Midnight Wednesday will mark the end of an era in Lexington bowling when Eastland Lanes shuts its doors for the last time.
Danny Collins, the president of Collins Bowling Centers Inc., announced Eastland’s pending departure from the local bowling scene in March, saying the center had been operating at a loss for the past several years.
Collins said the decision to close was hard but necessary. “We struggled with it, but in the end it was the best decision for our business.”
With the closing of Eastland, Lexington’s last alley is Collins’ Southland lanes. Collins said almost all of Eastland’s leagues will move to Southland.
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Collins said his team is doing all it can to make the transition to one center as painless as possible for bowlers.
“Some leagues will have to make some minor adjustments but we will work everything out,” he said.
Eastland, like so many bowling centers around the nation, fell victim to the times. League numbers are only a fraction of what they were in the 1960s and ’70s. Most today don’t want to commit to a 32-week schedule and those who do bowl prefer open play unattached to leagues.
Eastland was the first modern bowling center in Central Kentucky. It ushered in the sport’s greatest days in Lexington.
A wealth of history
Eastland opened in August 1959 during a post-war bowling boom that swept the nation.
The Collins family had been in the movie theater business in Ohio and was looking to open a bowling center. The decision to build in Lexington was based on a study undertaken by Brunswick of southwestern Ohio, southern Indiana and Kentucky. The conclusion was that Lexington would be a good market with IBM coming to Lexington in the late 1950s, that the population would grow and that many of the people IBM was bringing in would be bowlers, since they came from strong bowling areas.
The family purchased land and became one of the first businesses on New Circle Road, which was then called the State Belt Line Highway. The new center was the state of the art with 32 lanes and a snack bar, a lounge and child care. Perhaps its greatest attribute was plenty of free parking. All of Lexington’s other bowling centers at that time were downtown or near the University of Kentucky and offered little parking.
Eastland began league play after Labor Day in 1959 and the grand opening was in October with bowling legend and Brunswick ambassador Andy Varipapa attending. Varipapa, known worldwide for his bowling trick shots, put on his show and rolled a couple of games against some of Lexington’s top bowlers and defeated them all.
In its heyday, Eastland had all 32 lanes full with five players on a team on both the 6 and 9 p.m. shifts Monday through Friday with a waiting list to join a league. Also during the 1960s, there were daytime ladies leagues. The ladies paid $3, bowled three games and had free child care while they played.
Eastland eventually surpassed the old Congress Lanes — on Main Street above Barney Miller’s — as the place to bowl in Lexington.
All the old local records set at Congress were broken at Eastland, which also ushered in never-before-seen feats.
The earliest bowling in Lexington was in the 1890s, but no one rolled a perfect game in Lexington until Eastland came along.
That changed on Sept. 7, 1967.
Pauline Huffman rolled a 300 that night in the Ladies’ Major League at Eastland, bowling for the Jerry’s Drive-In team.
(The Ladies’ Major League, the oldest women’s league in Lexington, moved to Eastland from Congress and is the only league to have bowled every season in Eastland’s history. The league will continue next season at Southland.)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Huffman’s perfect game — a rare feat in its day — at a time when local bowlers produce almost 50 every season.
Eastland was also the site of Lexington’s first 800 series. Taylor Reffett rolled an 803 in the Eastland Bluegrass Commercial League on games of 236-299-268 on April 13, 1981.
The highest series ever recorded in Lexington also was rolled at Eastland with Kenny Stephens posting an 879 on Feb. 21, 2005. Stephens rolled games of 300-279-300, rolling 35 out of a possible 36 strikes.
Also at Eastland, Chip Aki bowled Lexington’s highest season average (242) during the 1999-2000 season.
The center also hosted the annual Bradley Open tournament named for the late James D. Bradley for 35 of its 39 years.
Bradley was one of the founders of the Lexington Bowling Association and secretary of the association from 1946 to 1980. He authored the Keglers Korner column in this newspaper from 1946 to 1984 and was one of the top bowlers in Lexington history.
The Bradley Open will live on in Louisville, with its 40th edition in January 2018. The event is one of the top tournaments in the region, drawing pros and amateurs, and has been won by PBA and USBC Hall of Famers.
Eastland is also the only venue the pros have played in Lexington.
USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Amleto Monacelli won the 1994 Greater Lexington Classic PBA stop. The female pros played the Lady Ebonite Kentucky Classic here in 1999 and 2001 — events won by Kim Adler and Leanne Barrette.
Eastland also hosted the annual men’s and women’s city tournaments numerous times, was the site of seven men’s state tournaments and five women’s state tournaments and hosted collegiate and high school events.
Eastland’s sister center Southland opened in 1961 and is doing well.
Eastland now joins numerous lanes in Lexington’s bowling history, a list that includes Ammerman’s Alleys, Blue Grass Lanes, Colonial Lanes, Congress Lanes, Holiday Lanes, Joyland Bowl, Newtown Lanes and Wildcat Lanes.
Now only Southland remains.
Here’s hoping they can keep the bowling balls rolling.