Route 66 in the News

Landmark Celebrates 50 Years

2009-09-08 21:48:51

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The cracking sound of balls striking pins, the weekly birthday parties, the league tournaments, live music and just plain bowling fun draw people from across states and across oceans to 66 Bowl.

Sightseers stream to the bowling alley on State Highway 66 with the neon sign depicting a ball encircling a bowling pin and hitting three smaller pins. The sign reads: "Snack Bar. Lounge. Arcade. Pro Shop." The script is a clue to when it was built.

This year, 66 Bowl, is 50 years old.

Owner Jim Haynes, 77, a former bowling supply salesman, bought the bowling alley in 1978.

"I see people all the time out there who take pictures of the sign and they do come in and talk," Haynes said as a group of older adults bowled on a recent weekday morning.

In July, three people in their 30s showed up from Finland. "They mentioned that this was on the list of things to do if you came to the United States. I was very flattered."

But there was bloodshed before the first balls rolled down the lanes.

In July 1958, construction began on a $500,000, 24-lane bowling alley, according to a June 20, 1958, article in The Oklahoman.

Ferrill Martin, executive vice president of Educators Investment Corp., the original owners, said he hoped the building would open by the end of the year. But delays slowed the work.

According to newspaper accounts, the owners used nonunion labor. A picket line of men formed by the Oklahoma City Building and Construction Trades council showed up at the site on Sept. 3.

A worker who crossed the picket line, James Perry, was struck in the mouth. "Perry's teeth were loosened and stitches were required inside of his mouth," Ferrill told The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City police showed up to keep the peace, and the violence waned. Work resumed.

On Dec. 5, 1958, someone tried to burn down the building. Investigators said someone with a fire accelerant caused "a considerable amount of damage to materials stored at the rear of the building," according to newspaper reports.

On March 28, 1959, the "tenpin emporium" opened its doors.

The new 66 Bowl was "revolutionary," with automatic pin-setting machines.

Gone were the summer jobs for boys who set up pins by hand and returned balls to bowlers by rolling them down a track.

Wiley Bell was manager from 1964 until 1978. Bell said there was all-night bowling in the early years. An Interurban trolley stopped a half block away to drop off bowlers who didn't drive.

There were professional tournaments and plenty of beginners, said Bell, 91, of Oklahoma City. The city's sprawl had reached west of Portland Avenue. People needed a bowling alley closer to home, Bell said.

"There was a lot of business almost 24 hours a day at that time," Bell said. "Everybody wanted to learn how to bowl."

The bowling alley still attracts a steady number of amateur and professional bowlers, said Ron MacDonald, director of the Oklahoma City Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum.

The bowling alley has catered to Professional Bowling Association tournaments and has had strong leagues, MacDonald said.

"They have had a good league structure starting off in '59 and continuing today," MacDonald said. "Peggy and Jim Haynes are very friendly and they are able to retain their leagues."

There have been a few scary times in the 66 Bowl history. On Sept. 27, 1963, two robbers with sawed-off shotguns forced three night employees into a car trunk and got away with $1,250, The Oklahoman reported.

Haynes recalled another robbery in 1984 when he was forced to lie on the floor and was robbed at gunpoint of $4,000.

A fire that started in the snack bar in December 2005 caused about $450,000 damage.

Haynes made repairs and upgrades every few years. Gone is the original turntable ball return, replaced in the 1990s when it "wore out," Haynes said.

Peggy Haynes is working to have the site recognized as a historic Oklahoma City landmark.

Bell in recent years has spent a lot of days sitting at 66 Bowl and talking to old friends.

"I'd like to see it 50 years from now to see if it's still standing."

~Robert Medley, for The Oklahoman


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