Landmarks: At Glenville's Gay Gull club, a dance routine ends very, very badly in 1935
By the early morning hours of June 22, 1935, some of the patrons at the Gay Gull had grown weary of George “Chick” Barkham and his act. Four months later, however, in the Schenectady County courthouse, the jury liked his performance just fine.
Barkham and his dancing partner, Bonnie Mills, were providing the entertainment that night at the Gay Gull, a Glenville restaurant and night club at 285 Saratoga Road, when things got out of control. A few boisterous members of the audience didn’t like the show, words were exchanged and in the subsequent altercation, Barkham, a 43-year-old vaudeville performer, struck and killed 27-year-old Harold Clune with a baseball bat. At the conclusion of his trial in October, Barkham, who pleaded self-defense, was found innocent.
The Gay Gull was around during the days of prohibition (1920-33) and closed as a nightclub just a few years after the Barkham-Clune incident. The building, now a single-family home, still stands and is one of the oldest structures along that section of Route 50 where in 1949 the Mayfair Shopping Center was born and changed the look of the land. Flavorland, the Carl Co., Fred Auchenpaugh’s Clam Bake Restaurant, Woolworth’s, Rock Garden Pharmacy and the Mayfair Miniature Golf Course are just a few of the places that have come and gone, but the white, wooden building near what used to be called Stoodley’s Corners remains.
The original owner of the house, built sometime around 1870, may have been farmer John Martin Koch, who along with his wife Anna, raised five boys and a girl there. When the Kochs built new property on Glenridge Road, Peter and Rose Myers moved into the Saratoga Road home and lived there for about 10 years until the building was sold and turned into an inn. Frank Carr ran the place and probably operated it as a speakeasy throughout Prohibition, and then in 1934 it was purchased by Barkham and his fellow entertainer, Sadie A. Mills, also known as Bonnie. Mills, who also danced with Barkham at the Cotton Club on Carman Road in Rotterdam, was listed as the building’s legal owner.
The couple sold the Gay Gull just a few years following the trial, and Mary Thomas bought the building and turned it into an antique shop in the 1940s. The current owner, George Stafford Jr., has been in the house since 1991 when he purchased the property from Marine Col. Bronislaus Gill. Gill is the same individual who saved St. Joseph’s Church in Albany when he bought the building for $29,000 in 1981, allowing services to continue, and then sold it back to the church in 1996 for $30,000.
‘Little left’ of Gay Gull
“The Gay Gull was evidently a pretty popular place back in the day,” said Stafford, a Schenectady native whose home is on the west side of Route 50 across from the Trustco Bank at 286 Saratoga Road. “There’s little left that would remind you of the Gay Gull or the old farmhouse, except for some of the hand-hewn beams. I bought it from Col. Gill, who had a few different properties back then and is a whole other story by himself.”
When Gill handed over the house to Stafford, included among the papers was one deed dating back to the 1890s indicating that the land had to be used for farming and that the property could not be sold to black people.
As for the brawl that ended Clune’s life in 1935, Stafford has heard the story, as has Brian Clune, the grandson of the victim. Clune and his brother Jack now run Harold R. Clune, Inc. in Ballston Spa, the electrical contractor company started by their father, Harold Jr.
“I remember the story, but it wasn’t something we discussed much,” said Brian Clune. “I don’t think my grandmother ever mentioned it to me. I can’t remember who told me about it, but it was probably one of my siblings. All I really know about it was that it was a barroom fight.”
In 1988, Harold Clune Jr. talked to Schenectady County historian and Gazette reporter Larry Hart about the incident, giving his mother’s version of the story. According to Dorothy Clune and other witnesses, after the initial altercation was breaking up, Barkham returned with a baseball bat as she and her husband and other friends were leaving the Gay Gull. Texar Sible, the son of Scotia mayor John Sible and the individual who some felt had created much of the disturbance, was wearing the same colored shirt as Clune, evidently a baseball jersey since both men played for a team sponsored by Pedrick’s Florist. The two men were also about the same height and weight, and as the group walked out the door, Barkham, thinking Clune was Sible, hit him in the back of the head with his baseball bat. Clune, who didn’t initially seem seriously hurt by the blow, died nearly two weeks later on July 3.
During the trial, jurors heard from witnesses backing Barkham’s side of the story — that he feared for his life and acted in self defense — and witnesses who corroborated Mrs. Clune’s account. After hearing the closing arguments, the jury went into deliberation at 4:44 p.m. on Oct. 25 and returned exactly four hours later with a verdict: not guilty.
It was during the short life of the Gay Gull that the area around the intersection of Route 50, Glenridge Road and Van Buren Road was known as Stoodley’s Corners. Robert Stoodley, the city marshall in Schenectady, purchased farmland in the area on June 28, 1911, from B.F. Wilcox, who had moved to Glenville in 1896.
Stoodley’s home was on the southwest corner of today’s busy intersection, which wasn't paved until 1913. But while transportation was becoming easier, the area around Stoodley’s Corners remained fairly rural until after World War II. Just north of the Gay Gull on Route 50 there was the Endries Inn and its nine-hole golf course that drew Schenectadians north in the 1930s, but things didn’t really change until 1949 with the building of the Mayfair Shopping Center.
Adrienne Karis moved to Glenville from Long Island in 1947, and can remember when the Route 50-Glenridge Road intersection looked a lot different.
The missing willow
“There were these white houses on each corner of the intersection except where the Hess station is today, and on that corner, the northeast corner, there was this huge weeping willow tree,” said Karis, who has done extensive research on various topics concerning Glenville’s history. “Then things started to change. I also remember that, up the road further near Endries’, there was a big beautiful tree. It was gorgeous, and then one day it was down. That was the beginning of the construction of Mayfair Shopping Center.”
Technically, it’s no longer called Mayfair Shopping Center. It has been changed to the Hannaford Plaza, and just to the north Willow Brook Plaza (built in 1963) is now Price Chopper Plaza.
“When you go shopping there, you still just say, ‘I’m going to Mayfair,’” said Karis. “I never heard anybody call that area Stoodley’s Corners. I had read about Stoodley’s Corners some place, but people didn’t use that name. No one ever mentioned it to me.”
Town of Glenville historian Joan Szablewski used to walk to the Mayfair Shopping Center when she was a young girl and, like Karis, had no inkling that the area used to be called Stoodley’s Corners.
“There was Rocky’s Meat Market and Rock Garden Pharmacy and other stores that we would go to,” said Szablewski. “Back then I don’t remember anyone calling it Stoodley’s Corners. I only found out about it lately when I started reading the history.”
Like the people in the Gay Gull affair, Robert Stoodley and his family also dealt with tragedy. Born in Somersetshire, England, in 1854, Robert was the oldest of four brothers, all who emigrated to America. He only farmed the land around Stoodley Corners for a decade, moving back to Schenectady in 1920 after losing a hand during a threshing accident trying to help his neighbor John Van Buren. According to Ancestry.com, in 1921 his wife Mary threw herself on the stove of their home at 1108 State St., was seriously burned and died a few days later. The website added, “Family tradition was that she was depressed and threw herself on the stove as her husband Robert Stoodley was very difficult to live with.”
Stoodley’s brother Albert, a well-known baker in Schenectady, moved out to the farm in 1921 and lived there until his death in 1944. His wife Elizabeth V. Stoodley and their daughter Elizabeth Stoodley Bunkoff began selling off the property in 1947. Elizabeth Stoodley passed away in 1953 and Elizabeth Bunkoff died in 2009, but her husband Edward D. Bunkoff, who turns 98 in September, remembers the old homestead well and lived there until 1970. It is now a Sunoco station.
“They demolished the house in 1971 and I can remember my wife was pretty upset,” said Bunkoff, a Schenectady native who lives on Hop City Road in Ballston. “We owned a lot of that land, and the farm went a ways up Glenridge Road, on both sides, as well as down Van Buren Road on both sides. It was a fairly big farm.”
Bunkoff does remember people referring to that area as Stoodley’s Corners, and while he also remembers the Gay Gull, he didn’t become familiar with the area until marrying Betty Stoodley on June 6, 1942.
“After I got married I served with the 10th Mountain Division and didn’t come back from the service until 1947,” remembered Bunkoff, referring to his World War II experience. “I had grown up in the Bellevue area, but I remember hearing stories about the Gay Gull and the guy getting killed. I remember it being just up the road on the left, but that whole area has totally changed. It was great to have the shopping area right there, but way back when that corner was a pretty good spot.”