In 1937, an unnamed Evening Courier reporter made a survey of the gambling conditions in Champaign. His 9-part series appeared nightly in the Evening Courier beginning April 29, 1937 and ending May 9, 1937. He found that even though gambling houses were hidden behind ambiguously marked doors, steep staircases, and peepholes, they were an open secret available to anyone.
Turf Club aka Klemick’s
113 ½ & 115½ N. Market St., Champaign
Although listed in the directory as vacant, 113½ and 115½ N. Market Street were anything but in 1937. The addresses were home to the Turf Club more popularly known as Klemick’s after Herman ‘Blue’ Klemick, a well-known real estate businessman and owner of the Continental Tavern. The Turf Club reportedly handled the largest amount of money of any of the 3 racehorse betting establishments in Champaign. It also had a gambling room where craps, blackjack, and the occasional poker game were played.
At right: “These are receipts for bets placed on horses at “Klemick’s.” You get them after you have made your bet at the counter. If you win you present the ticket at the counter and receive your winnings. The top receipt indicates the bettor has wagered 50 cents on horse number 384 to place. The second ticket is a 50 cent bet on horse number 373 to show, while the third is the same kind of bet on horse number 366.” Caption from Courier article “Gambling is Open in Champaign: Courier Reporter Tells What He Saw on Visit to ‘Turf Club;’ First of a Series” published April 29, 1937
67½ E. Main St., Champaign
Off the beaten track of Market Street’s Gambler’s Row lives Skinny Pitchers on East Main Street in the area known as “under the viaduct.” It got its name from Glenn ‘Skinny’ Pitcher, a local restauranteur, described by the reporter as a “tall, sharp-nosed, snappy dresser” who could usually be found in the Subway Café downstairs. Skinny Pitchers was a small establishment and did not have the clientele that the other gambling houses boasted, but it supplemented its take with a policy numbers house at the 600 block of North Poplar Street.
Recreation Club aka Melahn’s
37 Taylor St., Champaign
If your sole interest was off-track betting the Recreation Club at 37 Taylor Street was your place to go. The only establishment on Gambler’s Row without a peephole the Courier reporter extoled its ‘open and friendly atmosphere’ and therefore its more legitimate air. He noted that it was popular with university students and women. Paul ‘Softy’ Melahn, a former barber, sat behind the betting counter where he presided over a loyal and steady clientele.
103 N. Market St., Champaign
A smaller, more intimate gaming hall the 103 Club was operated by Ben H. Durham. Featuring off-track betting, craps, blackjack, and a pool table it was popular with university students and farmers. The distinguishing characteristic of the 103 Club according to the Courier reporter was the large faded painting of a reclining nude behind the craps table favoring all bettors with a wry expression.
Stables Annex aka Pitchers
32 Chester St., Champaign
105 N. Market St., Champaign
Stables Annex rivaled Klemick’s in popularity and volume of business. Operated by Lloyd H. and Bert Pitcher, brothers to Glenn Pitcher of Skinny Pitchers, this gambling venue was in two separate buildings with a doorway connecting the two. One could enter through either address encountering the ubiquitous steep staircase and peephole. Off-track betting, blackjack, and craps were the popular entertainments.