually on stage performing. The careers of a number of Hollywood singers and actresses began with stints at the Mounds Club.

In the years 1930-1948, the Mounds Club had been the target of a number of raids by Lake County and State of Ohio law enforcement officials. The Club nevertheless had always managed to stay in business and one step ahead of the law until Frank Lausche was elected to his second term as Ohio's Governor in 1948. In early 1949, Governor Lausche vowed to close the Mounds Club which he claimed had for too long flouted Ohio's gambling and liquor laws.

In July 1949, Governor Lausche's state liquor law enforcement officials did just that, obtaining a court order to close down and padlock the Mounds Club. While owner Thomas "Black Jack" McGinty appealed the order closing his club, he clearly saw the writing on the wall. He and his Cleveland Gang associates sold their interests in the Mounds Club in 1950, taking their money out of Ohio and investing it in a new and what they believed would be safer and even more lucrative enterprise--the new Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Images

Locked Entrance to the Mounds Club. This elaborate gate adorned with figures of lions barred entrance to the Mounds Club by anyone who was not on the patron's list. Security guards checked the credentials of anyone who attempted to enter the Club. The lion was a symbol of the Club which was also known as the Lions Club. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections.
Bar and Cocktail Lounge Patrons of the Mounds Club could enjoy top shelf liquor and mixed drinks at the bar and cocktail lounge, even though the Club did not hold a state license to serve liquor. In the years 1930-1948, the Club was raided on at least three occasions by Lake County and State liquor enforcement officials. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprising given the influence of the Club's owners in Lake County, none of the raids during these years turned up any evidence of gambling or illegal alcohol at the Club. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections.
Band Stage in Dining Room of the Mounds Club Wealthy patrons of the Mounds Club were served exquisite dinners in this room in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s while nationally known performers like Sophie Tucker, Lena Horne and Joe E. Lewis entertained them on this stage. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections.
Aerial View of the Mounds Club This 1947 aerial view of the Mounds Club was taken shortly after the September 29, 1947 robbery by masked commandos carrying submachine guns. Police said the attack was carried out like a military operation. The robbers stole approximately one-half million dollars in cash and jewelry from the Club and the 300 patrons who were present at the time of the robbery. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections.
Law enforcement officials seek entry to the Mounds Club. During the period 1930-1948, the Lake County Sheriff Office and State of Ohio Liquor enforcement agents raided the Mounds Club on at least three occasions. On each occasion they failed to discover evidence of gambling or illegal alcohol at the Club. In this photograph taken during the course of a July 21, 1943 raid by the Lake County Sheriff Office, law enforcement officials are shown in the process of attempting to serve a warrant at the Mounds Club. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections.
Governor Lausche plans attack on the Mounds Club After winning the election in 1948 to secure his second term as Ohio governor, Frank Lausche vowed to close the Mounds Club and other such clubs throughout Ohio which he claimed were flouting Ohio's gambling and liquor laws. In July 1949, Ohio liquor enforcement agents carrying out the Governor's orders successfully obtained a court order to close and padlock the Mounds Club. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Plain Dealer microfilm collection.
Thomas J. McGinty becomes legitimate. As a result of the successful effort of Governor Lausche in 1949 to close down the Mounds Club, owner Thomas J. McGinty (shown in this 1958 photo at a black tie event) decided to invest instead outside of the State of Ohio. He, and several of his associates who were reputed to be members of the infamous Cleveland Gang, including Moe Dalitz and Morris Kleinman, invested in the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada. One of McGinty's associates aptly noted that, while they were called criminals in Ohio, in Nevada they were called entrepreneurs. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections.

Location

32200 Chardon Rd, Willoughby Hills, OH 44094 | The building, since remodeled, is now the La Vera Party Center.

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Mounds Club,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/331.