CHELSEA — Some of Chelsea’s darkest moments unfolded at the former King Arthur’s Motel and Lounge, the shuttered strip club immortalized in 1982 by a fatal police brutality case.
The club closed three years ago after it accumulated a $300,000 property tax bill and city officials yanked its licenses, but the ghosts of King Arthur’s linger at the cinder block property on Beacham Street.
Since 2015, a Middleton company called Phantom Ventures has been trying to open a nude cabaret and sports bar there, promising the operation would offer a “new era of adult entertainment.” The organization is slated to go before Chelsea’s Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday evening to ask for a special permit to establish Phantom Club for Gentlemen.
So far, however, few in Chelsea seem enticed.
“The King Arthur’s era is over,” said City Councilor Dan Cortell, whose district includes the club. “We don’t want people to come to Chelsea to watch naked women dance.”
Two years ago, the zoning board rejected Phantom Ventures’s request to renovate the King Arthur’s site and reopen as a strip club, saying the zoning code prohibits adult entertainment businesses in that neighborhood.
The denial prompted Phantom Ventures to sue, according to court records.
In March, US District Court Judge Indira Talwani ruled that Chelsea’s zoning code was unconstitutional because it didn’t explain why adult entertainment establishments could only operate in certain districts. She ordered the zoning panel to reconsider Phantom Ventures’s request.
The company is now asking the board to look at its application anew and classify the site as a theater, which would be allowed in that neighborhood and was listed as a possibility in Talwani’s order.
In recent months, Chelsea has updated its zoning code to comply with the ruling, said City Manager Thomas G. Ambrosino.
He said it’s up to the zoning board to decide whether Phantom Ventures gets a special permit to hold its cabarets, but “would not be shocked” if the application is denied and the case returns to court.
Many residents, Ambrosino said, believe there are better ways to use the King Arthur’s property.
“Live nude dancing is not the best use for that site,” he said.
The two-story building located next to the New England Produce Center on the Chelsea-Everett line operated as a strip club from the late 1970s until its closing in 2014.
Its notoriety was sealed 35 years ago when a group of police officers assaulted bar patrons holed up in a motel room on King Arthur’s second floor. The attack started after John W. McLeod, an off-duty Everett police officer, got into a fight at the bar in July 1982, according to court records.
Badly beaten, McLeod stumbled to a nearby security booth and instructed the guard to call Everett police.
Soon officers from Everett and Chelsea arrived and closed in on the barricaded motel room, where patrons were hiding. Among them was Vincent J. Bordonaro, 54, of Everett, who had been drinking and fell asleep.
After police broke down the door, two separate attacks ensued. Bordonaro later died from his injuries.
McLeod and Everett police Officer Richard P. Aiello were found guilty of second-degree murder. Another Everett officer, John T. Macauda, was convicted of manslaughter. Five Chelsea police officers admitted to falsifying reports about the incident. Several other officers from both cities were acquitted of charges including second-degree murder and assault and battery.
Violence continued at King Arthur’s. In 2008, a patron shot and killed a man there during a fight.
The club has also been linked to the deaths of at least two people who were killed by drivers who had been drinking at the bar before getting behind the wheel.
In its pitch to the city, however, Phantom Ventures said it is offering “a fresh and well-planned endeavor that will bring updated value and style to Chelsea.” The company also touted the work experience of its principals, saying they forged a “record of success” while working for organizations like Boston University, Bank of America, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” the company wrote in a 2015 mission statement. “Adult entertainment venues are no longer the seedy establishments that were swept into the dark corners of a city’s desolate streets. To the contrary, they are now corporate, professional, and safe.”
Phantom Ventures is listed as operating out of a two-bedroom home in Middleton owned by Gregory Costa, one of the company’s three managers, state and land records show. The business did not return messages seeking comment.
Cortell, the city councilor, said the proposal for the King Arthur’s site seems geared toward siphoning clients from the $2.4 billion Wynn Resorts casino under construction in Everett.
“It’s as close to Wynn casino as you can get without being in Everett,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything for me or my neighbors or my constituents. They’re not catering to me.”
In recent years, Cortell said Chelsea has attracted new hotels, several state offices, and the New England headquarters for the FBI. The city, he said, has gained the right to be more selective about development.
King Arthur’s former owner said she doesn’t want the site to reopen as a strip club — unless she’s running it.
Beverly Guttadauro, 70, operated the business after her husband Arthur, the bar’s founder, died in 2007. The revocation of King Arthur’s licenses left her broke and living in a mobile home in Florida, she said.
“It’s all because of 1982,” Guttadauro said through tears, referring to the police brutality case. “It was never, ever forgotten.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.