Thursday, February 08, 2007

Prehistoric bowling alley unearthed!

Since whoever's been spamming me in broken English is now contributing this site more often that I am, I suppose I have some catching up to do. I should follow the fine example set by the likeminded Googiemel: Shorter posts, more often!


When it comes to old buildings, I'm very much in favor of adaptive re-use--even if it's quick and a little sloppy. A non-invasive rush job often leaves open the possibility that the building in question might someday be returned to its original purpose--but even if pieces of the past have deteriorated beyond all practicality, it's cool (if a little melancholy) when they're kept around as artifacts of a bygone age.



The latter would seem to be the case at Sporto's Pub and Grill, a cozy little watering hole in spiffy downtown Red Bud, Illinois. I stopped in because it looked like a decent place to have a sandwich and a beer, and it's in a building that appears to be closing in on the century mark. We all know that older bars have more personality, right? Well, as I sat at the bar and waited for my burger to arrive, I noticed this crazy ol' thing sticking up out of the floor:



One of the locals noticed that I was eyeing it, and he commented that it was pretty much what it looked like: A very, very, very old ball return. Turns out Sporto's used to be a bowling alley! It couldn't have had more than two or three lanes, and they're now covered by carpeting and used as a pool room--but the ball return was too much trouble to extract, so they just left it there behind the buffet table.



I was told the bowling lanes were never modernized, and they were in use until just a couple of years ago. (I secretly doubted this until I saw evidence that bowling at Sporto's coincided, at least, with the Internet age.) Pins were re-set by hand until the bitter end, and somebody in your group would have to know how to keep score the old-fashioned way. I've been spending time in bowling alleys for 35 years, and I've never seen a situation this primitive! People rhapsodize about how old-school the Saratoga Lanes in St. Louis are, but Sporto's is home to a museum-quality artifact. If they ever give the joint a more thorough remodeling, I hope they donate the old Brunswick equipment to the Historical Society or something. (Or me.)



And speaking of old things that are in relatively good shape: I got carded! I love this place.


(You can still bowl in Red Bud, by the way; the VFW hall has six lanes that offer open bowling on weekends. And I found evidence in an old high school yearbook suggesting that the facility now occupied by Sporto's was called Mac's Bowling Alley.)

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If you are familar with the AB campus on south broadway their building 82 (if youre travelling south its the first bldg on the right after the railroad track.) used to be a hotel with a bank on the first floor on the south side, and the north side used to be a saloon with a bowling alley in the basement. I think it still may be there but I didnt venture into the basement. We did some work in the building and found a billiards room that is now an office.

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Anonymous said...

I used to set pins at this bowling alley. It was in the early 1980s and the place was called The Bear's Den. My dad was in one of the league nights.

There's actually a machine there that assists the pin setters (there were usually two -- one for each alley). The pin setters stood on a ledge above the alley. Once the ball had knocked over some pins, the setter jumped down, put the ball on a wooden track to return it and then picked up the pins the bowler had knocked down and put them in a rack.

The bowler then threw the second ball and the pin setter put the pins in a rack again and pulled a lever that would that would drop the rack, set the pins in place and lift the rack up so another frame could be played.

It was hard work, really hard if you were stuck doing two lanes at once.

I wish Sporto's would've kept the old alley. I'm sure it wasn't cheap to maintain, but league nights did bring in some beer drinkers. And well, there's a billion bars with a pool table, but probably only one or two with a bowling alley like that one.

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