I’m a bowler, almost by nature. My grandparents bowled, my parents bowled, I grew up traveling to various bowling alleys with my parents, and ended up working in two different centers. It’s only fitting that my better half and I met through his family’s bowling alley and now bowl together. And since the bowling season just ended, we’ve decided to visit some other lanes throughout the Cleveland area. And as a special treat, I’m going to let him tell you about it!
This past week, we revisited one of our favorite bowling alley haunts in the Cleveland area, Mahall’s 20 Lanes. Pronounced MAY’-halls (not muh-HALLS’), this 20 lane up-down on Madison Avenue in Lakewood epitomizes the term “retro.” It’s one of just four bowling centers in the Cleveland area still committed to paper-pencil scoring (the other three being Maple Lanes on Superior Avenue, Dickie’s Lanes on West 25th and Slovenian East 80th Lanes in the basement of the Slovenian National Home in the Slavic Village neighborhood).
It’s an interesting use of space, as is the case with many older bowling centers, because there is no wasted square footage. Many older centers would shoehorn as many lane beds as possible into the space being rented—Dickey’s Lanes used to be 9 lanes; Roseland Lanes in Oakwood, before the major remodeling in the mid-90s, was 28 lanes across the front and another 10 in the back; and the now-extinct Severance Lanes was a 32-lane side-by-side with 16 lanes on the left and another 16 on the right. But Mahall’s is the only up-down center in Cleveland.
Walk in the main entrance at ground level and you’re in an unusually spacious lobby with a performance space and control counter to your left and a bar plus restaurant to your right. The “upstairs” ten is literally five stairs up, off the back right of the lobby, housing ten Brunswick A-2 series pin-spotters, Brunswick Anvil synthetic lane surfaces, and a Brunswick Gold Crown furniture layout. The “downstairs” ten uses the same A-2 pin-spotters, but the layout is much less about the glitz and more the grit. I’m quite sure that in its heyday the upstairs ten was the centerpiece.
Unlike the older east side bowling centers which were housed in the basements of churches or linked to bars and taverns, the west side marketed bowling as recreation centers, sometimes with ties to city recreation departments. Lakewood is no exception. At the corner of Mars Avenue and Detroit Avenue, you had Bowl-Mor Recreation. This center was part of a small shopping center that housed an old A & P that burned down; today the space houses a Discount Drug Mart. Further east on Detroit near Bunts Road was Detroit-Bunts Recreation (known also to some as Bowling City). This center opened in 1940 and burned down in March 1967. The last bowling center on Detroit near West 117th was Melba Recreation which opened in 1917, close date and reason unknown. On Madison in the Bird Town neighborhood, there was Marten’s Bowling which also went by Jacob’s Recreation (open and close dates unknown).
Today, Mahall’s is more about the music and live performance scene than hosting leagues and competitive bowling. As an observer of the bowling industry, I have to applaud Mahall’s for its creative transformation. The main performance venue was previously a pool hall. Much of the open lobby space was previously an administrative office. The bar/restaurant pays tribute to the sport of bowling by furnishing the space with original furniture and a converted pinsetter light fixture that hangs over the center of the bar. And the downstairs ten has an intimate performance space called “The Locker-room” which was originally a locker room and changing space for league bowlers.
While my attraction to Mahall’s is their attempt to maintain the classic attributes of the bowling world, it’s wonderful to see how this business and landmark has successfully blended the performing arts with a vibrant nightlife mystique to become a mainstay in the Cleveland entertainment landscape. So stop in, say hi to Chris at the control desk, bowl a few games, buy a few beers, and maybe even take a concert.