The local poolroom ordinance of 1924

One of the favorite pastimes for a select number of sporting enthusiasts is the game of pool or billiards.

Police Chief Thomas Grady was largely responsible for the local pool room ordinance of 1924.

While still somewhat popular today, billiards were even more popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries as it provided a place for men to gather, shoot pool and pass the time hoisting a few drinks. However, in the early 1920s, a new ordinance was put into effect in the City of Manistee that would attempt to set new standards for local pool halls with the hope that said business establishments would “clean up their act”.

With the passing of the 18th Amendment prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in the United States, and Michigan becoming a dry state prior to that, many bar and saloon owners were forced to either close up shop or change the way they did business. This meant that while alcohol was illegal, “soft drinks” or cereal beverages were not. Likewise, the game of billiards was still legal leading saloon owners to become billiard hall owners.

As we all know, even though alcohol was against the law, people still produced it, people still drank it and “billiard hall owners” in many cases, were associated with it. According to Polk’s City Directory there were nine billiard halls within the city of Manistee in 1922-23 listed as such: Clement & DeCair (409 River St.), Louis Haidt (389 River St.), Hansen & Nelsen (303 First St.), Gustav Larson (219 5th St.), William F. Mau (300 Sibben St.), Peter Nelson (310 River St.), Walter Rutski (295 First St.), Charles Snyder (121 Washington St.), Otto Thorsen (900 Vine St.). In addition there were six billiard halls outside of the city limits.

As the pool rooms in town seemed somewhat secretive, and one could never really get much of an idea of what was going on inside (such as the partaking of illegal substances), Police Chief Thomas Grady decided to make this known to the city fathers. An article published in the Manistee News Advocate on December 19, 1923 details the reasons behind a proposed poolroom ordinance:

“City Attorney Howard Campbell and Chief of Police Thomas Grady will draft an ordinance regulating pool rooms within the city of Manistee under a resolution adopted by the commission Tuesday night.

“The subject was brought up by Mayor Rademaker, who stated that Chief Grady had previously mentioned the matter to him. There upon the Chief took the floor and explained to the commissioners why he believed such an ordinance would be useful in bettering conditions in the city.

“The reason most stressed was that the pool rooms would then be required to pull down the curtains that now shut off the view of the public. The Chief believes that people have a right to see what is going on inside a pool room as well as in other buildings the public frequents and added that the removal of curtains would at least lessen the suspicion regarding some local places.

“Mayor Rademaker declared that he understood the best feature of such an ordinance is that the places coming under the ordinance can be searched without a warrant.

“It is probable that not only poolrooms will come under the new ordinance, but all other business in a habit of keeping curtains across the street windows so that the interior cannot be seen.

“Commissioner Thompson made the motion and Commissioner Mertens seconded, the entire body approving it.”

A few weeks later the matter was brought up once again at the city commission meeting with an ordinance drafted by the City Attorney, the Chief of Police and the City Manager. In an article published in the News Advocate on January 9, 1923, the proposed ordinance listed several stipulations. Details from the meeting follow:

“Some of the provision of the act are:

“License fees of $5 shall be paid on the first pool table and $1 on every table more than one.

“Pool rooms shall not be open after 11 o’clock at night nor before 7 o’clock in the morning. No person under 18 years of age shall be allowed to play on the tables or to play cards in the pool rooms, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian and makes provisions for notices to that effect in poolrooms.

“All curtains, partitions and other constructions obstructing the view of the inside of pool rooms shall be removed.

“The measure provides fine of from $5 to $100 or from 5 to 30 days in jail, or both, for breaking any of its provisions.”

“The commissioners considered the measure for a time. Commissioner Mertens then made a motion that it be tabled until the next meeting, the motion being unanimously adopted.”

Two weeks later the proposed ordinance was adopted by the city commission with the ordinance to officially become effective on March 1. However there were a few adjustments to the original stipulations that were suggested by City Attorney. Those changes were:

“Instead of imposing a license fee of $5 on the first pool table and $1 on every table more than one, a fee of only $1 will be charged on every table, including the first; the age limit was changed from 18 to 17 – all under that must be accompanied by a parent or guardian while in a poolroom.

“The clause, requiring the removal of all curtains, partitions and other obstructions to the public view remains unchanged, and the penalty $5 to $100 fine or five to 30 days in jail or both – remains as first written.”

Even with the new ordinance on the verge of being in place, it was brought to the attention of the city commission in early February that minors were frequenting a downtown pool room. An article published February 20, 1924 in the News Advocate provided details.

“Chief of Police Thomas Grady was instructed Tuesday night to see that the recent poolroom ordinance, especially as regards minors, is strictly enforced in local pool rooms.

“The matter was brought to the attention of the city commission by Commissioner P.N. Jacobsen, who stated that he was authoritatively informed that at least one downtown pool room was allowing high school boys under the age of 17 to hang around in large numbers.”

Whether or not the ordinance actually quelled the amount of minors or possible alcohol violators in Manistee is not known. Regardless, two years later there were only five billiard halls left within the city limits.

 

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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