Old post office a 1926 speakeasy

Published 10:03 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012

CASSOPOLIS — Dr. Roger Pecina wanted to bring together the village and the lake, where he has lived for 27 years.
“It’s not like I’m some outside guy coming in,” the Afdent dentist said. “I got to a point in my life where everybody talks about, ‘Cass doesn’t have anything, there’s nothing there.’ I had collected all this stuff. A lot of people talk, but we don’t see enough action, so I decided I was going to create some points of interest in the community. Now people say, ‘You’ve got to go Cassopolis and see the gas station.’
“Find me a small town like this that has two major highways that intersect and two lights. There are a lot of natural resources, but there’s nothing here for kids to stay when they grow up. Yet the village has affordable housing. You can buy a nice old home for $60,000 to $70,000. You’ve got a great school system they just put $16 million in, an incredible police department with a super-low crime rate — 83 percent lower than South Bend. By doing this, I wanted to find a way to get the village people and the lake people to work together.
“The village always complained that the lake people didn’t do anything. I decided to change that and to give back to the community by restoring some of these buildings. That’s my plan, and preserving history. It’s not about making money. The boat museum is free. The gas station is free. Maybe by me doing something, someone else will think they want to invest some time and effort.”
Across Broadway from Stone Lake Sinclair is Holden Green, his private refuge with a 38-foot bar salvaged in South Bend and incorporating Chris Craft boat controls. Hanging above is a Jolly Roger waterski, the nautical flourishes a reminder that in June he opened Mahogany Outfitters Classic Boat and Auto Museum at 980 E. State St., with room after room of vintage boats trailered behind classic cars.
Holden Green, which feels like a Prohibition speakeasy in the turn-of-the-century Cassopolis post office, and Flip’s, a diner under construction in Mahogany Outfitters while it’s closed for the winter, both reflect the dentist’s style of finding a “cool sign” he likes, then developing a concept around it.
Signs are expensive — Flip’s cost $20,000, but he picked it up for $500.
Pecina is hurrying to complete another retro diner at Holden Green in time for his Super Bowl party, with the street side available for a barber shop.
He’s hosting an office party Feb. 25, re-enacting the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago. Guests will wear period clothing.
He purchased the Ritter house on the corner with the intention of opening a bed and breakfast, but sold it when the village said he would have to live in it. He also owns the Neighbors building. There is a neon Holden Green sign not yet up.
Wainscoting is not only original — one board is signed by the workman who installed it in 1897. Crews used to travel the country and custom-build bars on site to fit establishments, which makes it more challenging to relocate. Mirrors, glass rods and lighting are original.
Buzzers concealed under the bar every five feet alerted patrons to hide their alcohol or gambling numbers if cops came. He has a numbers box that contained tickets players filled out. The back bar contains a secret compartment.
Two layers of plywood and two layers of vinyl tile peeled back for a month to reveal wood floors. The phone booth works. There is a shoeshine stand. Barstools came from Chicago.
A shuffleboard table, claw-footed blackjack and roulette tables and a pool table run the length of what he sometimes refers to as his “cave.”
The blackjack table, for instance, is built to be broken down in three minutes, so during Prohibition if word on the street was the police were approaching, it could be whisked away.
The clock, which “works like a charm,” used to tell time at a dance hall in Buffalo, N.Y. There’s a time clock to punch in back, a phone with a dial tone to summon a taxi and a cigarette machine from Cleveland. Overhead, a chandelier of fans.
“That case I salvaged out of a guy’s garage in Osceola. He was storing paint in it,” Pecina said. “That’s an original from the Niles Refrigeration Co. that Tyler’s bought out. All we did was clean it really good. The way it used to work was blocks of ice went” in the middle, chilling cold plates which cooled beverages to either side.
“I had my guy put in a compressor and a regular refrigeration unit in it.”
The massive cooler holds 600 bottles of beer.