FIRE burns down historic Arkansas saloon that was once Al Capone's hangout

Thursday, July 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) _ A historic saloon that once served as gangster Al Capone's hangout and until the 1960s offered illegal gambling was destroyed during a fire.

The cause of the blaze that burned through the Ohio Club and adjacent Old Plaza Hotel building Wednesday wasn't immediately known.

The club boasted stories of visits by Capone and his nemesis Bugs Moran, and big-name entertainers such as Mae West and Al Jolson played there.

During a recent renovation, workers found several bullet holes in the original ceiling. Behind fake walls and floorboards, they also found paraphernalia for a wire service operated for bookies in the 1940s.

``I can almost remember the year when the state police raided it,'' said Wanda Thompson, a former bartender at the club. ``They came in and broke the gambling paraphernalia, took slot machines and busted the tables up.''

Fire Marshal Ed Davis said the Ohio Club, built in 1905, was a total loss, while the 1910 hotel was salvageable.

Building owner Ken Wheatley said he would try to preserve what he could in the club, including its ornate bar that had been imported from England.

``We're trying to save the facades to keep the memories of those buildings alive,'' Wheatley said.