Duckpin bowling the most neighborly of sports


MY PHONE has been going crazy this week with word that the duckpin bowling alleys at Southway Bowling Center in South Baltimore will close the middle of next month. Its space will be taken by upscale apartments.

There's so much noise being made you would think the Cross Street Market was on fire. I can see why.

The Southway, where my father learned to bowl, is a Baltimore classic, one flight up over what used to be the Henry Wessel dry goods store and is today a CVS. You enter the lanes at the corner of South Charles and Hamburg streets, the heart of the Federal Hill shopping district.

Its one of those rare surviving neighborhood bowling alleys, a little place full of character and characters.

I have a lot of respect for duck pin bowlers. Despite the game's deep and cherished roots in Baltimore, it gets little respect. People speak warmly about duckpin bowling as a Baltimore curiosity. Let's face it, bowling is not fashionable, the way soccer, lacrosse, in-line skating and memberships at gyms are.

I sometimes think that duckpin bowling, while an art to those are who truly skilled at it, is more of a social event. It's a place where people of any age can gather, roll the bowl down the maple runway and hope for the best.

As a child I could walk to a handful of duckpin bowling alleys. The Stadium lanes were atop the A&P; the Boulevard was atop Schwaab's soda fountain. There were the North Avenue Market lanes and the ones in the basement of the Aurora Theater.

There were bowling alleys where you least expected them. Some large Catholic churches even had their own private bowling lanes in the parish hall for entertainment. Some businesses, such as the Maryland Casualty Company, had lanes for employee recreation. So too the Baltimore Country Club in Roland Park. Its lower floors still reverberate with the sound of flying duckpins.

But the sound of happy people talking and laughing at a little neighborhood gathering spot is what duckpin bowling is really all about.

And while it is nice that young professionals can find luxury apartments in the center of an old neighborhood, it is also a joy when people can find a place gather and it's not a mall.

Yesterday morning I called my father, who grew up a block away from the Southway, to tell him about the closing. We had to speak quickly. Friday is his church-sponsored duckpin bowling morning.

I can see why there is indignation over the Southway closing. South Baltimore has plenty of apartments, but only one duckpin alley.

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