5 Famous Bowling Alleys

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Shortly after bowling a 37 at the Pleasant Valley Lanes during a March campaign stop in Altoona, Pa., Barack Obama vowed to replace the White House's bowling alley with a full-size indoor basketball court if he were elected President. While it remains to be seen whether Obama will make good on this campaign promise after Tuesday's Inauguration, here's a look at five famous bowling alleys from the past and present.

1. The White House Lanes

The history of bowling in the White House dates back to 1947, when a two-lane alley was installed in the West Wing as a birthday gift to President Truman. While Truman wasn't much of a bowler, a league of White House staffers soon formed. The two-lane alley was moved to the Old Executive Office Building to clear space for a mimeograph room in 1955, but Nixon had a single-lane alley built below the driveway leading to the North Portico shortly after he came into office in 1969.

While bowling enthusiasts scoffed at Obama's comments, the nation's leading bowling organizations cast their differences aside and reached across the gutter to submit a joint proposal to renovate the existing alley (see image below). The proposal described an ultra-modern lane with "electronic bumpers (perfect to help both the President-Elect and his children adopt proper bowling technique)."
white-house-bowling.jpg

Obama has since suggested that he might keep the alley, but it's a safe bet he won't unwind next week by chasing 300 "“ or 40 "“ in the White House basement.

2. Holler House

holler-house.jpgThe recent trend in the bowling industry has been to develop alleys that look more like nightclubs, where drinks are served in martini glasses instead of pitchers, and stilettos pass as bowling shoes. The nation's oldest bowling alley, the Holler House in Milwaukee, somehow missed the memo "“ and the one in 1936 announcing the invention of the automatic pinsetter. That's right "“ the Holler House, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2008, still uses human pinsetters. Pin boys, as the locals call them, work for $30 per day, plus tips, reloading pins after each throw on the alley's two lanes.

There have been two perfect games in the history of the Holler House and the last one was rolled in 1934. That probably has something to do with the fact that the planks for the lanes are made of real wood and are oiled with a spray can. "I've seen a lot of 200 bowlers on their hands and knees here," bowler Tom Haefke recently told the Chicago Reader. "It's real "“ nothing sterile. The other day, the pin boy had to wipe up water because the roof was leaking." Obama might not break 20 at this place. There's no arcade or snack bar at the Holler House, but there is a small bar filled with bowling memorabilia above the lanes that Esquire rated one of the best bars in America. Just don't expect to be able to order a martini.

3. Rose Bowl

rose-bowl-lanes.jpgWhen the pink, multi-domed Rose Bowl opened its doors in 1962 to bowlers off of Route 66 in Tulsa, it looked something like the offspring of an airplane hangar and a bomb shelter. (It's a girl!) The 32,000-square-foot structure's two-and-a-half concrete domes rested on two support pillars, leaving ample space for lanes, a snack bar, a game room, and audience seating. The Rose Bowl attracted Tulsans and travelers alike for more than 40 years until it was shut down in 2005.

The structure was the target of vandalism and arson until local businessman Sam Baker bought it for $295,000 in 2006. Under the terms of the deal, Baker or any other owner was prohibited from using the Rose Bowl as a commercial bowling alley for the next 20 years. Baker immediately put the structure on eBay and set the minimum bid at $499,000, but it went unsold. Baker eventually decided to turn the structure into an event center, but the renovation process has been slow. In October, Baker estimated that the remaining costs could exceed $1.5 million. He hopes to raise at least some of the money through Route 66 preservation grants.

4. The National Bowling Stadium

bowling-stadium.jpgKnown as the "Taj Mahal of Tenpins," the $50 million National Bowling Stadium in Reno opened in 1995 and is home to numerous championship bowling tournaments each year. The stadium includes 78 lanes, spectator seating for 1,200, a 44-foot-high ceiling, and a 440-foot video screen comprised of high definition digital scoring systems above each lane. The facility also features a tracking system that provides bowlers with an evaluation of their performance and recommendations for improvement, a 10,000-square-foot concourse area, and a movie theater. Fog machines and laser lighting? Yeah, the stadium has those too.

Of all the matches that have been bowled at the NBS "“ including last weekend's National Bowling Stadium Championship "“ the greatest might have been between a pair of fictional characters. The final showdown between Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) and Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) in Kingpin took place in Reno. And if you're wondering, the bowling scenes in The Big Lebowski were all shot at the since-demolished Hollywood Star Lanes near Santa Monica.

5. Splitsville

splitsville.jpgAccording to their Web site, stale nachos, tacky carpeting, and retro shoes are a thing of the past at this Tampa hotspot, which opened in 2003. Splitsville features a contemporary design, four bars, plasma TVs, and 13 lanes arranged in clusters that resemble wheel spokes. In addition to providing a different perspective for bowlers, the unique layout of the lanes also creates "cozy nooks that are perfect for an intimate dinner setting." What's on the menu? Try sushi, oven fresh cookies and milk, and 10 types of sliders. In other words, Splitsville is what happens when swanky bowling goes to White Castle.

A giant bowling pin "“ purportedly the world's largest "“ greets bowlers at the entrance to Splitsville, where lane reservations run $85 per hour on Friday and Saturday nights. Among the celebrities who have rolled at Splitsville are Jenna Elfman, Susan Sarandon, DMX, and a Saudi prince. Less notable visitors include South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier, who may not be coming back after holding his radio show at Splitsville a few days before the Gamecocks rolled a gutter ball against Iowa in the Outback Bowl this year.

January 14, 2009 - 7:15am
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