Neighborhoods without a bowling alley in the tristate area were few and far between, but today many have shuttered due to rising real estate values and younger generations with new interests. Back in the 1960s, New York City offered an estimated 160 bowling alleys, but by 1990 only 44 were in operation.
In Queens, some popular sites were Woodhaven Lanes, Cameo Bowling Casino on Austin Street, Rego Park Bowling Lanes on Queens Boulevard, Tri-Bowl Recreation on 63rd Drive, and Whitestone Lanes. Another memorable spot was Hollywood Lanes at 99-23 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.
Residents were dismayed to see Hollywood Lanes close in 2002 after five decades, but the sound of bowling balls and the strike of the pins across 30 lanes remain vivid memories for avid bowlers.
Advertised as “the last word in bowling,” Hollywood Lanes opened on November 8, 1952, in a polished stainless steel-and-granite commercial center designed by award-winning architect Philip Birnbaum.
For former patron Alan Sobel, the experience would not have been complete without its ambiance, which began with an entrance down two flights of stairs.
“It was the family atmosphere that permeated during the daytime, which then transferred to the hangout at night,” he said. “Our generation’s parents trusted the owners enough that when you told them that you were going to the ‘alley,’ they knew we would be safe. My, how times have changed.”
Patrons could bowl daily in an air-conditioned space, which was a novelty for the era. Hollywood Lanes was also a social establishment where the popular D’s Den offered cocktails, dinner, late-night snacks and continuous entertainment.
Bonni Watson Pope was a social butterfly who recalled “living” in some former entertainment hotspots such as D’s Den, the Stratton and the Golden Chariot.
“I made the rounds at each club nightly and then went off to the city,” she said. “My friends Donnie Dean, Al Nero, and Mike Sirotti were in local bands, and played at D’s Den as well as other local venues.”
The opening ceremony’s special guest was Dick Hoover of Akron, Ohio, who was the youngest bowler to win the All-Star tournament at age 21. Mannie Rose was the general manager, and had high expectations of grand tournaments.
Over time, it would accommodate professional and amateur bowlers, as well as countless childhood birthday parties. David Hara was 12 when he first joined the junior bowling league at Hollywood Lanes.
“Professional Bowlers Association stars Don Carter and Dick Weber were watching the kids getting ready to bowl,” Hara recalled. “Then they came onto the lanes to give us pointers. I'll never forget Dick Weber adjusting my grip and explaining how to swing the ball.
“The next week I bowled my first 200 game, an experience I'll never forget,” he added. “The look and the smell of the bar are some of my warmest memories.”
Hollywood Lanes signified a coming-of-age experience for Susan Weiss. “I had my first real date here when I was 12,” she said.
Steve Hoffman lived on the same block as the bowling alley and worked there. “All the food and bowling I wanted in exchange for flipping burgers and making egg creams in the cafeteria,” he recalled.
Hollywood Lanes also led to long-lasting friendships.
“I used to play three games every Saturday with Stanley Milstein, my BFF at the time,” said author and screenwriter R. Allen Leider. “When we graduated and went our separate ways, my average was 238. I am still in touch with Stan, but haven't gotten the bowling bag out in ages, but maybe later this year.”
“My friend Irene and I would bowl at Hollywood Lanes in the vain hope that we could achieve some success athletically,” said Phyllis Klivan McQuarrie. “But unfortunately, we were doomed to remain poor bowlers with high hopes.”