On a congested section of Brownsville Road in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick, there is a simple double door tucked away just a few steps down the street from a local tavern. Hundreds of people walk by this door every day, unaware that beyond the inner vestibule an old American “bowling house” awaits. Alleys that hold precious memories in the hearts of many south Pittsburgh residents and were triumphantly portrayed in the 1996 film Kingpin. Alleys that remain but are not in use like they were throughout the last half of the 20th century. The name of this hallowed place? Carrick Classic Lanes (CCL).
In 1995, the present day Roosevelt Elementary school along Brownsville Road was a vacant building. The upper parking lot was only in full use when the patrons of Saint Basil’s Church used the lot during Saturday vespers, Sunday services and their annual festival. So it was very surprising at that time when one dozen mobile-home trailers occupied that very lot for a week along with numerous box trucks scattered between West Cherryhill Street and CCL. Eventually people in the neighborhood found out that parts of a movie were being filmed inside CCL with Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson) and Randy Quaid (Ishmael).
The two images above are from the downstairs of CCL. Lanes 1-12 are upstairs when walking in the front door and the staircase just inside the front door to the left lead down to lanes 13-24. In the movie, a fictitious exterior was used when Munson ventures into “Lancaster Bowl”. After Roy enters the building, the next clip shows Munson descending the very same steps I walked down as a young city boy. Here, Munson witnesses Ishmael bowling for the first time, and the partnership that is the foundation of the movie is born.
CCL not only had the look of an old-school 1950’s bowling house, it was a 1950’s bowling house that did not “modernize” their equipment or the aesthetics since its heyday. My bowling ball would return to me with an occasional slice or gouge in it. The ball returns were at alley level, whereas the newer bowling centers had their returns dropped below the lanes. There was no computerized scoring at CCL and there wasn’t even overhead scoring projectors that were common in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Scoring was done on paper and pencil. From an insider’s perspective, I could understand the appeal of CCL to Hollywood. It was one of the last truly authentic bowling alleys in Pittsburgh.
When viewing Kingpin, the generations that are younger than my Gen-X self will have a hard time understanding how important bowling was to many Americans. Professional and amateur leagues were far more abundant than the recreational, “cosmic bowling” participants that are fast becoming bowling’s majority moneymaker. There were many fun characters that I used to encounter at each bowling house I rolled at and the old pro league on ABC and ESPN had just as many goofballs throwing strikes on TV. Kingpin captured the essence of bowling’s finest hour: It proves that bowling can be entertaining in its purest form.
In Pittsburgh and across the United States, some old-school bowling houses remain but many are gone. Suburban bowling centers with a high amount of lanes, a high amount of gimmicks and high prices (To help pay for the gimmicks) continue to alienate the people who JUST WANT TO BOWL. Even if my bowling manifesto fails to reignite a movement, a resin ball re-enlightenment, it gives me great joy that I can revisit my childhood bowling house, a place where bowling mattered, just by watching Kingpin.
My father used to tell me wonderful stories about his old bowling house on the South Side of Pittsburgh, which was Alvin’s Lanes. I had to imagine what the place looked like since it closed in the mid-1970’s. Hopefully one day when my son gets older, I can not only share my goofy bowling stories with him, but I can ACTUALLY SHOW HIM what CCL looked like.
In Kingpin, there is a scene where Munson is sitting with his legs open on an above-alley ball return at CCL between lanes 11 and 12. Not paying attention, a ball rolls up to him, hits him in the nuts, and he collapses to the lanes below. At the age of twelve in 1988, my 128.6 average self rolled a 212 on lane 12 at CCL in my catholic school bowling league. It was my first 200 game and one of the fondest memories I have from that time in my life. No matter what happens to CCL in the future, I am grateful that Kingpin will always grant me the opportunity to revisit the bowling house that I knew growing up in Pittsburgh.
Movie images are property of MGM Studios, Inc. and were found via Google Images
A great example of a classic bowling house with 21st century equipment/technology is Arsenal Lanes in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Google Image THIS place! Well done.
Alvin’s Lanes resided on the second and third floors of what is now Nakama Japanese Steakhouse on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side. One floor had ten lanes of duck pins, the other floor had ten lanes of ten pins.