My father was a waiter at the Beverly Country Club right after World War II. At dinner last night he was telling me about some of the interesting clientele he served while working there, and it piqued my interest. Would you have any links for further information about the place?
Stephen L. Barkley
You've come to the right "link," Sir. I, too, can tell you about a place that has been a bawdy roadhouse, casino, ballroom, night club, restaurant, bar, country club and theater.
The Beverly didn't acquire the name until 1945, but it has quite a history that begins with a plantation house on River Road. Built in 1857, Whitehall Plantation was owned and occupied by Francois Pascalis de LaBarre IV until the Civil War when Union troops took up residence.
After the family lost the house in a sheriff's sale in 1892, the place changed hands until Mark Boasberg, better known as Jack Sheehan, purchased the property. Sheehan converted the classic raised-villa design into a roadhouse which he named Suburban Gardens. Better known as the "roadhouse in the country," it was frequented by folks who listened to performers such as Louis Armstrong and Papa Celestine and indulged in gambling and liquor.
Pretty soon Sheehan outgrew the place, so in the mid-1920s he built a new Suburban Gardens on Jefferson Highway at Labarre Road which resembled the old Whitehall Plantation. The original house he sold to the Jesuits, and there they established the first Manresa retreat house. In 1931, St. Agnes Church occupied the house, and in 1935, it became the Magnolia School.
In 1930 Sheehan sold his roadhouse for $30,000 to Joe Brown, a gambler, who leased it to Blaize D'Antoni who renamed the place the Embassy Club. At the end of Prohibition in 1933, the place got another name: the Southland Ballroom.
A. G. Rickerfor was the owner of the Southland Ballroom in 1945 when Frank Costello came to town. Costello, reputed Mafia boss from New York, had plans to open a club in Jefferson Parish. So Rickerfor joined with Costello, Phil Kastel, Dudley Geigerman and Carlos Marcello, and the place was given yet another name: the Beverly Hills Club. Although there was no connection, the new establishment was so named as a tribute to a posh restaurant and casino of the same name built in 1935 just outside of Cincinnati.
Under the direction of "Dandy" Phil Kastel, so named for his dapper appearance, the renovations began. And what a change there was! The new gambling house, restaurant, and bar were quite spectacular. Amid the sparkling chandeliers and plush carpeting and vases of fresh roses were the roulette and dice tables, blackjack games and slot machines. Capacity crowds filled the club nightly, and the coat check booth was often overflowing with furs. The dining room -- and this is where your father worked -- could accommodate 250 who ate with monogrammed silver flatware on exquisite china etched with the Beverly emblem. Service was impeccable, and the food only the finest quality.
And there were lots of stars. Famous and glamorous entertainers of the day sparkled at the Beverly: Sophie Tucker, Carmen Miranda, Joe E. Lewis, Rudy Vallee, Joey Bishop, Eleanor Powell, Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healey. Many went just to see the Beverlettes, ten gorgeous cover girls from New York, who made up the chorus line. The costumes and routines changed every two weeks.
The Beverly Hills Club closed in 1951, but not by choice. U. S. Senator Estes Kefauver and his crime commission came to New Orleans that year to investigate. Carlos Marcello, one of the owners of the club, was a major target of the investigation.
"Dandy" Phil Kastel reopened the club -- this time called the Beverly -- in 1959. He promised that the dinner and supper club would be just that, but he lied. Gambling began anew, the public was outraged, and the club closed again.
In 1967 another attempt was made to open the club, but this failed also. Then in 1972 it became the Beverly Dinner Playhouse. It was successful until lights finally went out in 1983 when a fire that burned for five hours destroyed the theater.