Frank O’s Personal Billiard Room
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Frank O has been a fixture on the pool seen for many years. He has rubbed elbows with many of the great players and cue builders that are out there. He has also visited many tournaments and shows through out the country. Franks is an avid collector of fine cues. He has owned many cues over the years and has been favoring Tony’s Black Boar cues. When we say he has discriminating taste; he recently sold a half a dozen Hercek’s in a single transaction. We asked Frank how it all started and these are his own words.
I was 13 years old in the early 60’s when I went into my first poolroom – it was love at first sight. Up to that point I had been an avid bowler, but I knew then that bowling was in my past. The big cues at Flynn’s Poolroom were owned by the older guys and were mostly Willie Hoppe’s that sold for $29.95 and came with a 1×2 hard case. The kids my age played with whatever 2 piece cue we could get in the $10.00 price range. My criteria for a cue was a nicely colored wrap and a thin shaft. My goal then was to someday own a Willie Hoppe, at least it was until a kid a few years older than me came in with a special cue. It had bright veneers and an ivory and brass joint with ivory and brass in the butt. His grandfather had made it, probably from a Titlist. In the brass in the butt was the family’s last name, Sterba. I had to have that cue, but was told by the kid who owned it that it could never be sold, rules by his father and grandfather. This must have been a sign of things to come, because I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. I offered him the unheard amount of $50.00; keep in mind this was around 1964 and that was huge money. He accepted my offer, all I had to do now was gather up $50.00 (a king’s ransom to a young teenager in that era). I sold, borrowed, and begged every buck I could, and came up with the cash. Everyone in the poolroom, even the older guys were amazed with that transaction, but I had the cue of my dreams. I felt like Fast Eddie Felson every time I took it out of its case and played with it. Unfortunately, 2 years later I fell in love and needed cash for a girlfriend’s Christmas present. I sold the cue. I received $50.00 for it, exactly what I had paid 2 years earlier. I thought that was a pretty good deal, to have owned a great cue and played with it for 2 years and in the end it cost me nothing. The $12.00 and $15.00 cues were sold for 8 and 10 bucks so I learned early to buy Top Shelf, in the long run it was cheaper.
I took a hiatus from Pool in the 70’s and most of the 80’s until I saw the Color of Money and all those great feeling’s came rushing back in. I converted our living room into a poolroom with no objection from my wife – she is a Saint. I also received from her as a birthday present a new McDermott cue, I felt great. The real problem I had was that there was no one to share this enthusiasm with. I found no one who really wanted to play serious pool so the feelings drifted back out in several years. Then, after moving into our new home which had a huge basement, I had a surprise visit by an old High School and Flynn’s Poolroom friend. His name was John O’Neil. When John saw the pool table, he ran out to his car and came back in with the biggest leather case I had ever seen. It was an Instroke case, and in it he had a Meucci Sneaky Pete and a 4 point Ebony Richard Harris Bluegrass cue. I honestly did not know at that time that there were still cue makers making Custom Cues. I thought it died out with Balabushka’s. John and I went on a hot streak for the next 15 years going to all the major tournaments and cue shows we could. My first Major show was in March of 1995, we went to the Super Billiard Expo. I remember walking in there and being blown away at what I was seeing; table after table of cue makers selling their wares, all the names were virgin to me. There was Paul Mottey, Dale Perry, Jim Buss, Joe Porper, Barry Szamboti, Bill Stroud, and Tim Scruggs the list goes on and on. The cues, all of them were drop dead gorgeous, some were $800 and some were $2,500. I could not believe back then that people were paying that kind of money for a cue – that was an awful lot of money for 1995. They had 3 nine ft. Gold Crowns set up in the center of the room where you could test hit cues (no chalk). John and I hit them all. I had no idea what I was looking for, they were great looking and all hit the balls, in my opinion, great. I was tired and confused and told John I was going to the food court to sit down and take a break. John pushed on from table to table and cue to cue.
The Big Break: while sitting there a well dressed Asian guy (who I had seen buying out certain cue makers and who everyone seemed to know) approached me and asked me to take a picture of him and Bill Stroud. I took a couple of pics with his camera and then went back and sat down. He later came back and introduced himself. His name was Jim Mei, and he was a cue broker who purchased cues in the States and resold them in Japan and bordering countries. I told him I was there to buy one good hitting cue and asked his opinion of who to buy from. He said the best cue maker was not there but coming in that evening with a few cues to sell. He offered to introduce me and John to him. I made up my mind that whoever this cue maker is, his is the cue I am buying. The broker knew way more than John and I, who between the two of us knew zero.
That evening I met Tony Scianella (the owner of Black Boar Cues) for the first time. Tony was quiet and serious but told us to follow him and Jim Mei back to his hotel. I felt like we were in a spy movie, what an adventure this was and it was unfolding right before our eyes. I cannot describe the feelings I had when Tony took out a huge case, knowing my future cue was in there and I had no idea what it was going to look like. He laid the case on his bed and opened it. On the left were 3 very high end cues in the $3,000.00 to $3,500.00 range, one belonging to Jim Mei. On the right were 3 gorgeous 6 point cues, 2 were Ebony and one was Cocobolo. The room was quiet and John nodded to me to go first. I had no doubt what cue I was taking, it was the Cocobolo with points recut into Ebony. The cue was $900.00 with two shafts. John picked out a beautiful Ebony with recut points of Tulip wood. Tony gave us receipts that were hand written on the back of his business cards – I still have mine. That was the start of a lifelong friendship with Tony Scianella, and a hobby of cue collecting that included; Szamboti’s – both Gus and Barry’s, Motteys, Gina cues, Herceks, Richard Black, McWorter, Capone, Southwest, James White, Bill Schick , Mike Lambros and many more.
Together, John and I made friends with cue makers and collectors all over the country. We visited their shops and even their homes. We also made friends and formed close alliances with all the top cue brokers. When the economy bottomed out so did cues, but now I am seeing a rebirth with some upcoming newer cue makers making a name for themselves. In Cleveland we had our own Cue Collectors club, but with the death of John and another members getting out of the hobby the club went dormant. I feel the interest is back enough to start the club up again. If you are thinking about getting a custom cue, the best advice I can give is; do some research (Blue Book of Cues) and then purchase a cue that you love. You will never go wrong if you love the cue you buy.
Article by Frank Orteca / October 2014
Here are a few pictures of Frank’s pool room. We’ll start the show with his beautiful 9 foot Diamond table, then show you some of the very cool pictures and wall art; followed by some of his cues and ending with some very impressive cases.
Remember that at any time you can pause, skip, or go back to any pictures you like.
We hope you enjoyed the article and tour.
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