Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Broad and High Streets, 1936

In 1936 the four corners of Broad and High Streets were a lively place. An informal group of night owls would gather at Mills Buffet. They dubbed themselves the Dawn Patrol. They were newspaper people, barflys, insomniacs, detectives.

On the northeast corner of Broad & High, the Apparel Arts Club existed on the third floor at Six East Broad. It was an after-hours bar run by two clothing salesmen. One Saturday night, the police raided the place, and took the bar’s proprietors to the station for booking. “They confiscated a few drinks, a couple girls screamed, and they stopped doing the Big Apple, which was a dance." I wrote a story on the raid which made page one of the Ohio State Journal. It was sensational; I named names. These clothing salesmen bought me a new suit and hat; they resumed business the following Wednesday night.’

And on the southwest corner, there was Pat Murnan. He was the most colorful person we ever had in Columbus. Maurice Patrick Murnan ran a gambling casino at 13 and 1/2 West Broad. On the door was a sign, Downtown Office of Graceland Stock Farm, a reference to Murnan’s thoroughbred farm, now the Graceland Shopping Center in Clintonville. Inside were low and shaded lights, roulette tables, crap tables and a dressy crowd.

Born in Columbus’ Sacred Heart Parish in 1865, Murnan was a boilermaker until he won an easy three hundred-fifty dollars at craps. He was tall, had pink skin, blue eyes, white hair, and suits made by an East Broad street tailor in the largest black-and-white check they could find. He would have a diamond in his dark necktie. He owned a gold-headed blackthorn cane. He wore a high black hat with no dents in the crown, the brim turned down in the front. He had big feet with shoes that turned up at the toe, but his fingers were the outstanding part of him. He would sit across the roulette table from me, and gesticulate to emphasize his honesty. When he laid those big Irish fingers down, they looked like five pink bananas.

Murnan was tolerated by the police, who would raid the place only a couple of times a year; then the gambling would move uptown for a month or so. When Murnan died May 12, 1937, the Journal ran his obituary on page one, when the article hailed his philanthropy and his stock farm. The gambling wasn’t mentioned until the continuation on page six.

Ben Hayes

At Broad & High there were also bonfires set after Ohio State football games; the flames reaching so high that they melted trolley wires and destroyed the traffic light, all of which had to be replaced on Sunday.

We need to mention the many theatres and hotels and banks in the vicinity, the State House, and of course the long-gone Roy’s Diamonds sign with its multitude of chasing lights, a wonder before the computer age came in to give us the swirling-in-color arches. The building-encompassing sign was over a restaurant that at one time was Benny Klein’s, which featured belly dancers.

The sign is difficult to describe, but I will try. These are yellow and white light bulbs, mind you. The waterfall began its sparkling cascade; then the two ROY’S went on, followed by DIAMONDS and WATCHES, then the sixteen-foot diamond. The words and the diamond blinked and went off, leaving only the waterfall. Then it all started again.

It was a wonder for a little girl standing on the pavement waiting on Broad & High for her parents to finish their drinks and conversation in Benny Klein’s.

Christine Hayes
Photos by Marion Richardson

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