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After 70 years Senate Billiards closing in Ottawa

Time for new Globe Building chapter

The big topic of discussion these days at the front table at Senate Billiards is where to go when the place closes next Monday.

“That’s what everybody’s discussing: Nobody knows,” said Mort Cooper, a retired barber who has been coming to the Senate for more than 60 years.

Nodding agreement at the table were morning coffee buddies Roger Zuk, a retired mailman; Jim Patarozzi, retired from U.S. Silica after 43 years; and Ron Degeare, retired from Caterpillar in Joliet.

It’s become a comfortable habit for them, as well as a dozen other regulars, to stop in every morning to solve the world’s problems.

“I call this The House of Knowledge, because you always learn something,” Degeare said with a smile.

Susan Stehl, the co-owner with her husband Keith, shook her head ever so slightly.

“They make it all up and nobody knows the difference,” she said.

Her customers accused her of not listening to them.

“I only listen when I want to,” she said. “With these guys you really got to tune them out half the time.”

Friday will be the last day for hot food, and Monday for coffee.

After that, a fresh owner will start a new chapter for the Globe Building on Court Street across from the old La Salle County Courthouse.

The Globe Building was built in 1889. It got its name because it was the home of The Globe, a weekly newspaper founded in 1883 by Clark Alberti. The newspaper had three other owners before it was discontinued in 1894.

The building next was leased for the publication of the “Workman and Farmer,” a Socialist weekly. Operation of that newspaper was suspended within a year, with the print shop equipment being shipped to the prison in Pontiac.

From about 1906 to 1914 the “Ottawa Free Trader” newspaper was published in the Globe Building.

After that, and up until the Great Depression, the building housed a car dealership, said former owner Larry Johnson.

The Globe Building became the home to Senate Billiards about 1935, when Alex Gray moved his combination billiards and barbershop there from the 700 block of La Salle Street.

Later, son Earl Gray took over from his father and operated the Senate until he retired and sold it to Johnson in the 1980s.

After Johnson bought the Senate he did some remodeling that included having 11 tons of abandoned metal printing equipment removed from the upstairs.

It was a full-fledged pool hall in those days, featuring the related cue sports of pool, snooker and billiards.

The menu was limited to barbecue sandwiches and the specialty, steamed hot dogs.

Students from Ottawa High School were regulars at the Senate in those days when they could leave the school for lunch. They would stop in to play a game of pool and buy a sandwich, chips and soft drink to consume.

The Senate also was a stop for a bus that ran between Peoria and Rockford, as well as the place to buy the afternoon editions of Chicago newspapers.

“That was important in the summer because they carried the (horse) racing results,” Johnson said.

The heyday for pool halls was in late 40s and 50s, up through the 60s and maybe a little into the 70s, Johnson said. “But then it started changing.”

When Johnson was ready to sell, he already had a buyer.

Keith Stehl was a regular morning customer who came in to play pool and drink coffee.

“He told Larry “If you ever want to sell it let us know,” said Susan, who grew up in Marseilles.

So, 27 years ago, the change took place.

Keith was retired from his own pressure washing career and Susan from 25 years with Kroger.

The Stehls’ did their own remodeling that included adding a kitchen and making the Senate more of a dining spot.

One serious blow to their business came around 2000 when high school students were prohibited from leaving campus for lunch.

“That really kind of put one dagger in,” Johnson said.

“We lost a lot of money when they closed the campus,” Susan said.

“We never had any trouble with the kids,” she said. “They were always well behaved. I honestly think they needed to be able to get out, blow a little steam and then get back to school.”

“The other dagger was that the games of billiards, pool and snooker were not being played as much,” Johnson said.

Younger generations are attracted to video games, Susan said.

The Stehls put the building for sale two years ago.

“We’ve been here long enough,” Susan said. “We’re both turning 69. It’s time.”

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