In the 1960s, New York City had an estimated 160 bowling alleys, but as of 1990 only 44 establishments were in operation. With rising real estate values and a lot more options for entertainment, bowling alleys are an endangered species.
One of the most famous was Hollywood Lanes at 99-23 Queens Boulevard, which opened in 1952, offered 30 lanes installed by the well-known Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co and was advertised as “the last word in bowling.” The alley's social hotspot, D’s Den, offered cocktails, dinner, and entertainment.
“You walked through a spotless glass door, which opened to a very well-lit double wide staircase,” recalled Allan Wachtel. “At the bottom was something we had never seen before, with all glass, polished woods, and a very contemporary feel. It was really for people who wanted to meet, mingle, and bowl in the most beautiful, state-of-the-art bowling centers anywhere.”
The opening ceremony’s special guest was Dick Hoover of Akron, Ohio, who at age 21 was the youngest bowler to win the All-Star Tournament. Hollywood Lanes hosted professional bowlers, as well as countless childhood birthday parties. Charlie Green was known across the northeast for coordinating sweepstakes, including the Friday-Saturday night handicap and Boomerang sweepstakes.
“On weekend evenings when sweepstakes were being held, I would keep score for contestants and earn a whopping 10 cents per line,” said Dick Falk. “And there was of course the unofficial but lucrative ‘action’ bowling, a head-to-head competition where sometimes hundreds of dollars would exchange hands. Too many times, I would spend up to 12 hours straight, just hanging out.”
Winans Recreations, later known as Tri-Bowl Recreation, at 93-09 63rd Drive featured 12 alleys in a basement with a bar and luncheonette. It was originally operated by Bill Winans and later owned by Red Hoffman, a pro-bowler in the 1940s and 1950s.
A 1956 Tri-Bowl ad in the Queens Ledger read, “Bowling is better automatically. With the AMF Automatic Pinspotters supplying the magic, you’ll enjoy bowling all the more – any time of the day or night. Watch these wonderful machines perform electronic miracles, while you enjoy Rhythm Bowling at its best.”
“Tri-Bowl was a very modest bowling alley, but launched my lifelong passion for the game,” said Stan Wachtel. “Games didn’t put a dent in your pocket. There was a small bar that Gus would run, and guys from around the neighborhood would chat with him for hours. I even had a birthday party there one year.”
Also below ground, the early 1940s Rego Park Bowling Lanes at 96-42 Queens Boulevard was operated by owner Leon Fox and manager Joseph Doran. It offered 16 streamlined alleys and a bar, and Italian and American dishes including southern fried chicken.
A special trick shot exhibition featured Joe Falcaro, the “match game champion of the world.”
“It was known to us as Foxy’s, after the owner, and later on it would become the infamous Cue Club,” said Bonni Watson Pope. “The guys bowled and the girls hung out.”
Another attraction was Tony Sparando's Center at 63-108 Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park, which featured 16 AMF automatic pinspotters and a bar and luncheonette. Sparando, a Rego Park resident, did not allow his impaired vision to place a damper on his abilities, and in 1968 he was inducted into the USBC Hall of Fame.
For the alley at 96-10 Metropolitan Avenue, a 1940 ad read, “Elect to bowl at Metro-Forest Academy - 24 most modern alleys - at your service 24 hours every day - free parking.” This spot offered fellowships, special rates to soldiers and sailors in uniforms, continuous refreshments, a head pin sweepstakes every Monday night with an entry fee at $1.50 for two games across four alleys, and unlimited re-entries until 2 a.m..
Likely the earliest establishment to open was Forest Hills Bowling Academy at 2 Continental Avenue around 1935, which offered free instruction, billiards, and special rates for clubs and parties.
Just up the block was the popular Cameo Bowling Casino at 70-46 Austin Street, which opened around 1941 in the new Continental Building and was referenced as “one of the finest pin places in the borough,” with 16 alleys, a cocktail lounge and restaurant. Cameo was also where Forest Hills musicians Larry West Weinstein and Leslie West of The Vagrants, the blue-eyed soul rock band, would practice.
“I vividly remember the enormous bowling pin on the roof of its curved façade, which became an iconic symbol over the years,” recalled Richard Delaney.
Pladium Bowling & Billiard Center at 103-07 68th Road was advertised in 1959 for its bar and grill, automatic pinspotters, and junior bowling Saturdays. Frank Morrow, who worked as a pinsetter for 10 cents a game, shared memories of this early 1940s establishment.
“I used the alleys to play during the day,” he said. “I averaged over 200 and became a bit of a hustler. We would also set candles, barrels, and duck pins, and the candles were the most dangerous as they would fly back at you with intensity.”