Many of these notes
were made from a telephone discussion held on June 3, 2008, with
Irene S. Heidt of Marietta, Georgia, who has lived there for 30
years. Much valuable assistance and critical information was also
provided by Huddy Hudgens, with help from his many contacts, in
addition to others I talked with such as Bob Drake. Eight lengthy
newspaper articles from The Albany Journal, which followed this case
very closely reporting on it over a 7 month period, also provided
much detailed information that was unavailable elsewhere.
Irene is 82 years old
with a fantastic memory for detail, and generously shared her time
and knowledge with me concerning the history of this once extremely
popular Albany restaurant.
Her father, Varner F.
Sharman of 509 Second Avenue in Albany, was born in Doerun and built
the Victory Club in 1941. It was planned as a restaurant from the
very beginning even though he had no prior experience in the
restaurant business, having previously operated a liquor store.
Sharman had purchased
this 17 or 18 acre tract - located approximately 3 miles from
downtown Albany - from the county in the late 1930’s, which had once
used it as the county poor house/farm, but he delayed building on it
until he could finish paying for the land. Sharman built where he
did because he wanted a roadhouse style restaurant outside the city
limits on a main highway where he had more freedom to operate under
the existing local liquor laws and the sheriff.
It was located on the
Newton Road, paved with brick from downtown Albany to beyond this
site, and was one of the main routes leading into Albany from the
south. (This was before Slappey Blvd. was constructed) The site
was across the highway from the county prison and was also just
north of the new Albany Municipal Airport, completed in 1939, with
regular service provided by Eastern Airlines.
But with war looming
the airport was taken over in March and April 1940 for use as a
military pilots training facility by Darr Aero Tech, a U.S. Army Air
Force contract flying school. In August of that year barracks were
built for the student pilots across the road from the airport, which
initially were American cadets, but in May 1941 thru early 1943 was
involved exclusively in training Royal Air Force British cadets who
learned to fly using bi-wing Stearman aircraft. After that, it
reverted back to training American pilots until the program in
Albany was deactivated on December 31, 1944, at which time the
airport was returned to civilian use.
Irene’s father designed
this field rock structure himself and constructed it with the help
of a talented black mason. After it was framed in but before it was
totally completed her father realized he had made some mistakes and
had a contractor friend of his, Frank Hadden who owned Hadden’s
Flowers & Gifts, suggest and make some modifications to it,
including two indoor and two outdoor rest rooms and corrections to a
floor that did not slope correctly and hence did not properly drain
water. When finished, Irene chose the name “Victory Club” herself
because of World War II.
Irene was an only child
and her father would let her do just about anything she wanted,
including letting her name his new restaurant. It being near Darr
Aero Tech adjacent to the Albany airport where the British Boys were
in flight training, her father put up a dart board and they would
come in frequently to shoot darts and drink beer and scotch with no
ice – their favorites.
The restaurant parking
lot was never paved while her father owned it, so daily he would
drag a railroad crosstie behind a vehicle to keep the lot smooth and
in good shape. Billy and she paved it once they managed the
Irene married Billy
Heidt in January of 1943. In November 1943 Billy was sent by the
Army to the European Theatre, ultimately going all the way to
Berlin. He returned to Albany after the War in December 1945.
Her father was called
to duty in the Navy, leaving Albany in 1944 being sent to the
Pacific Theatre on board a ship involved in the invasion of Iwo
Jima, Guam, and other Pacific Islands. When he departed for the
service he rented the restaurant to a popular Albanian, Johnny
Vills, who was born in Austria in 1884 and had come to Albany in
1925, and who ran the restaurant as Johnny Vills Victory Club for
about 2 ½ years until her father returned from the War in 1946. In
that year Billy and Roy Jones became partners in the restaurant
while Johnny left for another opportunity.
Johnny reportedly had
been trained as a chef before he left Europe, and during his time
renting the Victory Club enhanced its reputation as an outstanding
local eating establishment for which it was long afterwards widely
and affectionately known. Albanians loved to eat at the Victory
Johnny had been
encouraged by others to purchase the White House Restaurant, which
was located north of Albany on old U.S. 19 (now N. Jefferson St.)
which was the main highway into the city from that direction, with
the restaurant being directly across the road from the old American
Legion Public Golf Course near the intersection with the Philema
Road. He did so believing many customers would follow him there.
As he later acknowledged, it was a terrible business mistake and he
went broke, but remained on good terms with Irene and her father.
Johnny had left them several good recipes, among which were some
very popular salad dressings including the Roquefort style dressing
originated at the Victory Club by him about 1946. Johnny Vills was
69 when he died April 18, 1954.
In 1949 the Albany
Cardinals baseball team moved to their new Cardinal Park facility a
short distance to the north of the restaurant on the Newton Road.
They played here as a farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals until
they finished their last season in 1957.
Business at the popular
Victory Club continued strong with people from across Southwest
Georgia as regular customers, so the need for additional capacity
became apparent. They employed architect Robert Stephens to make
the changes, adding private dining rooms which ultimately increased
the seating capacity to over 300 people. He had to use Jamaican
Brick as field stone was no longer available in quantity.
Originally the restaurant had no air conditioning but rather a water
cooled system, but this was later replace with a large compressor
In December 1945 her
husband, Billy Heidt, came back to the job he had held before the
War as a railroad mail clerk traveling on the trains, but as this
function was phased out by the government he went to work at the
restaurant with his father-in-law and Roy Jones, where he primarily
selected and cut the meat. About 1955 her father got out of the
restaurant business and turned it over to Roy, Billy, and Irene to
Her father died in
November 1960 at age 54, and she inherited all his assets including
the Victory Club. After Roy Jones had left about 1955, Irene and
Billy operated it together until 1967 when they divorced and she
rented it to him, but by 1969 Billy had gone bankrupt. He then
operated Merry Acres Restaurant on the Dawson Road which also did
not prove a financial success for him. Later, he went to a small
restaurant near Tift Park, and finally back to the post office where
he worked until he died in April 1989.
After 1969 Irene rented
it to Jimmy Gray, who did not help the business, and afterwards to
Herman Lloyd, who did a good job and made good money there. Finally
she leased it to hardnosed businessman Jim Hutchinson for $1,800 a
month who operated it as “My Place”, and who subsequently subleased
it to Canadian Stan Adams which was not allowed under her lease.
Adams was an individual who had come to Albany from Atlanta and
called it “Bogey’s Victory Club”.
Two men, John Young and
James Parker, became partners with Adams, each having a one-third
interest, but the three-way partnership turned sour. Hutchinson
then had to take the club back from sub-lessee Adams and his
associates, who had done extensive refurbishing but had struggled
with the nightclub and failed to make ends meet. At that point
Hutchinson entered into a separate pact with Adams which left Young
and Parker out in the cold without them being consulted, which
After the club had
closed at 1 a.m. Sunday morning, January 18, 1981, the Victory Club
was totally destroyed by fire. It was clearly a case of arson, the
main dining room having been drenched with at least 4 ½ gallons of
gasoline. Hutchinson and Adams were said to have been the last
persons in the club shortly before it burned, leaving there to go to
the Plantation Club in Baker County. Sixteen minutes after they
left the bartender at the Victory Club returned and found the
restaurant a raging inferno. An Albany fireman was injured and
hospitalized as a result of fighting the blaze. Irene Heidt learned
about it only when a friend called her after midnight from the
Plantation Club saying they had seen it on fire as they drove to the
club. She had to level the remaining standing ruins.
Hutchinson carried a
$100,000 insurance policy on the contents of the restaurant alone,
while its owner, Irene Heidt, had insured the contents and building
for $250,000. Police charged Hutchinson and Adams with arson basing
their case heavily on circumstantial evidence. Adams’ former
partners Young and Parker had been found by police to have had
airtight alibis as to their whereabouts on the night of the fire,
and were never implicated.
On March 5th
District Attorney Hobart Hind went before Senior State Court Judge
Rosser Malone attempting to link Hutchinson and Adams to the fire,
charging among other things that Hutchinson set the fire to gain
$100,000 in insurance proceeds which he needed desperately to
finance a bowling alley. For some reason he failed to subpoena a
potentially key witness - the State Fire Marshall investigator who
had handled the case. Malone found insufficient evidence to bind
the case over to the Dougherty County Grand Jury for possible
indictment, stating that the mere suspicion of a crime was not
Hind had earlier
acknowledged that he was personally acquainted with Hutchinson and
that Hutchinson had vigorously supported him in his race for the
D.A.’s office. After the ruling by Malone, Hind stated that he did
not intend to waste the taxpayers’ money on prosecuting a flimsy
case and had no further plans to prosecute the case or bring it
before a grand jury. Ultimately, however, the strong pressure of
local public opinion caused the elected district attorney to
reconsider and exercise his prerogative, taking the case directly to
the grand jury.
After his special
presentation before the grand jury, Hutchinson and Adams were
subsequently indicted for first degree arson with a bond of $50,000
placed on each man. While awaiting trial Hutchinson’s bond was
reduced to $15,000, and Hutchinson signed the bond for Adams, his
A trial was held before
the Dougherty County Superior Court where two prominent, wealthy,
and influential individuals testified as character witnesses for
Hutchinson; they were Mrs. Cleair Gray, wife of the powerful
publisher of the Albany Herald, mayor of the City of Albany, and
board chairman of Gray Communications Systems, Inc. and Gus Guzman,
a consultant of Gray Communications Systems, Inc.
At the same trial two
key state witnesses, including the bartender who had discovered the
fire soon after Hutchinson and Adams had left, mysteriously
disappeared or became “unavailable” immediately before the trial and
did not appear, raising the possibility that the state’s witnesses
had been tampered with. But in the end a jury, within minutes of
deliberation, found Hutchinson and his co-defendant Adams innocent
of all arson charges. Having thus been absolved completely of the
crime of arson, Hutchinson could never again be charged with the
crime and was able to collect the $100,000 fire insurance policy.
It was indicated in the
press that the investigation and prosecution had been very poorly
conducted. No one else was ever arrested, brought to trial, or
convicted; thus ended the case, and The Victory Club.
David M. Sherman,
Class of 1961