Memories of 'The Hole'
Young Cobblers at "The Hole". Can you name them?
Rapid City Journal Correspondent
It was for boys only, but that didn’t stop the girls. It was more than five decades ago, but Lloyd Willey still can remember the high school girls sneaking down into Rapid City’s most popular hangout, “The Hole,” just to see what the fuss was all about.
“My wife, we were going steady in high school, and sometimes the girls would band together and run down the stairs to bug us,” Willey said. What is now the Potter Family Theatre in the basement of the Buell Building in downtown Rapid City was an old pool hall in the 1950s (and earlier), serving as a boys-only hangout complete with a bowling alley and three rules enforced by owner Earl Gensler: No drinking, no cussing and no girls. “He was just a peach with us teenagers,” Willey said of Gensler. “He knew how to handle us.”
For those looking to go back in time, the Potter Family will host a reunion in the theater, 632-½ St. Joseph St., on Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22. Dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the show at 7:30 p.m. both nights.
“We’ll have music from the '50s and dancing if we have room,” Potter said. “They can come down dressed in their '50s attire, poodle skirts. We’re really excited about it.” Willey has published a scrapbook of pictures from The Hole, which was officially called The Recreation Inn. He has visited the location since it was renovated and was overwhelmed with memories. “The minute I walked in, I saw they didn’t touch the floor. It’s still the original floor,” he said. “The Potters have turned it into a theater now and I commend them for that. It’s just gorgeous. The feeling is the same.” Bob Leonard also remembers spending part of his afternoons and evenings at The Hole. He set pins for the bowling alley for a short time and was usually out of money to play pool.
“It was a meeting place,” he said. “It was, ‘I’ll meet ya after school,' Friday night, and then go to a party or whatever we were going to do." Brad Stevens recalled heading down to The Hole during the open-campus lunch hour from school. “It was a place for us to go and stay out of trouble,” he said. “They didn’t serve any liquor, just pop. I think all the kids went down there so they could smoke.” Terry Painter said he spent two to three hours a day at The Hole between 1954 and 1956, playing pool or standing out front.
"If you stood in front of The Hole long enough, everybody you knew would walk by or drive by," he said. "It was a real part of Rapid City's history." One of his favorite memories is seeing professional pool player Willie Mosconi, who gave a trick demonstration at The Hole. "I was standing right there," he said. "At that time, he was one of the best pool players on the planet."
The boys also played snooker, a game of pool with smaller balls. But mostly it was a safe, fun place for teenage boys, Leonard said. “It kept them off the street; it gave them something to do,” he said, recalling that besides competitive games of pool, the favorite activity for the boys was keeping an eye out for the girls. “A lot of guys stood up on the rails watching the girls walk by,” he said.
Across the street was Donaldson’s Department Store on the corner of Seventh and St. Joseph streets. “There was a bus stop for the city,” Leonard recalled. “The girls would not walk in front of The Hole; they would cross the street. They didn’t want the boys watching them.” It was almost as if their theme song was “Standing on the Corner” by The Four Lads, a tune popular on the radio at that time, said John Kammerer, another frequent visitor to the hot spot. “I made a lot of good friends there,” he said.
Kammerer is part of a group of graduates from the late 1950s who still meet together for breakfast once a week. The group of more than a dozen, also known as the “The Good Ole Boys,” has fond memories of high school days in downtown Rapid City. “Now, instead of talking about girls or the party last Friday night, it’s who’s getting their knee replaced or having hip surgery,” Leonard said. “It’s a part of growing up.” Kammerer said it’s special that their relationships, which started as adolescent fun, have now turned into lifetime friendships. “I value them very much,” he said. “There’s not much I wouldn’t do for them.”