At one time, bowling centers were community hubs — where teenagers had their first dates and families went on Sundays after church. Leagues were thriving and recreational bowling was big. It seemed as though every small town had a bowling center, and the trademarks of the major equipment manufacturers (Brunswick and AMF) were instantly recognizable.
(Brunswick Gold Crown, St. Louis, Mo.; AMF Magic Triangle, Blaine, Wash.)
Today, however, the small-town bowling center joins pay phones and drive-in theaters as 21st-century rarities. I began this project in January 2012 to document, preserve, revive interest in, and educate about bowling's past; specifically, the era of wooden lanes and above-ground (visible) ball returns. Many of the bowling centers shown are quite small — often 12 or fewer lanes. I hope these images bring you back to a simpler time: bowling's "golden age."
Why bowling? I have been a bowler my entire life. My parents met in a mixed bowling league. I started in my first junior league at Imperial Lanes in Seattle, and later bowled at the iconic Leilani Lanes (both now gone). The centers I'm interested in photographing today remind me a lot of the places in which I grew up learning to bowl.
Over time the project has evolved and expanded. In my travels across North America I have encountered six different versions of bowling. All of them are represented in these photographs, taken in more than 60 buildings in 17 states: Canadian fivepins, cocked hat, ninepins, duckpins, candlepins and, of course, tenpins. On the "Credits" page is a list of locations.
Like what you see here? Interact with me through one of the following links: The Vintage Alleys Project on Facebook, where you can find many outtake photographs and the stories behind the visits. Short iPhone videos from some of my travels can be found on my YouTube channel. I'm also on Instagram and Pinterest, and you can e-mail me using the Contact link. On my award-winning blog, The Bowling History Book, you can learn about some of the people and places I've encountered on the road.
Thank you for visiting the project. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think.