Monday, January 24, 2011

Shutter ball

Forty-five years ago, bowling was a major part of Detroit life.  In 1966, residents were so taken by the game that the City Council passed an ordinance – DCO § 38-5-5 – that specifically banned bowling in streets and alleys. That same year, the city took ownership of the Manoogian Mansion, the only mayoral residence in the country with a private bowling lane.  The city was home to tens of thousands of avid bowlers and 47 bowling alleys.

Although 1966 may have been a high-water mark for bowling in Detroit, it built upon a long history of bowling in the city. Thirty years earlier, the Stroh's Bohemian Beers Detroit team represented the United States at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when bowling was a demonstration sport. (I’m proud to note that my great-great-uncle, Wally Reppenhagen, pictured at far right, was on that Stroh team.)

The post-war period saw a surge in interest in bowling. In the 1950's, ace bowler, and then-Detroit Mayor, Albert Cobo often decided city policy while bowling. He was such a fan of the game that he advocated for adding bowling alleys in public high schools while mayor.  At the time, many of the city's churches had bowling alleys in the basement.

According to the 1966 Detroit Yellow Pages, Detroit was home to 47 bowling alleys in 1966, a period when bowling was at its height. Especially when comparing the city’s east and northwest sides, it’s clear that bowling alleys were highly concentrated in the city’s working class neighborhoods, especially in areas home to concentrations of German and Polish residents.

Unfortunately, with the tremendous loss of residents of German and Polish ancestry, bowling no longer enjoys its once-prominent role in city life. Today,  most Detroiters aren’t bowling alone – they aren’t bowling at all. According to 2010 City of Detroit licensing data, the city has only two bowling alleys: The Garden Bowl and the Renaissance Bowling Center.  This is a sad state for the once-proud sport in the city.  Bowling alleys were centers for communities and anchors for neighborhoods.  

On February 1st – the 209th anniversary of Detroit’s incorporation as a city – celebrate the city’s past and preserve a Detroit tradition: go bowling.  Visit one of Detroit's fine bowling alleys:
  • The Garden Bowl is located at 4120 Woodward Ave.
  • Renaissance Bowling Center is located at 19600 Woodward Ave.

See you on the lanes.

*Special thanks to Detroit legend Bill McGraw for cluing me into the yellow pages as a source for historical data.  You will notice it again in next week's post questioning the "food desert" label.*