City of the Future: 66 Bowl

[this is the first in a series of illustrated essays on the mid century modern gems of OKC by awesome local photographer Lynne Rostochil. You can check out more of her photos here]

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Farewell, 66 bowl.

1959.

Fidel Castro brought the threat of Communism to our doorstep with his takeover of Cuba; Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash on the snowy prairies of Iowa; Alaska and Hawaii were admitted into the Union, and, here in Oklahoma, prohibition of alcohol was finally lifted after 51 years. Perhaps to celebrate this momentous event, (or more likely to capitalize on the spread of suburbia to what was then the western reaches of the city), a company called Educators Investment Corp. decided that a four-acre plot of land along the much-travelled Route 66 would be a prime location to build the city’s newest bowling alley.

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Designed by local firm Hudgins, Thompson, & Ball, 66 Bowl was designed to be the grandest ten-pin alley in the city, but things got off to a rocky start when the owners decided to use non-union labor to construct the $500,000 building. Pickets ensued, and when one unfortunate non-union worker by the name of James Perry was hit in the mouth by a picketer, several of his workmates walked off the job for fear they would be next. Even with the tense situation, construction continued until one blustery winter night when a mysterious fire broke out among the building materials and debris piled along the back of the building, causing quite a bit a damage and a slight delay in opening.

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As spring 1959 dawned, however, 66 Bowl, complete with a stunning bowling-themed neon sign, was finished and ready to open its new, clear glass doors for business. Along with a 100-seat restaurant, a snack bar, dressing rooms, and a lounge, the tied-for-largest bowling alley in the city (with Puddin’ Lanes) sported 24 lanes, each with state-of-the-art automatic pin-setting machines and “Magic Circle” turntable ball returns.

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With so many swanky entertainment offerings under one roof, the new alley on Route 66 was an instant hit and quickly became a favorite hot spot for teenyboppers attending the newly-built NW Classen, John Marshall, and Putnam City High Schools. Thanks to these once-teens, now grandparents, the building witnessed countless first dates, and, call me a romantic, even more lingering, Saturday night kisses than knockout strikes, I imagine.

Year after year, decade after decade, people came and traditions were created. Parents took their young children to 66 Bowl for their first experience lugging the too-heavy ball to the foul line, dropping it with a Richter Scale-measuring quake, and watching the ball every-so-slowly creep, creep, creep its way down the perfectly-polished wood lane to the 10 red-ringed pins longing to be toppled over for the millionth time. The young children grew up and, as parents themselves, took their children back to 66 Bowl for this uniquely American rite of passage.

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Sadly, tens of thousands of disappointed gutter balls, picked-up spares, pieces of chewed pink bubble gum under plastic seats, and consumed Coca-Colas in paper cups later, 66 Bowl will close its doors forever this Saturday. The long-time owners, Peggy and Jim Haynes, are ready to retire, and although the business is still going strong, there were no takers to keep the bowling alley alive after their departure. So, after 51 years of crashing pins, high fives, and excited laughter, the guts of the old alley will be auctioned off piece by piece beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 31st, and 66 Bowl will, a bit ingloriously, end its days, soon to become an Indian spice shop.

As for 66 Bowl’s iconic, oft-photographed neon sign, its fate is up in the air. It might be donated to the Bowling Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas, or it could find its way to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the sign will remain where it has always been … in Oklahoma.

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(c) 2010 Lynne Rostochill All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos without Lynne’s permission.

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