The King and Meyer Saloon Controversy

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings
Original Images:



Author: James Mann

As part of the regular business of the Ypsilanti City Council at their meeting on Monday, April 19, 1915, petitioners for liquor licenses were considered. Two petitions caused the most discussion. The concern was that the two saloons, the King and Meyer, were within three hundred feet of Woodruff school on East Michigan Avenue. Under state law, no saloon or bar could be within three hundred feet of a school or church, unless all property owners within three hundred feet of the proposed saloon gave their consent.

“When the request for a license was presented it was accompanied by a document which furnished something of a surprise. It was a paper saying that all the people whose names were affixed were in agreement that a saloon should be conducted in the former Meyer place. The first signature was William Dusbiber and a little way down the list was the signature of H. E. Lutjen, formerly pastor of the Lutheran church,” reported The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Tuesday, April 20, 1915. Among those who had signed the consent, was Katharine Meyer, the widow of Joseph Meyer.

“Ald. Lathers held that this was of no account,” continued the account, “unless it were accompanied by an affidavit to the effect that these were all of the property owners within 300 feet of the saloon. Ald. Bursha promptly met the demand by presenting from his pocket the affidavit. It was sworn to in due form and there was little left to do but to grant the petition. On the same ground the license for the King place was renewed under the name of William Bursha, alderman in the fifth ward, and Erwin Clark.”

These were not new establishments, as the two saloons had been in operation for some years. Now the two were under new ownership. The King Saloon, previously under the management of a John King, had been at 304 East Michigan Avenue, in the Schade Block, for at least thirty years. John King had ended the business by May of 1913. After that, the site was vacant.

The saloon of Joseph Meyer, at 309 East Michigan, was in a building constructed in about 1888 by George Thumm. Here, for a time, he operated a saloon. “It had a fancy walnut bar and mirror as was the custom in the past century,” wrote Eileen Harrison for The Ypsilanti Press of Tuesday, July 24, 1962. “There had been card tables at which the loser was expected to treat every third hand.” By 1892 Thumm had sold the building to Meyer, who continued the business of running a saloon.

Joseph Meyer would continue in the saloon business, until his death at age 66, on February 22, 1915. “He was kind hearted and well liked and a host of friends have a good word to say for 'Joe,' as he was familiarly called,” recalled his obituary. After the death of Joseph Meyer, the family had continued to run the saloon, as it closed the estate. Petitioners for the Meyer Saloon were Matthew Sinkule, son in law of Joseph Meyer, and Lewis Moore, who had been employed as a bartender at the Meyer Saloon.

All seemed well, until it was learned, that the law under which the licenses were granted, had been reversed by the Michigan State Supreme Court. In the case of People vs. Schnelder, found in Volume 170 of Michigan Reports, page 153, and handed down in 1912, read: “The consent of all property owners within 300 feet of a proposed new saloon or bar will not excuse the establishment of such a saloon or bar within 300 feet of the front door of a church or school.”

“According to this decision,” explained The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Thursday, April 22, 1915, “it will be illegal to open a saloon in the former King place and the man who makes the venture, even though he may have been granted a license, will do so in violation of the law and will be subject to arrest. Whether the saloon will be opened anyway and whether an arrest would follow is of course an entirely different question.”

When Ypsilanti Chief of Police Charles Cain was asked if he would close a saloon opened illegally, he said, “I would if I felt like it.” He added that if anyone wanted it closed, “let them get a warrant.”

The question was placed before Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Lehman for an opinion. He met with attorneys for Ald. Bursha and Irwin Clark, to whom the license for the King place was granted. From them he received assurance that as the opening would be illegal, no attempt to open it would be made.

“Rumor is current today,” noted The Daily Ypsilanti Press of Saturday, April 24, 1915, “that an injunction was served on the owner of the building, Mrs. Smith, forbidding her renting the building for saloon purposes, but Prosecuting Attorney Lehman says the story is unfounded since such procedure would be entirely unnecessary.”

The question of whether the Meyer place could continue to do business, under new management, was still to be settled. “The question as to whether the death of the man to whom the license was issued ends the life of a saloon within 300 feet of a school of church is still open in the minds of many, but evidence seems to be against the possibility of the saloon continuing,” reported the account. For this reason, Lehman referred the question to the State Attorney General.

Lehman received his answer on Friday, April 30, 1915, in a letter from Michigan Attorney General Grant Fellows. The letter was published in The Daily Ypsilanti Press that same day. “The inquiry contained in your communication would seem to be answered in the opinion rendered in the case of Rohde vs. Wayne Circuit judge 163 Michigan 690 in which case it was contended that in as much as the realtors sought to operate a saloon in a residence district without gaining the consent of the people therein as provided in section 37 of the Warner-Crampton law, that this fact alone was sufficient ground upon which to reject his application for a license, not withstanding the location had been used for saloon purposes for several years prior to the application of the relator. The court held that if in fact, for several years prior to the date at which relator could have been licensed to operate a saloon, a saloon had been conducted in this particular building that the restrictions contained in section 37 of act 291 of the public acts of 1909 did not apply. This would seem to be true in the case you refer to, providing that the saloon was being operated in this building at the time the Warner-Crampton law took effect and continuously since that date.”

“If however,” concluded Attorney General Fellows, “during any period of this time since the Warner-Crampton law went into effect and after the death of the party formerly operating the saloon the building was not used for saloon purposes then it would be deemed to be a new bar or saloon and would come under the provisions of said section 37.”

In other words, the Meyer saloon could reopen under new management. The Lewis B. Moore saloon did operate at 309 East Michigan from 1916 to 1920, when it was the John F. Maegle variety store. In the 1930's, the building became the Thorne Tire Store, which continued in operation on the site until 1962. In July of that year, the building was demolished to make way for a Burger Chef drive-in restaurant. “Holes in the floor through which pipes reached to barrels in the basement were still there when the building was torn down,” wrote Eileen Harrison. Today, the site of 309 East Michigan is occupied by Luca's Cony Island.

(James Mann is a local author and historian, a volunteer in the YHS Archives, and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The King Saloon in the Schade Block at 304 East Michigan Avenue was closed in May of 1913.

Photo 2: The Lewis B. Moore saloon operated at 309 East Michigan from 1916 to 1920, when it was the John F. Maegle variety store. In the 1930's, the building became the Thorne Tire Store, which continued in operation on the site until 1962.

Photo 3: In July of 1962 the Thorne Tire Store building was demolished to make way for a Burger Chef drive-in restaurant.