Cue the end.
One of the oldest pool halls in the city, Bay Ridge’s own Hall of Fame Billiards, is for sale.
The storied pool hall – once Ovington Bowling Lanes – was converted into a 48-table pool hall in 1964 by Albert Balukas, and his business partners (among them, the former owner of the long-gone Leemark Lanes, which shuttered in 2006). The building itself went up in 1930 and today houses pool tables as well as ping-pong set-ups and a small-scale video game arcade in the front of the hall.
“My sister – who was two or three at the time – would be up there with my father all the time,” recalled Balukas’ son Paul of his sister Jean, who went on to become one of the greatest female pool players of all time as well as run the pool hall. Jean, a Fort Hamilton alum who, earlier this year, was inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame, picked up her first of six World Championship wins at age 13.
Her father (who, reports claim, sold his deli to finance the pool hall) never played, but his partner Frank McGown was a world renowned pro. Neither mattered much, Jean told papers in the ’70s, as the pool prodigy was self-taught.
“She really fell in love with the game,” Paul said of Jean. “When she was a little girl, they’d put her up there on top of the tables and she’d roll the balls around. Eventually, she started imitating my brothers and hitting balls and stuff like that. She entered her first U.S. Open at age nine and became the world champ at 13.”
“She was the first female pool player and a lot of men didn’t want to play her because they didn’t want to lose to her,” recalled local pool player and cue maker Adam Freeland, a Bay Ridge lifer who remembers his times at Hall of Fame fondly.
“Like most people from the neighborhood, I started going as a teenager. I met a lot of famous shooters — some local, some national,” he said. “I met some really cool, down-to-earth people there.”
Also noteworthy to Freeland were the hall’s ties to its hometown.
“Oddly enough, the Balukases have been friends of my family for a while,” he said. “Jeanie’s sister Laura was my kindergarten teacher at P.S. 104 and was friends with my mother.”
That feeling of family folded over into the business, which Jean eventually took over when her father died.
“We really have a long history in the neighborhood,” said Paul, citing the high cost of living as the hall’s Achilles heel (the business’s taxes are going up approximately $20,000, according to the Balukases’ latest assessment). “Big buildings like ours require a little bit more in terms of income and honestly, it’s just getting too expensive.”
The nearly 20,000-square-foot property at 505 Ovington Avenue went on the market in February, according to representing realtors at CPEX Real Estate. The property comes with an added 7,894 square feet of air rights. This is the first time the building has been on the market in 50 years.
“There is a reason that properties like [this] hit the market every half century,” said Timothy King, managing partner at CPEX Real Estate. “This is a rare opportunity for an investor to acquire a prime real estate asset, or for an academic or medical tenant looking to strengthen their presence in the Bay Ridge market.”
Bay Ridge native and Associate Director of Retail Sales at CPEX Real Estate Dimitri Venekas agreed.
“Growing up in Bay Ridge, Hall of Fame Billiards has always been a staple of the community,” he said. “With large floorplates and high ceilings that allow for a variety of retail and office uses, we look forward to bringing about the next chapter for this building.”
There are no specific restrictions on the sale, according to CPEX, meaning the massive property – zoned for both residential and commercial use – could continue as a pool hall, or be converted into something new.
The Balukas family believes this may be the end for billiards at the location.
“It’s very unlikely [that we’ll pass the torch],” said Paul. “It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. It’s a hard sell and we can understand that from an expense point of view.”
According to the Department of City Planning, the lot is in an R6-B zoning district, which caps the height of the building (should it be knocked down or remodeled) at 50 feet with a commercial overlay for the first floor. The air rights up for grabs, realtors explained, pertains to the possibility of building out the second floor (currently 2,700 square-feet) to match the footprint of the ground level (8,262 square-feet).
The most likely use for the property, said Community Board 10’s Zoning and Land Use Chair Brian Kaszuba, would combine first floor commercial, with residential on the second and third floors, “Similar to what you already see on the avenues.”
Kaszuba, a longtime pool player, wonders what the loss of Hall of Fame will mean for local youngsters.
“Long before I joined the local [American Poolplayers Association] pool league in Bay Ridge, Hall of Fame was a family-friendly and teenage-friendly establishment that to this day doesn’t serve alcohol,” he said. “With Leemark Bowling Alley and now Hall of Fame Billiards closing, I feel bad for neighborhood teens looking for a safe place to spend time with their friends on the weekends.”
“Basically, it’s a pool room. The smell, the feel, the people in it — it’s a pool room.” said Freeland. “Some of the places you go now, they’re bars that have pool tables. They’re great, but it’s never just a pool room anymore.”
Hall of Fame, he said, is likely the last of its kind citywide.
“They’re all gone,” Freeland said. “This is probably the last pool room where you can go, walk in at noon, yell about the sun coming in and sit there until, before you know it, it’s 10 p.m. It’s the last pool room where you can just shoot for hours on end and leave, hours later, hands covered in chalk.”
No matter the buyer, the Balukas family is happy with Hall of Fame’s mark on the ‘hood.
“It’s unfortunate that it has to come to an end,” said Paul, “but I do think we’ve run the course. It’s a tough business, but we were able to keep it going for a long time.”
Either way, locals agree: “Seeing Hall of Fame Billiards close is a sad day for Bay Ridge,” said Kaszuba.