Detroit — Their names are the treasured ghosts of our recreational past — gathering places gone from the scene.
Wildwood Lanes in Southgate
Timber Lanes in East Detroit.
Even the mammoth Satellite Bowl in Dearborn Heights.
Name after name after name. They no longer exist, long since having been converted to Home Depots or car dealerships. Some of them burned down. Others just continue to decay.
"I remember many of them," said local professional bowler Harry Sullins, "because chances are I bowled there."
In 1962, there were 245 bowling centers in Metropolitan Detroit. Now there are fewer than 80 — and only three certified centers within the city of Detroit, one of which is the Detroit Athletic Club.
They were like neighborhood theaters, though, the old centers were. Let's go bowling. Let's go to the movies. Chances are you could walk to both.
Not so any more.
Even though Detroit still has more sanctioned bowlers than any other city in the nation, this is not the golden age of the sport.
Far from it.
"We have 50,000 sanctioned bowlers," said Mark Martin, the Detroit area's manager of the United States Bowling Congress. "That's the most. But we used to have 300,000."
Where the jobs went, so did the bowling centers. If the jobs vanished, the centers did, too — often being sold because the land on which they were situated was more valuable than the building itself.
West Bloomfield Lanes on Orchard Lake, for instance, sold for $6.5 million in 1994 and is now a Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Some of the gutted hulks remain. Chandler Lanes, visible from I-94 near Chandler Park in Detroit, is one. Maple Lanes on East Warren is another.
Fountainview Lanes on Groesbeck in Clinton Township is closed, but still stands, its roadside sign eerily only saying "Lanes" after "Fountainview" was removed.
That's not to say bowling is dead — or even is dying. On any given afternoon, with a multitude of leagues in the house, there is still the same cacophony you hear upon entering a busy center, such as Rose Bowl Lanes, also on Groesbeck in Roseville.
Unlike golf, which thrives on silence, bowling thrives on noise — the ball rolling down the lane, pins scattering. Not to mention being able to recognize, even with your eyes closed, the sound of a strike or an ugly split.
Detroiters love bowling. They always have.
Then again, the ancient Egyptians did, too. Baseball traces its roots to the 19th century. Bowling goes back 5,000 years.
The sport has been popular among African-Americans as well. Joe Louis owned Paradise Lanes in Detroit.
But the same color barriers existed in bowling that did elsewhere.
"You couldn't be a sanctioned bowler in the American Bowling Congress unless you were Caucasian until 1951," Martin said. "One of the biggest centers (the 88-lane Detroit Recreation Center on Lafayette that closed in 1960) had four floors of 22 lanes each, but African-Americans were allowed on only one of its floors."
Standardized rules of the modern game were established in 1895 and, as recreation, the game spread quickly.
Garden Bowl a survivor
In Detroit, the oldest bowling center is Garden Bowl on Woodward, now in its 102nd year — a fascinating, but eclectic, collection of establishments huddled around the Majestic Theater.
The Zainea family, who bought Garden Bowl in 1946 and owns the entire entertainment center to this day, doesn't depend entirely on the revenue generated by bowling.
It doesn't because it can't.
Despite being the one of oldest commercial bowling establishments in the country — the oldest being a two-lane tavern called the Holler House in Milwaukee — bowling is not its central attraction anymore. The center's music venues, the Majestic Theater and the Magic Stick, keep the entire complex profitable.
"We'd still exist if it were only bowling, but it's a whole different business model now," said David Zainea, Joe Zainea's son.
And while the history of the Majestic is an honored one — built during the vaudeville era in an Italian arcade style, but now with an Art Deco look — it can't compete with the colorful past of the Garden Bowl.
Joe Zainea, whose father owned a slaughterhouse at the Eastern Market before purchasing the Garden Bowl for $40,000, describes it best, passing on the memories that were passed on to him.
"Over here, when my father bought the building, was a wall," he said of an area that has no wall now. "On it, there was a row of phones."
Pay phones? Not exactly.
Payoff phones were more like it.
"They were the lines connected to the bookies downstairs," Zainea said. "The head man in the basement was Barney. They'd make their bets, then they'd turn on a radio to listen to someone reporting the horse races as if they were there at the track."
A scene right out of "The Sting."
Woodward was widened in 1935 and, with it, the original look of many buildings on the avenue disappeared. Although it was 80 years ago, the entire block of the Majestic Theater/Garden Bowl complex began to change at that point — and seems to have never stopped.
Both establishments were named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
What looks original now, however, is often just one of the changes made through the years as the Zainea family found ways to keep the business relevant.
Colorful stories abound
You would never fully realize how old Garden Bowl is, however, if it weren't for "Papa" Joe's love of its colorful, but sometimes notorious, past.
"Before automatic pinsetters, of course," he said, "we used pin boys, many of whom lived checkered lives.
"We had a pin boy, Red Mulkey, the son of a bank president, who was so loaded one day, and leaning so heavily on the door of the pin-boy room next to lane one, that the door popped open and he spilled out onto the lane."
With a bowling ball heading straight at him.
Instantly, the scramble began to get out of the way. But in vain.
"Red liked to combine soda pop with sterno," said Zainea, "and he couldn't get up in time for the ball to miss him. But it didn't hit him squarely in the head, thank God, or else he would have been dead.
"What happened is that it literally scalped him, tore his hair off like a flap.
"We took him to the emergency room, but he didn't wait to get treated. He just flopped the flap back and came right back. But he lived here at the alley, that's why."
Center caters to families
As a contrast to Garden Bowl with its legendary past is Lakeshore Lanes in St. Clair Shores — although Lakeshore isn't exactly a new kid on the block.
Jim LaHood's family bought the building that housed a grocery store in 1946, converted it to a bowling center in 1950 when he was nine — and 65 years later, with only an early nine-year hiatus, he is still there.
So is Jim's sister, Mary, who helps out in the evening.
But neither Jim nor Mary sells the beer, because there is no beer. No alcohol of any kind, in fact.
Martin confirmed there's not another liquor-less bowling center in the Detroit area.
Yet Lakeshore Lanes, with its quaintness — an antique fortune-telling scale that still works, its vintage house balls, no problem of theft, and a small counter for food that includes toast for "62 cents" — survives.
How and why does it stay in business without liquor? Loyal customers.
According to its online feedback, many people love Lakeshore Lanes because the proprietors keep it spotless. Bowling establishments like to claim they are family centers, but this one — smoke-free before it was law and never with a liquor license — really is.
It wouldn't be entirely surprising to see Marty McFly from "Back to the Future" there.
"We're not everybody's first choice as a bowling center," LaHood said. "If you enjoy a few drinks, we're the wrong place to come to.
"But it's simpler this way. We're purely bowling."
What differentiates Garden Bowl from Lakeshore Lanes is a list too long to cover. What they have in common, though, is resilience. They're still in business.
Most bowling centers of yesteryear aren't.
"They're not all gone, but many are," said Kevin Wojcik, who has had a bowling pro shop in the Detroit area, now in Roseville, for more than 40 years.
"But we have the most bowlers in the world" — and still some of the best in the world, too."
Sullins, for instance, has won nine Professional Bowling Association tournaments, including three PBA50 events in the seven years since he turned 50.
But he doesn't duck the reality of why bowling struggles with a diminishing number of leagues.
"It's not just for economic reasons that the numbers are down," Sullins said, "but because of the evolution of electronics such as cellphones, video games and cable television.
"How many TV stations were there when you were growing up? Probably about the same when I was. You could count them on your hands. Now you can't count them at all.
"But we are still the cheapest recreational activity you can do socially."
That's bowling, 2015. Never expensive, and still not.
A sport with a vibrant past — and a pulse that's still strong.