Grinnell Academy of Fine Arts (Pool and Billiards Hall) By Dave Adkins

Doud

Jack Collum in his St. Louis Cardinal uniform, Grinnell’s most famous athlete as a former major league pitcher.  Also an ace pool player, mainly using the tables at the iconic Russ’s Tavern on 4th Avenue between Main Street and West Street.  Left is photo of Bill Doud, class of ’51, talented pool-golf-bowling standout and Maytag retiree and right is Joel Prescott, rated just behind Collum as Grinnell’s best pool shooter of the 1960’s and captain of the Grinnell College tennis team.

What did you do for entertainment outside of school activities if you were a kid growing up in Grinnell, Iowa in the 1940’s and early 1950’s?   For a creative kid, it seemed there was no shortage of fun.  There was the Strand Theatre and the Iowa Theatre, both located on Main Street.   The Iowa, before called the Colonial, was on the southwest corner of Main Street and 5th Avenue and the Strand was at the site of the current Strand Theatre between 4th and 5th Avenue on Main.    The Iowa had “shows” every evening at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. in addition to matinees on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.   Also, the Iowa offered a midnight show on New Year’s Eve. The Strand’s schedule was open Thursday through Sunday evening in addition to matinees Saturday and Sunday.   A ticket for age 12 and under was $ .10 as was a regular popcorn and a large box went for a quarter. Adults paid $ .55 for a ticket.  George Mart’s Grinnell Drive-In Theatre was located north of Turney Field on Highway 146.  It was a popular attraction and most carloads of teen-agers eventually ended up out there in the summer months either as paying customers or as those trying to sneak in through the theatre exit on the theatre’s northeast corner.

There was no outdoor swimming pool for summer recreation, although on occasion the college pool, housed in a wooden shed type structure just southeast of the intersection of the M and St. L Railroad track and 8th Avenue in the heart of the college campus, was used for lessons, parties, and community swimming.   Newton, a 30 minute drive in Hi-way 6, did have a pool in Maytag Park and many young Grinnellians took advantage of that, in fact, there were GHS students who worked as life guards in Washer City.   Arbor Lake had a sandy area, a concession stand and bath house and a raft on the east side of the lake.

Also, some summers there was a tent roller skating rink close to the swimming area which was eventually moved to the City Park – it was a popular spot especially on week-ends.  Dude and Edith Murphy were the proprietors of the rink.  There was no Little League Baseball as such, but there was a summer baseball program with games played in the afternoons.   There were enough players for four teams although there was always a shortage of catchers.   The fast pitch men’s softball league with games under the lights at the Merrill Park diamond provided plenty of evening entertainment June – August.  Ken Cessna’s voice echoed out game coverage on a P.A. system which reached homes in the north end of town.  For boys and girls growing up in Grinnell during that era, nearly everyone had a bicycle, so everything of interest was in a 5-15 minute bike ride away.  Riding the bicycle was considered recreation and fun in itself.

For year around activity, the “Grinnell Academy of Fine Arts”, officially called “G Recreatiion” but always referred to as the Academy,  was situated on the second floor of the Raven Restaurant, which later housed a women’s clothing store called Hammon’s Apparel,  and below the Raven there was a small bowling alley.   “The Academy”, later the site of Bob Globus’s restaurant, JD’s, was actually a pool hall, smoking allowed, of course, with front and back stairs entrances. It was owned and managed by Dutch Phelps and later by Clark Wilson.  The old  GHS and GJHS were only two blocks east and you could cut through Henely Gym at the high school, go out its west backdoor on the alley, jog a little to the right and walk on the sidewalk on the north side of the Stewart west to Broad Street.

Crossing Broad and cutting through Laros’s Newsstand and out its west alley backdoor, go north about 100 feet down the alley between the rear side of buildings which faced Main Street and Broad Street and you were at the base of the 20 steps or so which led up to the Academy.  There were 7 pool tables available for rotation, New York and 8 ball and also 2 billiard tables and a snooker table positioned at the extreme west end of the 10 table set-up.  The tables ran lengthwise north and south and there was a long bench along the walls on both ends of the tables that provided a place for spectators to sit and watch the action.   There was also a snack bar at the west end of the layout with a window which had a view down on Main Street.  The snack bar served $ .10 hotdogs, cold drinks, etc. and a game of pool was also $ .10 per player.   A ’46 GHS grad, Tom Sangster, claims that 3.2 beer was sold at the snack bar, but I don’t remember that.   He also referred to the Academy as The North Grinnell Boys Pool and Social Club, but it was simply The Grinnell Academy (of Fine Arts) – the Academy – in my days around the old home town.

Occasionally there was a more serious game of “Pea pool” or “New York” in which the players each drew three red plastic peas with white numbers labeled from 1 to 15 – one pea was the “break pea” and the other two peas signified the number on the balls which a player had to make before calling the eight ball.   Once he had made his “object balls” – shooting in rotation from 1 to 7 or from 15 down to 9.  Thus, if I drew my three peas and they happened to be 4, 14 and 15.   I would put down the 4 to break and players with the lowest number on the break pea would shoot first and the higher numbers would follow.

Then I would concentrate on shooting from the 15 ball down.  Once the 15 and 14 were off the table,  I would be “on it” and be eligible to win by calling the 8 ball in a certain pocket and following through by making it in that pocket.  Usually New York was played by the older guys and better players, although I recall playing dime New York with Frank James,  Jim Van Draska, Bill Smith, and Warren Weaver (all GHS ‘57) Jeri Lippincott (’54) and Bill Kearney, class of 1955.

Each player would bet a specified amount and winner took the pot.  In the case of the example of the 4, 14, and 15 – if I won the game,   I would collect whatever the bet amount was from each of the other players.   If there were 4 other players and say the bet was .20 per player, I would have won $ .80 in that case.  I recall that Clark Wilson had a very smooth cue stroke and a solid bridge and was an impressive player to a kid just learning the game and the sound “Rack, Clark” was heard during business hours for the Academy. Clark was the operator after Dutch Phelps retired and saw to it that a fresh rack of balls was ready as the players upon finishing a game flipped their dimes on the sacred green cloth of the table.

Russ’s Tavern had pool tables available also, but it was more tavern than pool hall, although the pool tables did attract some good players and some serious matches.   Jack Collum, Grinnell’s most famous athlete as a veteran major league pitcher, was the best pool player in Grinnell. Jack played there at the tavern as did Joel Prescott (GHS ’57), Al Meacham, ‘42, Bill Dowd, ’51, and Moose McCammant, ’60, also considered very good players.  Meacham, a farmer and State Representative, was a skilled player.  Prescott, who once played an exhibition match with world champ Willie Mosconi at the University of Iowa Union, said that he couldn’t beat Jack Collum on a regular basis because Jack had a mastery over the cue ball and was always in position to make his next shot.  The Academy was a more popular spot for kids to hang out and play for only $ .10 a cue.

mosconi

Willie Mosconi, former world champ, and opponent of Grinnellian Joel Prescott in a match played at the University of Iowa Student Union.  Joel did ok, but Willie schooled him in the end.

Joel Prescott, now living in New York, recalls those days of a heavy schedule of pool in Grinnell as follows:

“You have managed to strike very fond, nostalgic chord in our childhood memories.   We remember Mr. (Clark) Wilson trotting up and down the East/West corridor on the racking side of the single line of seven (?) pool, one snooker, and two billiard tables collecting a whopping 10 cents per completed (nine ball) game.   As we recall, Bill Smith (killed in an automobile accident) was the “shark” to beat at the second floor facility and he usually managed to separate us from our $2 bankroll before the competition end.”

“Don’t recall seeing either Jackie (Collum) or Al (Meacham) at Clark’s place; however, through later high school and college we spent many an afternoon at Mr. (Russ) Otchek’s watering hole playing pool head to head with Al when he wandered back home from his political duties to enjoy several of Russ’s thirst quenchers; we generally managed to come out ahead as the afternoons wore on (and the beverages took effect).   When Jackie and Al were both present and we had a three handed nine ball contest, many of the patrons would gather around to cheer for their favorites.   Being the most junior [decade(s)?] member of the trio, our abilities could be summarized as a little better than Mr. Meacham and a lotta bit less than Mr. Collum.”

“We were going to mention Gary “Moose” McCammant as a very good player with whom we frequently played; however, he rarely competed in any game where the competition level could pose the potential for losing a buck or two.   During our faceoffs, the “prize” for winning a number of games would be at most who bought the next round of tomato juice.   Although he had a good paying construction job, his personality dictated a very conservative approach to spending money.   If we recall correctly, his demise may have revolved around a work-related accident around age 30. (Comment: Moose McCammant died at age 39 after his stint as an M.P. in the U.S. Army.  He was running his traps at Rock Creek Lake when he died of an apparent heart attack.”

“Bill Doud was one of the most talented, while not appearing to be particularly coordinated, chaps that we knew: great softball pitcher, super bowler (several neat trick shots), and could probably hit a golf ball a mile.   We recall being beaten by Mr. Doud when we were allowed to bowl normally while he would make his deliveries between his legs (something like 142 to 136).   He and Bob Pierce were pretty much inseparable during our tenure in Grinnell.   Although we can’t specifically recall competing with either Bill (Doud) or Bob (Pierce) at Clark’s place, we can report that neither one of them spent time competing at Russ’s while we were there, probably because they had “real” jobs.

I spoke to Bill Doud in May, 2017, by phone and he recalled the talents of those legendary Grinnell pool players – Jack Collum, Joel Prescott, Al Meacham, Moose McCammant, Bill Smith and others.  He said that Prescott used to spot Warren Weaver, class of ’57, a handicap – Warren shot the balls off from the 15 ball down and Joel shot from the 1 ball up and had to make all the balls in a specified pocket.  Prescott played this game with others also to sharpen his game and his concentration – he usually won even given the advantage his opponent had.  Another GHS grad, Jeri Lippincott, was cited by Doud as a very good pool player and respected for his intelligence.  Jeri joined the USMC out of high school and then retired in the USAF.

fats

“Minnesota Fats”, Rudolf Wanderon, son of immigrant Swiss parents, was portrayed in the movie “The Hustler” by Jackie Gleason and Paul Neuman also played a lead part.  Fats quit school at the age of 15 to tour the country hustling locals in pool games and his image influenced many younger would-be pool hustlers.  

Very few school age kids had cars in those days and a bicycle was the most reliable form of transportation for those under driving age, as previously mentioned. There was no illegal drug use among the adolescent population, very few drank beer and nicotine could probably have been called the “drug of choice”, even though teen smokers did it secretly except in safe places like the Academy, which was an o.k. place to pass some time especially if you had interest in playing pool.  If not, it was a spot in downtown Grinnell where you could always find some company and conversation.  I recall seeing Dale Amendt (GHS ’53) at the Academy on a Friday afternoon after basketball season in 1956.   He was an outstanding football and basketball player at Coe College and was home for a week-end. I was still in high school and with no basketball practice, I stopped into the Academy after school to shoot some pool.  Amendt was in there to hang out a little and see who was around –  an example of the social function of the Academy, of one Grinnell’s memorable social-recreational institutions.

 

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