The mighty Litrentas are a Dundalk duckpin dynasty: grandfather, son and grandson. Frank, Mike and Steve are in the records at 100, 73 and 27 -- their ages, not their bowling averages.
The Litrentas manage a well-known neighborhood bowling alley with competing teams such as Dottie's Dolls and Polkatrain, and may just be Dundalk's oldest, continuously active businessmen.
When the mortar still was wet on the neighborhood's classic 1920s shopping center, Frank, the senior of the trio, opened a butcher shop and fresh vegetable store.
Nearly 30 years later, his son Mike bought the bowling alley across the town green from that shop and opened Pinland, at 10 Dundalk Ave. It's one of the Baltimore area's surviving all-duckpin spillways, with 17 lanes and a snack bar on the side where snowballs are sold all winter.
"Our people like duckpins and that's the way we'll stay," said Mike Litrenta, this institution's longtime owner who in his day was one of the city's top pin eliminators. "My father bowled ducks, so did I."
Pinland remains an entrenched duckpin house. The game uses balls and pins smaller and lighter than those in the tenpin version. Some Baltimoreans insist duckpins were invented in a Howard Street saloon.
Frank, the centenarian Litrenta, bowled ducks with his brothers, who were in the meat and grocery business with him. Their shirts had a colorfully embroidered fruit design on the back along with the words "Quality Meat Market."
"In the old days, we sold live chickens," Frank Litrenta said as he pointed across the street to his first business in the brick shopping center on Shipping Place. "A lady would come in and pick out one. I'd run downstairs, kill it, put in it boiling water and pluck the feathers off."
He retired from his meat and grocery business in 1954 but accompanies his son to work at Pinland most days.
Born Jan. 28, 1895, in Cosenza, Italy, he came to central Pennsylvania (DuBois) as a water boy at a lumber camp. By the early 1920s, he had moved to Dundalk, then a small community that had been planned and built during World War I so workers would have a nice place to live while they built ships.
A model town was laid out and built. The town shopping center was a 1920s design created by respected Baltimore architect Edward L. Palmer. It was here that Frank Litrenta had his first business, one that eventually expanded to other spots in the neighborhood.
"I had three years of Georgetown [University] before I went into the service," said Mike Litrenta, who is edging into semiretired status. "When I came back, I finished up at Loyola College and decided not to go into the grocery business. I was a, good bowler and with my father's help, I bought out this place. That was 1951."
The Litrentas and Dundalk bowling were a natural. In the days before fitness gyms and sweat became an obsession, the Eastside was dotted with scores of manufacturing plants. Men and women and their children joined leagues for a bit of light exercise, good times and maybe a sandwich afterward.
To this day, Pinland has a bricklayers league and the St. Rita's Ladies. From the Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point plant, it has bowlers from the wire and rod mill, fuel department and tin mill.
"We couldn't get all the business here," said Mike Litrenta. "The Western Electric [league] was so large it took over all 100 lanes at the Recreation Center on Howard Street." Today, with the one-time Bell Telephone subsidiary wiped out by deregulation, the old Broening Highway Western Electric plant has been subdivided as an office park. The Recreation Center on Howard Street is the office of Planned Parenthood.
Several of the large employers used bowling leagues as a way of building morale and friendships among workers. A distillery known as Paul Jones for its inexpensive whiskey had 14 four-man Pinland teams. Members of a group from Fort Holabird bowled right after their 4:30 p.m. quitting time.
Pinland still enjoys a good neighborhood trade. The bowlers form teams called the Hi Hopes, Get Ums, Moosettes, Alley Gals, Lazy Pins, Tootsie Rolls, Lo Rollers and Gutter Dusters. A long-standing league called the Polkatrain has individual teams that go by the names caboose, locomotive, club car and coal car.
"The people who bowl here are so friendly this isn't like a job," said Steve Litrenta, youngest of the three, who is learning the family business. "It's not like coming to work."
Pinland has a few video arcade games and a juke box loaded with favorites of the '40s, '50s and '60s. Frank Sinatra's version of "That Old Black Magic" regularly gets drowned out by the sound of a bowling ball crashing into the pins. The air smells of hot dogs and polish on wood floors, but no cigarette smoke.
"I thought the new smoking law was going to kill us," Steve Litrenta said. "Bowlers down here love to smoke. Some held a cigarette in one hand and the ball in the other. We set up a separate smoking room and it's worked out fine."