I walked into the Nevada Historical Society earlier this week in my vermillion shirt with the black short sleeves, Sascha the Hamm’s Beer bear embroidered on one pocket, “Walker & Melarkey’s Flying A” across the back and the shirt-tail hanging out. NHS head librarian Mike Maher looked up.
“Writing about bowling next Sunday are we, Karl?” he asked, laconically. I replied in the affirmative and descended into the abyss of the microfilm grotto.
For the king of old bowling alleys, we’ll focus on the YMCA, then located in downtown Reno on East First Street between Virginia and Center. The earliest reference I could find about bowling in Reno was in a March 1909 Nevada State Journal, and not in the sports section but the society page – bowling was fast becoming an acceptable diversion for young ladies, nationally and here in our valley. “Clubs,” which I surmise we now call “leagues”, were forming in town. And Thursday evenings were now reserved for ladies at the Y, which was open for bowling every night but Sunday.
Print references are scarce for quite a number of years following 1909; the Downtown Bowl at 130 North Center Street pops up in a few sports pages’ references to tournaments. But, in the April 19, 1937 Reno Evening Gazette, pay dirt: We read of the phenomenal new “Reno Recreation Palace” ballyhooed on South Virginia at Ryland. I was unfamiliar with that stately pleasure dome, and opened a Sanborn map expecting to see eight or 10 city blocks devoted to civic revelry. But I found only a bowling alley we knew as the Reno Bowl, which adjoined a theater we knew as the Tower Theater. A movie theater in the same building as a bowling alley is a specious use of space, sound-wise – many of us recall a dashing and tuxedoed Errol Flynn sweeping a gowned Maureen O’Hara off her Guccis on the Lido deck of a luxury liner; violins soaring, the full moon on high dancing on the liner’s wake as the palm-lined island faded into the background on the Tower’s silver screen.
Contemporaneously as Errol planted a major lip-lock on Maureen, a bowling ball on the other side of the paper-thin wall crashed into the pins to complete a turkey as the inebriated keglers in the Reno Bowl bellowed and whooped and high-fived each other. Romance may not be dead, but at the Tower Theater it was frequently in ICU.
Electric Pinsetters? Ye gods; what’s next…
On downtown Sparks’ B Street/Lincoln Highway/Highway 40 (and now Victorian Avenue) from Home Furniture’s new Sparks store – now Rail City Casino – and next door to the Elbow Room, where that wasn’t sawdust on the floor but last night’s furniture, came a new, post-war bowling alley. The Sparks Bowlarium opened on Jan. 18, 1949 with eight, count ‘em, eight lanes; in 1958 the building would be enlarged and the lanes doubled to 16. It then had a real twist: automatic electric pinsetters – the kid resetting pins in the “pit,” working two or three lanes and ducking inbound bowling balls for all his life – would soon be but a memory. (It should be mentioned somewhere that the alleys then, as today, had cocktail lounges, food service, and at most, child care and dancing.)
A long way out on South Virginia, almost to the end of Reno at Moana Lane (before Moana even existed east of South Virginia) Reno got its first post-war bowling alley. The Town & Country (now High Sierra Lanes) was opened in April of 1958. I’m stumped as to its original lane count; it is clear in both the Gazette and the Journal that at least some of that alley’s original lanes were taken from the Downtown Bowl on Center Street between First and Second Streets, which closed that year. (I mentioned in a column a while back that that building downtown was taken over by Harrah’s for office space.)
Back to Sparks now, just off 8th Street – now Pyramid Way – to the newish Greenbrae Center – another new alley opens in August of 1960. The Greenbrae Lanes featured 24 lanes. And my Sparks readers are probably wondering if I could possibly deign to mention “Greenbrae Lanes” without also scribing “Driftwood Lounge” in the same sentence. That would be a travesty I won’t commit – the walls of the adjacent and fabled Driftwood could probably tell more tales than all the cocktail lounges in Reno or Sparks put together. The alley closed, but the lounge is still open for business [2016-?], and we’ll give the Archueleta family a plug here and our thanks for the decades that they operated it.
Keystone Avenue was finally cut through northward from the railroad tracks and the Starlight Bowl opened on West Sixth Street near Keystone on Dec. 10, 1961. It’s been a winner ever since; when it opened with 32 lanes it was the biggest alley in Nevada. Sterling Village Lanes, toward the north end of Valley Road near old Bishop Manogue High School, opened on July 10, 1964; it closed in the 1980s and now houses a small market. The big Kahuna of local public alleys is now within the Grand Sierra Resort; before it opened in 1978 as the MGM Grand its 50 lanes were shipped to Reno and installed temporarily at the Coliseum (OK, the Convention Center) for a summer-long national tournament, then were relocated to the brand-new MGM following that tournament.
Another big bowling alley opened in Reno in 1994 but inasmuch as they won’t let me bowl there I can’t reliably write about it. But, on this morning of the Sabbath, know that the family that prays together, stays together; the family that bowls together, splits. Have a good week, and God bless America!
A postscript that arrived after publication: “My friend Tom Case reminded us that at the end of a night of bowling, a tennis ball slit halfway around its circumference would quietly roll out of the pit toward the bowlers. The unspoken etiquette was to put a few pictures of dead presidents into the ball as a gratuity, then return it back down the gutter to the pinsetter.”
And a post-postscript: My editor-in-chief Linda Patrucco told me that her mother, an inveterate bowler didn’t fool around with a tennis ball, she just rolled a silver dollar the length of the gutter to the grateful pinsetter
© Reno Gazette-Journal May 14, 2008