Cheese: Hi, Mike this is Don Akerlow with "The Break"; I had
just a few questions. I wanted to do that follow up article that
Pat Sheehan had done. I had been in the Olympic Club when I
delivered "The Break" and I found it very unique. I really liked
the place. It brought back some old memories, especially of pool
halls that I grew up in with the pull down chalk and tables.
Mike: There is something very special about that place.
Cheese: I was wondering how long the restoration took?
Mike: Well, when we first found the club just by a chance drive-by in '96, I think. We bought it and the club was operational. The club itself, the Olympic Club was open, but it was only open for 8 hours a day. One person was working behind the bar and there wasn't any food or anything.
Cheese: Was the poolroom going?
Mike: One pool table was working and there were several of them stacked up in the corner and it was a wreck. Our thought was to buy it and keep it, not close it and just gradually work on it. There was by some quirk of the Washington liquor law, when you change ownership you have to close down. There was something in there that made us close down and once we closed down we stayed closed for, I think it was about two months and we just kind of got into it. There were some drop ceilings and lots of damage. They hadn't really put the place back together or repaired anything for a long while. Short-term sort of stuff, so there was a lot of work to do. So we ended up closing for a couple of months with that time we spent a couple hundred thousand dollars getting it back to operational. Taking off all the bad stuff that had been added over the years. Putting a bunch of light fixtures back together, we just kept finding stuff in the basement. In the many basements that are involved in that place there were just stacks and stacks. We put a lot of that back together; the old pool lights were down there because they had fluorescent lights hanging from the drop ceiling in the pool area. So we pulled all that down and put up some of the old great stuff from the basement. So we kind of put it back together. We didn't have any photos to work from or anything on the pool hall. We got all the tables, at least serviceable again. They were pretty beat up, a lot of them are.
Cheese: They needed to be maybe a little touched up, a little refurbished.
Mike: I think we are just going to get on a plan with Pat Sheehan and over a period of time just get them back to where they should be.
Cheese: Now, when I was there one of the things I thought was interesting was your theater and especially the seating. Can you explain a little bit about that?
Mike: When we bought the club we got the theater also. We got the hotel building. We had plans drawn up right away to do something but we never got around to it. We had lots of other projects that we were doing and wanted to see what was going to happen with the club. And the club really pretty much kept getting busier and busier and so we finally decided to restore the hotel. So it had 27 rooms, 26 upstairs. I think and it had this space on the North side that had been a tavern for years and years called the Jet Tavern. Then it was a Mexican Restaurant Club before we got there. It was a wonderful space and again we started tearing out all the drop ceilings and all the stuff added over the years and found that it had really beautiful pounded tin ceilings and all the beautiful wood in the floor. It was just a great space and a great space for performances, or film or whatever.
Cheese: Now you don't have regular theater seating.
Mike: No, we don't. We just don't do that very often. There is one place where we have theater seating but we took out every other row and put in tables. You kind of have to do it that way if the floor is angled, you know like a typical theater. If the floor is flat it's nice to have flexibility in that you can have a dance or you can do a meeting or you can do all kinds of stuff and turn the chairs facing each other, just have some flexibility. That room has it! It's the perfect room for it.
Cheese: What's your capacity for seating for the theater?
Mike: I think our capacity is 299 in the room but I think we have only 180 seats or something like that. It's spread out so we have a little more room.
Cheese: Have you been having movies there?
Mike: Oh yeah, we've packed the house several times, depending on what's playing. We play typically a couple of movies a week and they're the ones that just come out of the big theaters. Not a first run, although they are pretty close to first run a lot of the times. We get them in Centralia because there are no other theaters that we are competing with.
Cheese: What's the price of a ticket?
Mike: Usually it's two dollars.
Cheese: That's pretty cheap in today market.
Mike: In today's market that's pretty good.
Cheese: Now, I was also told that you can serve drinks in there or drinks can be served in there from the bar.
Mike: Oh sure. We have a little bar next door or you can just get drinks from the main bar in the Olympic Club. The New Tourist Bar is a little bar that's kind of more or less the concessionary for the theater, any kind of drink for you, whether it is beer or wine or spirits.
Cheese: That kind of adds a little bit in going to watch a movie.
Mike: Oh it's fun and the food; you can have any food in there also, beyond your typical popcorn and candy bars.
Cheese: What about the age requirement for that?
Mike: I think the first movie, we usually run movies at 5:30 and 7:30 and maybe 9:30 on the weekends. I believe minors can come to the first movie, so we'll run more fare that they would be interested in.
Cheese: Well, I wanted to make sure so when people read this, they don't think that there's a lot of drinking going on with the minors around.
Mike: No, no, no. Minors have to be accompanied by an adult.
Cheese: Now about the hotel - how many rooms are there and what kind of accommodations could a guest expect?
Mike: Well the rooms, there's 27 all together and they range from just a bunk room (where there is room for two in a bunk bed) and costs, I think, around $45 up to a king bed which is probably $65. Then there is one room that has a king size bed and its own rest room and it's a larger room with a couch. That's the handicapped room, but anybody can stay there.
Cheese: It's like the old style hotels where the bathroom was down the hall?
Mike: Right. I think there's six complete bathroom sets. So like you walk down the hall in your robe and you close yourself in the bathroom and you have a sink and a toilet and a shower. So it's not like - it's a private bath but it's down the hall. Then there are a couple of toilets additional to that. Every bedroom has a sink in it, so it's kind of a combination. You can have the sink but you have to go down the hall, although the one bedroom does have the complete bath. They are typical hotel bedrooms, but it has leaded glass windows and all the rest of the good stuff.
Cheese: What about the café. What are the hours and what type of foods?
Mike: Well, you know it has a lot of typical breakfast foods and opens I believe, it's 7, if I'm not mistaken. It's open to the folks that stay there or people that just come in off the street. If the seating is full along the café part it just flows into the main restaurant so you can get you classic eggs and bacon and hash browns or anything. They'll pretty much make anything for you.
Cheese: Now getting back to the Oly Club and the poolroom especially. Are you planning on running any pool tournaments or any events around pool?
Mike: We have one event we've been doing every year called the biathlon. It's a golf/pool show down. Partners take on each other.
Cheese: How many tables were there, I don't know if I asked you?
Cheese: Those are the nine footers right?
Mike: Yeah, you know I'm not the exact sort of guy to talk to on the pool. Pat Sheehan can give you the ...
Cheese: I think that's what I saw when I was in there.
Mike: There's one snooker table that is a 5 x 10 and everything else is more of the standard 4 ˝ x 9.
Cheese: How much more restoring do you have to do?
Mike: I think we are pretty much there. It took us about 5 months to do the hotel, the theater and the New Tourist Bar. We're pretty good - we have a basement - you know in the old days they used to have a bowling alley, a two-lane alley in the basement, at one point. We wanted to maybe restore that and put some pools, you know like your Turkish baths. So that's been on our plans - we haven't gotten around to it yet. That's something we would like to do in the future.
Cheese: Are you restoring anything else - any other clubs, poolrooms, taverns, bars or anything like that?
Mike: Oh yeah, we're always working on this or that. That was our latest one. We had a tavern burn down that'll have a couple of pool tables in it.
Cheese: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Mike: We had fun making our own light fixtures for the theater and for the rooms upstairs. The history of the place is just so incredible that - we named all the hotel rooms after the characters of the place. The old card players. There was a train robber caught, a guy named Roy Gardner. A Nationally famous train robber was caught in the hotel in 1921, so we got a Roy Gardner room. We've got quotes; we've got a lot of artwork in the theater and upstairs have all the characters. There's just tons of old black and white photos upstairs in the hotel. It's really fun to walk around the hallways up there.
Cheese: Yeah, it would be - kind of a look back on history.
Mike: Give you the feel of old loggers, miners, with just dozens of fixtures of the old town, the old street. The Oly Club was pretty much the center of things going on there, just a treasure trove of stuff. We were lucky probably with Centralia; it was never a city that was forging ahead. It wasn't a real prosperous city after the early 1900's so that's probably why the Oly Club was still intact. They added a few things. They never threw anything away. It was so full - you've seen the light fixtures, the tiffany style light fixtures and all the leaded glass and beveled glass, mahogany and just all the great stuff. It's still there. It's all-original. It's all the tile, the urinals, giant urinals in the men's room. Did you see the ladies room at all?
Mike: There never was a ladies room in there until the 60's.
Cheese: Since there was no women allowed - there was no need for one.
Mike: Exactly, then what they got towards the end was nothing and we didn't do too much. Then we just added a ladies room that's really kind of the focal point of the place, cause now the ladies have the upper hand. There are a couple of crystal chandeliers in there. There's a sink that has like 27 faucets and foot pedals - it's just crazy. It's fun. So now the ladies really have the best facility, although the men's room is real fun and in the theater the men's room is real nice too. We found two more urinals buried under the poolroom, under the pool hall through a trap door. And all the pieces were there so we used those.
Cheese: I guess back in those days, it was easier to store things than throw things away.
Mike: Yeah, I think so. They kept everything - like when you open the drawers and they are just crammed full of old nuts and bolts, fittings and just great stuff. We still found stuff. We found beveled, 2 x 6 beveled glass panels, three of them, still in their crates, in the basement. They were wrapped in newspaper and the newspaper was from 1915. Stuff like that all over the place.
Cheese: That amazing! They never even used them. Well, Mike I appreciate the interview and we'll put this together and we'll put this in the next Issue.
Mike: Well terrific, I appreciate the call. I appreciated the last article that was wonderful. I liked reading the paper and we hope to get some tournaments and get some stuff going here. We keep adding tables, so we better do something, might as well utilize it.
Yogie Berra had the words for my experience at the Olympic Club,
"It was dejavous all over again." I had heard of this place The
McMenamins had brought back to life. On my way from Tacoma to
Portland I had to see for myself. As soon as I walked through
the front door I was transformed back to the days of my youth
when Dad and I traveled to all the old Pool halls. The beveled
glass windows and doors that let you into the bar, were very much
like Lucky's before it was moved from Willamette Street.
The bar was like the ones that Dad and I walked through to get to the pool tables in the 1940's when they were on their last gasps as high rents were causing them to close their doors. The ornate Brunswick Balke Collander back bar, the stained glass windows, the beveled lead glass lamps and huge mirrors, were all the rage in the early 1900's. They weren't cheap in the money of those days but The Big Saloons were a gold mine. In those days it was a man's world and there was a Bachelors cult. Paydays the bar cashed his check and he spent most of it before returning to work in the mines, logging camps or the railroad.
I continued pushing my way past the bar, which was three deep. It was Friday and the joint was jumping. Everyone was having a good time in the spectacular surroundings. I followed the signs to the Billiard Room; made a right turn at the end of the bar and sure enough there was the huge wood burning stove so typical of the old places and just beyond I could hear the click of the pool balls. And there they were, seven Brunswick Balke Collander Company Monroe Pool Tables and one Madison 5 x 10 Snooker Table. I felt that same thrill I felt as a kid.
"Hey Pat", a familiar voice came from behind me. It was Ron Spagle, an old friend and life long pool player. "These tables need your special kind of help." We went back and looked things over. The tables were built after the First World War and the basic structures were sound but the rails were broken and they looked weird. They did need help. We continued to look around. I noticed a spot where the floor was worn through to the sub floor. "Ron this is where the rack man sat", I said. "When pool was a nickel a cue he had to run back, rack the balls and collect the nickels. They went right into his apron." You could see that he was a man in motion.
We talked to the players, got their complaints and suggestions plus a brief history. The Olympic Club was opened in 1906 but the tables were made after 1918. The Monroe was first made in 1916 and continued to 1923. The Madison Snooker was made in 1923 to 1927 so it was newer. The club was remodeled in 1918 and the Billiard Room was added then, which fit my recollection.
After the great war the boys came back "from over there", there was a big demand for poolrooms. In Portland the Rialto, the Second Avenue Billiards, East Side Billiards, Ben Fene's; in Pendleton Sheehan's Cozy, The Beaver in Corvallis, Lucky's Club Cigar Store in Eugene; Brown's in Medford to mention just a few. Remodeling and expansion was the order of the day and Brunswick was shipping tables all over the U.S. Money was spent on the hope of new times. However, the new times brought Prohibition and hard times were on the way for many places.
In 1913 A.J. Forgues opened the New Tourist Bar under the brand new hotel. In 1916 Washington State went dry and Forgues was an honest man and did not want trouble. It was one of the most beautiful places for miles around but in 1916 it closed. Jack Sciutto the owner of the Oly Club was not such an honest man and became the "King of the Bootleggers". Jack turned a lemon of a law into lemonade by dealing in illegal hooch. The hooch brought in more money than the legal booze before Prohibition. Now Jack couldn't get by without protection of the Chief of Police and all the local law enforcement. The Billiard Room provided cover and a reason for men to congregate. The cook had a view of the entire place and there were plenty of lookouts to keep an eye out for the unwanted visit. Sure there were plenty of busts but the Oly Club survived because of Jack's clout with the law. Prohibition ended and the Club was back in the legal business and money was rolling in. The depression slowed down, the drinking but pool was a cheap way to idle away the time and perhaps a guy could win a few bucks if he played well.
The man's world continued through Prohibition and the Depression. All the men were playing pool or cards, but not the women, would be there "when pigs fly". The sign over the door reads, "Women's patronage not solicited", but in the 70's things changed and women came in. Now about half of the customers are women. Now you can see a mom teaching her son how to play pool.
The man's world continued from Prohibition through the Depression but a real obstacle came in 1942 when all the young men to middle age were called back into action in World War II. There was a mass exodus of men from Centralia, but the hope was they would return to play pool when the war was over. Art Vogel who now owned the club was sure they would pick up their cues. The G.I. Bill changed all this. The boys would be going back to school, and buying a home to get married and raise a family.
Education took them out of the mines and lumber camps and put them into banks, law offices and the business world. Nothing can ruin a guy's pool game like a happy marriage. If they did play they went into the smaller clubs and played on the coin tables where women were welcomed or now they could afford to have their own table at home.
The rack man's apron was no longer filled with nickels to fill the till. It was 60c per hour in 1950 and it will be taken care of by the bartender. Of course, the hourly rate has gone up since. One by one the excess tables were set on top of each other against the wall and soon the entire place was closed in the 1980's. Rigor mortis began to set in and the dust collected until 1996, Brian and Mike McMenamins saw the gem and put the place back on its feet. They breathed life into the bar almost at once since everything remained in place. The Billiard room took a little longer and still the old Oxford Hotel was a real work. The hotel now the Olympic had a complete make over and the photos and pictures and newspaper clippings along with new art work created by Jennifer Joyce, Myrna Yoder and Lyle Hehn has built the 100 years of history and a million stories. They have set out a tour that brings the past back to life.
They brought back A.J. Forgue's New Tourist Bar, added a theater and Gift Shop. It's a pool player's getaway in Centralia. Good food, great drink, a hotel to stay in, a Theater and Pool Tables. I promise you a weekend you will never forget. Bring your camera and pool cue to the Olympic Club. (I-5 Exit on Melon Ave and follow it to Tower then left to 112 N Tower)
My special thanks to Tim Hills, the Historian, Todd Chapute, the Oly's Manager. 112 N Tower Ave - 360-736-5164 Call for Reservations.
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