Tom Foley’s Great Billiard Hall
Life Span: 1873-1875
Location: 119 N. Clark Street, Between Randolph and Washington Streets
The Land Owner, March 1873
POPULAR AMUSEMENTS.—THE GENTLEMEN’S GAME.—TOM FOLEY’S GREAT BILLIARD HALL.
in Chicago, was the throwing open to the public, by Tom Foley, of his great billiard hall on Clark Street, the largest and finest establishment of the kind in the world. Our artist hastened to sketch this new wonder of our ever wonderful city, and we here present illustrations ot the hall, as well as of the entrance to it from Clark Street.
The game of billiards enjoys the dignity of having a history. The game was invented in England, and a mention is made of “balyards” in a poem by Spencer, published in the year 1591. The game was first made fashionable by Louis XIV. of France, after which it enjoyed its first season of popularity in England, speedily supplanting all other sports. As late as 1813, however, the cue was scarcely known in that country, only the mace being used. The French introduced the cue, and as early as 1807 one Mignand invented the leather tip. Twenty years afterward the French first learned to use chalk to prevent the point of the cue from slipping. “Englishing” was an English invention, and owes its name to that circumstance. Certainly the progress of the game has been rapid, and one need not look back a decade to see it far inferior to what it is to-day, while every year adds improvements and makes it more deserving of its popularity than before.
TOM FOLEY’S GREAT BILLIARD HALL
Clark Street, Opposite the Court House
The opening of this grand establishment will mark a new era in its progress, and when the historian of the gentlemen’s game writes his book, he must needs point to Tom Foley and his grand hall as inaugurating a new era in the world of amusements.
Since the death of Michael Phelan, there is probably not a man in America, more widely and favorably known to the billiard-playing world, than is Thomas Foley, of Chicago. For years be has stood at the head of billiards in the West—for a portion of the time as a player, and at all times as an authority. Personally popular, and never lending his name or his sanction to anything which could tend to do other than to elevate the “gentleman’s game,” Tom Foley’s name has become notable throughout all the land. It is eminently fitting, therefore, that Tom Foley should be the proprietor, and Chicago the location, of the largest, grandest, finest billiard hall in the world.
For many months past the work of construction and preparation has been going forward, yntil now it can be announced that the new establishment is fully thrown open to the public and doing a very large business.
Everybody in Chicago knows that Tom Foley has been busily engaged in superintending the arrangements of the great billiard palace, every detail of which has been subject to his personal direction, and everybody knows that it is located on Clark street, opposite the Court House, occupying the old site of Bryan Hall, and more latterly that of Hooley’s Opera House. The building has been erected with especial reference to the needs of the great billiard hall, and the result shows how admirably the plans were devised and carried out. The main entrance leads from Clark street. The first thing encountered by the visitor is the cigar stand, with its counter of brightly-politmed marble of richly contrasting hues, and the surrounding woodwork of walnut, ebony and gold. Passing beyond, we enter the grand lobby, in which is found the magnificent sample counter, of solid marble, fashioned and polished in the height of the art. This room is beautiful beyond all comparison. Nothing half as fine was ever seen in Chicago. Here the fresco-painters, Messrs. Schubert & Koening, almost exhausted their art in the attempt to ornament and beautify. The colors are wholly in oil, and the designs are elaborate and exqusitely tasteful Life-size portraits of Michael Phelan, and John McDevitt—the most intimate friends Tom Foley ever had are painted in oil upon the surface of the wall, while the ceiling above represents a canopy, with a bea.utilul wreath or flowers in the centre. The aim has been to make this portion of the establishment the finest ever seen, and it has certainly been accomplished.
TOM FOLEY’S GREAT BILLIARD HALL
A short flight of handsome, marble steps lead up into the billiard hall proper, which is thus wholly disconnected from the sample bar. The room is 100 by 80 feet in size, with ceilings 26 feet in height, a richly frescoed dome surmounting the centre.
Our description of this magnificent billiard palace.would be incomplete if we forgot to mention those manufactures who have contributed so largely toward its adornment. The largest number (sixteen) tables are from the celebrated establishment of Stephani, Monheimer and Hart, located at 619 State street. They are of different patterns and are perfeot models or fine workmanship: The Phelan cushions are on all these tables. Those beautiful cue racks over the cashier’s desk and in the back part the hall, were also furnished by this firm, who seem to make a specialty of fine accompaniments to their elegant tables. J. M. Brunswick .& Co. contributed a number of very handsome tables, being expressly manufactured for the hall. This is the oldest house of the kind in the United States, having been established since 1846. Their factories and warerooms are at 42 & 48 East Adams street, Chicago, and 4, 6 and 8 West Sixth street, Cincinnati, with branches at St. Louis and New Orleans. A. Zeller, whose manufactory is at 24 and 26 West Washington street, and whose fine tables are to be found in many of our public and private parlors, exhibits some exquisitely-wrought inlaid work in Gilt and Rosewood, which has elicited much praise from the billiard fraternity, and added greatly to the, reputation of this popular house.
Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1873
Since the death of Michael Phelan, there is probably not a man in America more widely and favorably known in the billiard-playinmg world than is Thomas Foley, of Chicago. For years he has stood at the head of the billiards in the West—for a portion of the time as a player, and at all times as an authority. Personally popular, and never lending his name or his sanction to anything which could tend to do other than to elevate the “gentlemen’s game,” Tom Foley’s name has become notable throughout all the land. It is eminently fitting, therefore, that Tom Foley should be the proprietor, and Chicago the location, of the largest, grandest, finest billiard hall in the world. For many months past the work of construction and preparation has been going forward, until now it can be announced that the new establishment will be thrown open to the public on Tuesday of this week. Everybody in Chicago knows that Tom Foley has been busily engaged in superintending the arrangements of the great billiard palace, every detail of which has been subject to his personal direction, and everybody knows that it is located on Clark street, opposite the Court House, occupying the old site of Bryan Hall,and more latterly of Hooley’s Opera House. The building has been erected with especial reference to the needs of a great billiard hall, and the result shows how admirably the plans were devised and carried out. The main entrance leads from Clark street. The first thing encountered by the visitor is the cigar stand, with its counter of highly-polished marble of richly-contrasting hues, and the surrounding woodwork of walnut, ebony and gold. Passing beyond, we enter the grand lobby, in which is found the magnificent sample counter, of solid marble, fashioned and polished in the height of the art. This room is beyond all comparison. Nothing half so fine was ever seen in Chicago. Here the fresco-painter as almost exhausted his art in the attempt to ornament and beautify. The colors are wholly in oil, and the designs are elaborate and exquisitely tasteful. Life-size portraits of Michael Phelan and John McDevitt—the two most intimate friends Tom Foley ever had,—are painted in oil upon the surface of the wall, while the ceiling above represents a canopy, with a beautiful wreath of flowers in the centre. The aim has been to make this portion of the establishment the finest ever seen, and it has certainly been accomplished.
A short flight of handsome, marble steps lead up to the billiard hall proper, which is thus wholly disconnected from the sample bar. The room is 100 by 80 feet in size, with ceilings 26 feet in height, a richly-frescoed dome surmounting the center. Here also will be noticed some of the most artistic fresco-work ever seen in Chicago. The floor is covered with Crosby’s English Brussels carpet, in imitation of French moquet, 1,200 yards being required. The room is lighted on all sides with windows 18 feet in height, while at night a wilderness of superb gas fixtures supply the needed illumination. It is the largest billiard room in the world, and contains thirty tables, all a surpassingly beautiful design, furnished by the manufactures of Stephant, Mannheimer & Hart, the J. M. Brunswick & Co. Billiard Table Manufacturing Company, and A. Zeller. The room is heated by steam, which courses through over 4,000 feet of pipe. Marble washing founts, and richly-constructed closets abound plentifully, all of the most extensive pattern and style. Three mirrors, of mammoth dimensions, are disposed in the lobby and the grand hall, costiNG $600 EACH. This description falls far short of fitly conveying an idea of what the great establishment really is. The cost of ornamenting and furnishing reaches the enormous sum of $30,000, and the result is a place to which every Chicagoan can, with pride and satisfaction, refer the stranger in the city, assuming him, without fear of contradiction, that the equal to it does not exist on the face of the globe.
The various gentlemen who have contributed toward the general magnificence deserve some mention—among them, Schubert & Koenig, who did the oil fresco work, and Almini, who can point with pride to the splendid frescoing of the grand hall; E. Baggot, who furnished the gas fixtures, the prettiest ever seen; Wm. T. Noble & Co., from whom the mirrors were procured; and the Chicasgo Marble Company, who constructed the marble counters and steps.
Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1873
Inauguratnon of Foley’s Great Hall—The Establishment Visited by Over 30,000 Persons During Yesterday—The Ladles’ Reception.
The opening of Tom Foley’s mammoth billiard hall occurred yesterday, and was attended by an immense concourse of people. Between the hours of 10 o’clock in the forenoon and 4 in the afternoon the privileges of the opening were restricted to ladies and gentlemen accompanying them, and the ladies availed themselves largely of the opportunity. It was estimated that at least one thousand of them visited the establishment during the day. They seemed to enjoy it hugely, and were profuse in their expressions of delight and admiration of the magnificence of the institution. The great majority of them had never seen the interior of a billiard hall before, and, as the bar was kept closed, and no games were allowed to be played, they had it themselves. In order to give his fair guests an illustration of the fascination to the “gentleman’s game,” Mr. Foley arranged to have a matched game played by Louis Shaw one of the finest players in the West, and Peter Synder, the Superintendent of the hail. It proved to be a very pretty exhibition of skill, Mr. Shaw executing the run of 448, and winning the game by a large majority. When the ladies had finished admiring the beautiful tables, the lovely carpet, the artistic fresco work, etc., they were afforded a glimpse of the gorgeous mysteries of the , sideboard with its massive marble counter and glittering glass and silver ware—all of which they looked at from an point of view merely, and expressed their approval of the general effect. Soon after 4 ‘clock in the afternoon the doors were thrown open to the general public, whereupon a perfect rush ensued, which lasted nearly to midnight. With his customary deference to the importance of the press, Mr. Foloy gave out the first set of balls to the sporting reporters of THE TRIBUNE and Times, who honored the great ball by playing the first game therein. Of course, the Times man was badly beaten. In less than five minutes after the balls began to click every one of the thirty tables was in full blast, and from that time until toward midnight the hall was densely crowded. It is safe to say that at least 30,000 people visited the hall during the day and evening, and it is equally true that the opening, like the establishment was the greatest ever known. It should be stated that the building, which occupies the former site of Bryan Hall and Hooley’s Opera House, on Clark street, is owned by J. A. Hamliu & Bros., of Wizard Oil fame, who feel a pardonable pride in the of magnificence in which the establishment has fitted up.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1874
Reopening of Foley’s Billiard Hall.
An event of common interest to the billiard-playing portion of the community occurs to-day in the reopening of Foley’s mammoth billiard hall, which has been closed for several days past, in order that extensive repairs, alterations, and a general rehabilitation might be made. This hall, the largest and finest in the world, is now more handsome and convenient than ever before. A large and beautiful dome has been constructed in the centre of the ceiling, adding a flood of light, and constituting a perfect finish for the interior. From the centre of the dome depends a magnificent chandelier, one of the largest and costliest ever brought to Chicago—an ornament during the day, and at night the central supply of light. The fresco work throughout has been renovated and retouched to its original freshness and beauty, and various other improvements of an important and desirable character have been made without regard to cost, the grand object of Mr. Foley being to sustain the distinction of being the proprietor of a billiard-hall unequaled in any respect on the face of the earth. How fully he has succeeded, the public can judge for themselves. This afternoon, between the hours of 3 and 5 o’clock, will be set apart for the special benefit of the ladies, who alone will have the pleasure of the first glimpse at the beautiful interior, and for whose edification exhibitions of skill will be made by leading Chicago experts. Mr. Foley extends a cordial invitation to the ladies, and to those who know his gallantry, no assurance is needed that they will be handsomely treated and enjoyably entertained. The regular public opening occurs this evening. Then everybody will be most welcome.
Chicago Tribune, November 12, 1911
Awarded by common consent the title of Father of American Billiards, Veteran Thomas Foley of Chicago has over fifty years been a prominent figure in the game on this side of the water. Excepting the champions of recent years and the publicity they have attained through their performances on the green cloth, no one connected with the sport is better known or more highly esteemed.
From the time billiard tables had pockets like the English tables, the veteran has followed the sport with watchful eye through the four ball, three ball, and various balk line stages and has much to do with the legislation covering these various styles. Ever progressive, Mr. Foley still is looking for something better and quite recently has conducted experimental tournaments at three cushion and straight rail to find some improvement on the present forms of play.
The inherit ability of the Irishman to swing a club, be it a shillalah or a hurling stick, may have had some influence on young Foley in the adoption of his chosen profession. Born near the famous rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland, he was deported for family reasons at the age of 6, it being the year 1848 when he toddled down the gangplank in New York. Coming to Chicago he spent seven years at school and then at the age of 13 started to work in the billiard room of the Tremont House.
In three years young Foley developed into a capable player. The game then was straight rail on pocket tables. If the red was pocketed it was respotted, but if the cue ball went in the player lost his turn. Foley was one of the greatest match players of his time and between 1863 and 1870 took part in nine public matches, winning all of them. He never lost a match game of importance, a distinction few other players can claim, and held the championship of Illinois for two years.
In 1871 Mr. Foley, following out his progressive ideas, promoted the first championship of the world at three ball billiards, getting together a cash prize list of $3,000 and a $500 metal. This was played at Irving Hall, New York, June 23 to 30, on a 5 x 10 table, each game being at 300 points. It was won by Garnier after a tie for first place with C. Dion. The winner had a grand average of 9.32. C. Dion notching 7.57. Others in the tournament were Daly, Chassy, J. Dion and Deery.
In 1882 Mr. Foley was one of the committee that formulated the first set of rules for balk line play, the others being Charles Mussey, father of W. P. Mussey, the Chicago roomkeeper, Charles Parker, Moses Bensinger of the Brunswick company, Benjamin Garno, and T. G. Cowles. Of this quintet Garno and Cowles are alive. The former is editor of the Billiardist of New York and the latter is on a New York paper.
Mr. Foley, who had gone into business for himself, was burned out by the Chicago fire. Later he moved to St. Paul, where, he remained five years, having rooms at Third and Jackson streets and on Roberts street. Returning to Chicago, he opened rooms at 200 State street and has been located in the loop district ever since. His present establishment is at 425 South Wabash avenue.
Mr. Foley has taken an active interest in most of the big tournaments, the last one of note neing the Hoppe and Sutton match for the 18-1 championship of the world, played at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, in March 1910. Hoppe winning the title 500 to 228 with an average of 16 20-30, one of the best recorded in the one-shot-in style of play. On that occasion Mr. Foley handled Sutton’s end of the match and was in his corner.
Mr. Foley is a great stickler for the purity of the game and billiard “sharks” always have given his rooms a wide berth. He took an active part in the formation of the Illinois Billiard association, of which he is president. The object of the association is to put billiards on a higher plane, and the promoters hope to see similar organizations formed in the other states.
When baseball was in its infancy Mr. Foley organized the White Stockings, the first chartered club in Illinois. Among the men he interested in the sport was William Hulbert, then on the board of trade, who from 1876 to 1881 was president of the Chicago club, and from 1877 to 1882 was president of the National league. Mr. Foley organized the club and stuck with it until it trailed in the dust the colors of the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings.
The first president of the White Stockings was David A. Gage of Gage Bros. & Drake, a firm famous in the hotel life of Chicago. Players on the White Stockings team were Marshall Ney King, Ed Cuthbert, Jim Wood, Fred Tracy, Pinkham, Craver Flynn, Hodes, McAtee, Meyrle Zettlin, and Duffy. The team played its first game against the Rockford nine, of which A. G. Spalding was a member, the venue being at Dexter Park, now occupied by Dexter Park pavilion at the stock yards.
Through his baseball and allied associations Mr. Foley was a host of friends and is known the country over as a thorough sportsman.
Foley’s Billiard Hall
WHAT HAPPENED TO TOM FOLEY’S BILLIARD HALL?
THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE, OF CHICAGO, is built upon the original site of Bryan Hall and Hooley’s Opera House. J. A. Hamlin and brother (L. B. Hamlin) purchased the property in January, 1872, and erected the first building that was completed upon that block after the fire. In 1873, Hamlin Brothers built upon the rear lot what was subsequently known as Foley’s Billiard Hall, which was at the time the largest billiard hall in the world, containing thirty tables on one floor. In 1874, the billiard hall property passed out of the hands of Mr. Foley into the hands of Hamlin Bros., and the billiard business was discontinued after a few months and the hall reconstructed, with an additional building added to the east end, and for some two years was occupied as a garden, after the style of Gilmore’s Garden of New York, with fountains, waterfalls, vocal and instrumental music, and all kinds of refreshments.