Racking up Family Fun

Local business owner restores antique billiards tables.

The Peters Billiards logo is a familiar sight to many driving on Highway 62 over Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. But many Twin Cities residents might not know the business’ interesting history. Greg Peterson, Edina resident and current owner of Peters Billiards, lets us in on his antique pool table collection, his business, and providing much-loved recreation items for families in the Twin Cities area.

“It all started when I was about 15,” Peterson says. “I went over to a buddy’s house to play pool.” That experience sparked something in Peterson. He asked his father if they could buy a pool table. His father’s immediate answer was no, though he did provide an alternative suggestion. “He said, ‘Why don’t we build one?’” Peterson says.

That first building project began a lifetime of restoring billiards tables with the care and quality that has become a part of the Peters Billiards legacy. The original Peters Billiards, on 31st St. and Nicollet Ave. was started in 1957 by Ken Peters. Peterson frequented the store, and Peters gave him opportunities to restore tables. “’Why don’t you fix that one up?’ he’d say,” Peterson says. So he did.

“I started buying tables and selling them out of my house, and not only my house, but my grandma’s, my cousin’s and friends’ houses. We would go all around the state looking for small towns, asking for pool tables for sale,” Peterson says. He continued to hone his skills throughout high school and college.

The Midwest has proved to be a great resource for billiard tables to restore. Peterson has collected pool tables throughout Minnesota and occasionally Wisconsin or Iowa. “In the 1920s, when the pool room business was booming, there were 42,000 pool rooms that opened in the United States. And that’s what you did in the ’20s for recreation; you didn’t stay home and watch a big-screen TV,” Peterson says.

While Peterson was in his last year of architecture school at the University of Minnesota, Peters offered the business to him. He readily agreed and transitioned to making and selling billiards tables full-time.

Part of the enjoyment of the restoration process for Peterson is making history come alive. In 1972, the year Peterson took over the business from Peters, the pool hall of the historic Hamm building in downtown St. Paul offered to sell 52 pool tables to Peterson.

“It was just cool, because down in these pool rooms there was always a cigar stand, there was a barber shop, there were always spittoons, sometimes a little café, [and] different gambling games going on. It was just fun to see my first 50- or 80-year-old poolroom as it was,” Peterson says.

The Hamm building was a haven for criminal gangs of the 1920s, with members like Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly. “If a table like this could talk,” Peterson says of one of the beautifully restored pool hall tables, “it would have some great stories to tell about some of its players.”

The process of restoring a pool table to its original state is not an easy one, but once finished, the result is absolutely stunning. “We’ll take a table—and most of them are not pristine—and we’ll put 100 to 200 hours in a table to refinish it,” Peterson says.

Peterson’s passion for pool tables has led to a collection of over 90 antique tables that have been restored to their original state. What is most fascinating about the extensive collection is that the numerous styles showcase a specific time in history.

The most iconic table, found in mansions, bars, and barbershops, is known as the Monarch. This particular table’s legs are made of black cast iron with accents of gold fashioned into a lion’s head. Its body is made from a combination of California laurel, burl ash, French walnut, bird’s-eye maple, mahogany, rosewood, tulipwood and ebony.

Just as fashion and décor change over time, pool table designs changed as well. In the late 1800s, Brunswick-Balke-Collander Co., the major retailer of billiards tables at the time, fashioned a new model in response to homeowners’ tastes. The Manhattan featured the same standard of elegance but with simpler clean, straight lines. The particular Manhattan in Peterson’s collection is made from contrasting woods of burl ash and walnut for a striking effect.

The Eclipse pool table was designed with input from homeowners who wanted a scaled-down version to bring into their homes. This table, inlaid with a light bird’s-eye maple, is accented with inlays of French walnut, California laurel and rosewood, creating interest in a diamond-and-flower-shaped pattern on the legs and cabinet sides.

These styles are just a sample of the many antique tables in Peterson’s billiards’ collection and showcase the exquisite materials used in each unique piece. Depending on the style of table, some are fashioned with rail tops inlaid with mother-of-pearl or with diamond-shaped accents made of ivory.

“Restoring some of these antiques, you want to do it as best you can, as original as you can, and of course, to the best of your ability; that’s true of anything we do,” Peterson says, noting that the restored antique billiards tables as well as newly manufactured tables are for sale at Peters Billiards.

John Allen has been a client of Peterson’s for over 25 years and has collected a number of restored tables ranging from a Monarch Vintage 1878 to the Regina 1924 and an array of models in between. Allen comments, “[It is] one of the finest collections of vintage and historic billiards tables ever assembled. It is a staggering display bursting with historical examples of the most coveted and collectible billiard tables ever designed and created. It is, quite honestly, a billiards table Smithsonian.”

Since Peters Billiards started in 1957, their products have expanded to include kitchen stools, bar stools, patio furniture, couches and theater seats, offering items that center on the home. The additions came from realizing the many ways families could enjoy spending time together, whether with pinball games, dart boards, shuffleboard or a variety of other options.
Pool tables will always be significant to Peterson. “It’s part of having fun and enjoyment of family,” he says. “I grew up with a great family, we played together, we prayed together, we hung out together. We played pool and did a lot of other great things. And that’s what families do around recreation.”

Certainly, a theme central to Peters Billiards over the years is that of family, whether it is the family members Peterson has worked with over the years at the business, including his parents, sisters, wife and three daughters, or helping area families find the perfect item to complete a look at home. He believes in folks spending quality time together.

“We just enjoy the business. I’ve never regretted a day I’ve gone into work,” Peterson says.