Pool hall project set to take shape this fall

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer 

COLUMBIANA — When Rob McLeroy looks at the building known as the “old pool hall” in downtown Columbiana, he has fond memories. He also sees much potential in a project he is actively involved in restoring.

McLeroy, alongside his partner David Oakes and son Mailon McLeroy—together as McOakes Properties LLC—are in the process of turning the once-deteriorating structure into a symbol of Columbiana’s future.

“I’ve got really fond memories of that building, and it would be really cool to see it become something I can be proud of,” Rob McLeroy said.

McLeroy’s family moved here when Rob was just 2 years old; his grandfather owned and operated the Shelby Gas company. As a young boy, he would often pass by the pool hall, which was considered by his mother to be an unfit place for a child.

“In the ’60s, we’d ride our bicycles on the streets down there, and it was a pool hall, and of course our moms said, ‘Don’t even look in there,’” McLeroy said.

Of course, that stern warning only added to the lure of the place, and before long McLeroy had become a regular there.

“I snuck in the pool room from the time when I was about 12 to about 16 or 17,” he said, recounting how he would park his car behind Chubby’s Bait Shop (now the Columbiana Fire Department) and duck in through the back.

Jimmy Rowe and his son, Tommy Rowe, ran the pool hall at the time, according to McLeroy. For years the building operated as the Columbiana Recreation Center but fell into disrepair after years of inactivity.

McLeroy has discovered several “treasures” while exploring the ruins of the old building. What was thought to be a crawlspace turned out to be a cellar leading up to the elevation of the alley out back. He found five or six boxes of old, different colored moonshine bottles and a coal pile in the back.

“It was one of the first buildings built in Columbiana,” McLeroy said. “Rumor has it the building has strong ties with the city’s origins.”

Remnants of an old Snooker table were also found. Snooker is a billiard sport similar to pool that is played on a larger size table. McLeroy said he would like to restore the old table and include it in the building once complete.

The pool hall’s front façade is called a “Mesker,” as it bears the name of the Mesker Brothers Iron Works, a St. Louis, Missouri-based manufacturer and designer of cast iron storefront components from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. The company issued a catalog from which people could order their products.

McLeroy indicated the Mesker name adds to the building’s historical value significantly, as a number of buildings with Mesker storefronts are included on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re preserving that iron that’s out there, that little sign that’s on it,” he said. “There are only, I think, four of them in the state of Alabama, and there are about 1,500 in the country; most of them are up North.”

Now, McOakes Properties has submitted its final set of plans to Shelby County and hopes to pour concrete footings, install steel reinforcements and frame the wooden flooring system in the weeks ahead. If the project goes as planned, the roof and windows as well as the front balcony could be complete by Oct. 1.

All in all, there are four levels to the building including the cellar. Every level will be incorporated into the building’s new design, which is expected to house a restaurant or bar type facility.

“Our goal is to draw a restaurant in, or a bar with a food truck out back,” McLeroy said. “It could be a great place for an event venue for parties, weddings, that kind of thing.”

Adding a personal touch to the project will be a mural on the back side, which will reproduce an abstract painting McLeroy’s father did in the 1960s.