Fred and Mary Browning purchased the property in the late 1920s and began, immediately, an extensive remodeling of the house. The new owner first had the house moved aside so that the basement could be built; then, the house was replaced on top of the new basement. The main floor was the only visible structure above the ground. The inner floor and the basement were much larger than the house and were built expressly for casino operations.
Mr. Browning had planned his home with much foresight for its use as a gambling casino. Even with the possibility of unannounced raids, there was not much cause for concern since his fortress was considered virtually "raid proof". The building was so ingeniously constructed for its functional purpose, that it remains a wonder that a raid was ever effected. The grounds of the estate were surrounded by a wired alarm system. The only way one could possibly get in was through the front gates. There were usually two guards stationed at the gate. One stayed in the guard tower to allow the patrons to enter the grounds. The other watchman opened the gates.
The back door was the main entrance for the patrons of Top O' Hill. There were five doors through which one passed to finally reach the casino. The first door was one with a two-way mirror which led into an entrance hall. From the entrance hall, one passed through another door which had a peep hole. Behind this door was the hat check girl and cloak room. "Park your revolvers here" was a sign that hung over the doorway. After checking belongings, one still had another door to pass through before gaining entrance to the lounge and restaurant area. This third door had a small trap door and after being correctly identified, one would most likely be greeted by Mrs. Browning, who served as official hostess and would show the patrons to the game room.
On the ground floor of the house were located the lounge, restaurant, the Browning's living quarters and guest rooms. The inner floor of Mr. Browning's bedroom led down to a secret inner floor which was directly over his office in the casino. The inner floor was partitioned into passageways and secret rooms. Another trap door from upstairs led into a second secret room on the inner floor which was connected to a third but smaller room. This third room was above the casino, and here there were two-way mirrors through which the gamblers and the casino could be watched. The ladder down to this room was carpeted so the viewer could not be heard entering and leaving his perch.
After enjoying a fine meal prepared by Gussie at the Top O' Hill, the patrons eventually made their way through the lounge and down the stairway to the big steel vault door of the basement. Going down these stairs, the patrons were unaware of the inner room.
When permitted to enter the casino in the basement, one gazed upon three pool tables with low swinging lights over each, two roulette wheels, two black jack tables and two card tables. There were nineteen paid dealers operating the tables.
At the base of the stairs leading into the casino one could turn left and would be in front of Mr. Browning's office, which was well hidden behind a very large wooden door. His office was carpeted in black and had dark walnut paneling throughout. In his office was a large safe which kept the average bank roll needed to handle operating expense for each evening of $200,000. The safe had a time lock and opened each evening at 8 p.m. An average "take" for the casino was an estimated $50,000 to $100,000 nightly, and on the weekends this amount was more than doubled. Figuring on these tabulations, it is a low estimate to say that $50 million was made at Top O' Hill during its twenty-two years of operation.
There were three known trap doors in the walls of the basement casino which were opened by turning a key in the wall. These trap doors led to smaller rooms behind the false walls and were used to conceal the gambling equipment. One such false door was camouflaged by a frame holding cue sticks. Another of these trap doors led to a little room containing a vast network of switches. If one were to walk straight through the door from the casino into the switchboard room and continue straight to the far side of the room, one would uncover another secret door. This door led to the notorious secret tunnel. This fifty foot long tunnel was about four feet wide and ten feet tall. It led to the west side of the wooded hill and was densely concealed with shrubbery.
The casino was open from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. every week night; but, on weekends it was not unusual for it to be open when the sun came up. They served the best meat money could buy and had their own 8'x12' meat locker in the kitchen.
The grounds surrounding casino were quite beautifully landscaped. The estate had many acres of formal gardens containing fountains and small fish ponds. A large greenhouse was kept filled with lovely plants and supplied fresh flowers daily to the house and dining room.
Because Mr. Browning made very generous donations to various philanthropic organizations, the casino continued to do a thriving business for many years without being disturbed. All of that changed in 1933.
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