The day the music died: No gambling at the Clayton Casino, just a place for good fun, dancing

The Clayton Casino, once a vibrant nightclub, was demolished in May 2008 to serve as a parking lot for the Hotel St. Laurents, which never came to fruition. Norm Johnston/ NNY Business

Touted as the “biggest nightclub between Montreal and Chicago,” by Clayton resident Marilyn Hutchinson in a 2008 Watertown Daily Times article, the Clayton Casino hosted numerous popular musicians, including Timmy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Paul Whiteman, in its heyday in the 1930s. It was “seven-days-a-week live entertainment,” Ms. Hutchinson said.

The popular nightclub, which was never a gambling sight, only enjoyed six to seven years of business before closing permanently in 1942 as traffic declined during World War II. The building, which was demolished in May 2008 with the idea that it would serve as a parking lot for a hotel that never came to fruition, originally housed Clayton Ship & Boat Building Corp., which manufactured 110-foot-long submarine chasers during World War I. It later became Frye and Denny Boatworks. In 1934, just after the 21st Amendment ended 13 years of Prohibition, Stewart and Mary Ormsby, of Belleville, and Westman LaLonde purchased the building and transformed it into the casino.

Why call it a casino though? “I guess that’s what they called a nightclub back then,” Linda L. Schleher, executive director of the Thousand Islands Museum, said in the Times article, adding that the club attracted “big bands very popular at the time.”

The 800-person nightclub boasted an 80-by-100-foot oak dance floor. Eager party-goers could get beer for just 10 cents a glass, a hamburger for 20 cents, a club sandwich for 50 cents and ice cream for 15 cents. Admission was 40 cents.

The casino went through several different owners after it closed its doors, becoming a six-lane bowling alley on the right-hand extension and a wax paper factory on the left-hand side in the 1950s, then becoming a marina and boat storage facility in the 1960s. Most recently prior to its demolition, the casino housed Remar Shipyards after Dr. Salvatore “Sam” Rivoli, Rochester, and son Peter S. purchased it in 2006.

Before it was demolished, the Thousand Islands Museum held a last dance inside its once vibrant walls in 2007.

Marlene R. Ennis, a Rutland native who attended events at the casino, called the dances “great fun” in a 2007 Times article.

“Coming from the country, it was quite a delight for me,” she told the Times.

Clayton Historian Norman H. Wagner, also remembered the casino as a place pulsating with celebratory spirit, even though he wasn’t old enough to participate in the festivities himself.

“This place was all lit up and music was coming out,” he told the Times of his memories of walking past the casino with his father.

The Rivolis, Spencerport, intended to use the site as a parking lot for a 58-room hotel, the Hotel St. Laurents, which was to replace the Islander Marina building. But that deal died and Watertown Savings Bank started foreclosure proceedings on the marina properties in June 2010. The Rivolis had taken out mortgages totaling about $1.7 million and owed the bank about $1.07 million. The bank was the lone bidder for the two parcels at 500 and 510 Theresa St. at a public auction in Nov. 2010 and later sold them to owner of adjacent French Bay Marina Jeremy B. Kellogg, who currently owns the Clayton Casino site where Islander Marina is today located.

Business history is a monthly feature from the archives of the Watertown Daily Times. Visit www.watertowndailytimes.com to access digital archives since 1988, or stop by the Times, 260 Washington St., Watertown to research materials in our library that date back to the 1800s.