The St Louis House at 2345 Lafayette Avenue once boasted a dozen hard maple bowling lanes, and kept them busy for decades. As early as 1930, Obermeyer’s Alleys there made so much noise that German House manager A.G. Barrow decided not to renew their lease, and notified Obermeyer by turning off the lights during play. It was later resolved in the Circuit Court, and bowling resumed.
Bowling became so popular it was televised nationally, and its best practitioners were rewarded like pro baseball players today. In fact, Don Carter was the first athlete ever to sign a $1 million endorsement deal, from Ebonite bowling balls. And did Ebonite know how to promote! Curval grips, indeed…
Soon bowling became freaky styley, and everyone was doing it, from babes in beehives to Give ‘em Hell Harry, with his bowling shirt secured beneath coat, tie and vest. A group of Missouri boosters gifted the White House with two lanes in 1947. Eisenhower (from the opposite party and who famously preferred golf) later turned the space into a mimeograph room.
There’s still a bit of the old spirit around St Louis today. On the Epiphany Of Our Lord parish web site, the tabs at the top read “Sacraments”, “Parish Life” and “Bowling Alley”. There are upstairs lanes in Maplewood at the Saratoga on Sutton, and downstairs lanes at the Magic Chef Mansion in Compton Heights and Moolah Temple on Lindell Boulevard.
With the rise of television followed by dual income families and finally, the internet and computer gaming, social groups began to fade away. Leagues folded and lanes were torn down for parking lots and condos. In 2000, a popular book titled “Bowling Alone” was published to explain it all to us, and bowling became the emblem of our failure to connect. It reminded us that we are social animals, and have a tangible need for community. Unsure to what degree we’ve addressed that one, but must admit to keeping a neglected Ebonite ball on a shelf in my garage. I belonged to a Tuesday night league during the early 1980’s at Frontier Bowl in O’Fallon, Missouri. It was a hoot.
Incidentally, the Bowling Hall Of Fame and Museum that sat about where Ballpark Village is today, moved in 2009 to Arlington Texas. It started here in a 50,000 square foot facility, but resides in a less ambitious 16,000 foot space near Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers baseball team. It seems a little forlorn in the boonies between Dallas and Ft Worth, but the 50’s Budweiser team of Carter, Weber, Bluth, Patterson and Hennessey are there in life size cardboard to greet you. In the meantime, we can still claim proximity, at least, to the righteously underrated Horseshoe Pitcher’s Hall of Fame in Wentzville.
Thanks to research sources including:
Missouri Historical Society Andrew Wanko April 10 2017 66 Through St Louis. https://mohistory.org/blog/66-through-st-louis-crestwood-bowl/
history.com; 2018 Post; This Day In History: April 25, 1947; https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truman-inaugurates-white-house-bowling-alley
Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival Of American Community; Robert Putnam; Touchstone Books; 2001