Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are Brooklyn's Bowling Alleys Dying?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 10:36 AM

The owner of one of the last bowling alleys in southern Brooklyn has taken steps necessary to allow him to tear it down, the New York Times reported. John LaSpina, whose father opened Maple Lanes more than 50 years ago, wants his land rezoned from manufacturing, so that he could raze the tenpin spot and replace it with apartments and a synagogue. The effort highlights sundry trends: the transformation of bowling alleys from cigarette smoke-stinking refuges of the working class to boutique hot spots that double as live music venues, the changing play habits of kids and families, and the demographic shifts among Brooklyn's working class.

Maple Lanes, on 16th Avenue and 60th Street, is on the border of Borough Park and Bensonhurst; the latter is fast gaining Chinese, a group (like Borough Park's orthodox population) not particularly known for their fondness for bowling, while losing one that is: Italians. Many of the bowlers found at Maple Lanes on league night, during the visit by Times reporter Liz Robbins, were exiles from Bay Ridge. They belonged to "The Parking Lot League," a sardonic reference to that neighborhood's last alley, Mark Lanes (nee Leemark Lanes), which sold its land to Century 21; the department store giant quickly tore it down, and put a parking lot in its place. In Bay Ridge, the Times notes, "there were several alleys in a 20-block area, including Ovington Lanes and Bay Ridge Lanes, both now gone. More than 15 alleys have been shut down in Brooklyn, 'even the little ones down in cellars.'" Wii Bowling surely isn't helping.

If Maple Lanes were to close in coming years, Bay Ridge bowlers would be forced to travel as far as Melody Lanes in Sunset Park, on the southwestern edge of Green-Wood Cemetery. There are also alleys in Mill Basin and Gravesend.

In North Brooklyn, however, the bowling alley scene is thriving. The Gutter, in Williamsburg, was in 2007 "the first alley to open in Brooklyn in 50 years," according to New York Magazine. It was joined shortly thereafter by LEED-Certified Brooklyn Bowl a few blocks away. (It's hard to imagine Melody Lanes becoming LEED-Certified.) In Brooklyn, the bowling alley is simultaneously dying and being reborn; the borough's younger residents seem to be recreating the recreation space in their own image.

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