Last Chol Hamoed at Maple Lanes?


maple-lanesThe New York Times reports: Brooklyn, NY – Pins clattered to a soundtrack as if it were a half-century ago when Maple Lanes first opened, only without the clouds of smoke.

“Attention Parking Lot, all captains report to the bar!” the announcement barked, calling the leaders of that night’s bowling teams. John Lambert, 56, the longtime president of the Wednesday Night Parking Lot league, rushed to collect weekly fees from his 34 teams, whose spirited members range in age from 22 to 78.

Most came as refugees four years ago to Maple Lanes, a bowling center at 16th Avenue and 60th Street, on a triangle bordering Borough Park, Bensonhurst and Mapleton.

“We used to be at Leemark in Bay Ridge,” said Chris Smith, 55, explaining the league’s name. “But they tore that down and turned it into a parking lot for Century 21.”

Depending on the real-estate market and the conflicted feelings of its owner, Maple Lanes, too, might be knocked down, though such a heartbreaking end for its regulars would probably not come anytime soon.

Adam Archone, 85, who bowls with the Veterans Affairs Hospital league and started a senior league, could not bear to think of the center’s closing. “Lord, I’m here four days a week,” he said before bowling two strikes in the 10th frame. “I’m part of the woodwork.”

An application to rezone the property was first submitted three years ago. Preliminary plans were last updated in August for the 72,000-square-foot site, which is set to hold brick apartment complexes and a synagogue. According to the Department of City Planning, the redevelopment is not imminent, but it seems inevitable in a developing neighborhood in desperate need of housing.

Beyond this familiar pattern of Brooklyn’s progress lies a truth about the state of bowling in the area: boutique alleys with bars and bands in popular locations are popping up, and the less flashy centers that feel like suburban oases are being phased out.

“We’re in the bowling business and real-estate business,” said Mr. LaSpina, 62, whose father, Peter, opened the 48-lane center on Sept. 7, 1960. John LaSpina has been running Maple Lanes since 1971 and operates four other bowling centers in Queens and on Long Island, where his family lives. “This has been a great run, and we’ll see where it goes.”

His older brother and business partner, Peter LaSpina Jr., 70, said: “If and when Maple Lanes is sold, it will be years. When that time comes, we’re going to announce it to our neighbors.”

He added that as of yet, “nothing is happening; we’re still very much in a viable business.”

That much is clear judging from the bustling adult leagues gathering five nights a week, the senior and junior leagues, and the open bowling that hosts a microcosm of Brooklyn’s ethnic neighborhoods. The vending machines are stocked with kosher snacks; the old-style luncheonette serves cheeseburgers and fries. The lockers are tattered, and the faded fluorescent carpet is scheduled to be replaced.

Mr. Lambert, the Parking Lot league president, has signed a contract for next year’s season, from September to June 2012. He bristles when recalling how bowlers went to a community meeting to fight to keep Leemark Lanes open.

“The representative from Century said, ‘They didn’t tell you? They sold their lease for $1 million,’ ” Mr. Lambert recalled. “It was like we had egg on our face.”

Growing up in Bay Ridge, he said, there were several alleys in a 20-block area, including Ovington Lanes and Bay Ridge Lanes, both now gone. More than 15 alleys have been shut down in Brooklyn, “even the little ones down in cellars,” said John Maggiore, 57, a Parking Lot league member who lives in Bay Ridge.

Maple Lanes is the largest bowling alley left in Brooklyn. Melody Lanes in Sunset Park has 26 lanes; Shell Lanes in Gravesend has 32; Gil Hodges in Mill Basin, which Mr. LaSpina once owned, has had 34 since 2003, when one side was torn down for a gym.

“It’s a shame because this is it for us,” said Annamae Samways, 49, of Bay Ridge, about Maple Lanes. “All the other ones are too far away.”

Christine Larsen, 28, who grew up bowling at Leemark and coaches the sport at Fort Hamilton High School, said that should Maple Lanes ever close, it would squeeze the neighborhood’s schools. Six teams share the alley, and the Public School Athletic League city championships are held there.

Last year, the P.S.A.L. honored John LaSpina for his contributions, including his donation of 2,500 pairs of shoes. For 26 years, Maple Lanes has run a scholarship tournament, raising more than $60,000.

Mr. LaSpina, a former president of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, said he understood how Maple Lanes united the community, which was why he sounded pained over his decision.

“This is an old code of mine – if the United Nations put a couple of lanes in, people would get along,” Mr. LaSpina said. “Forget black and white, that’s easy, it’s Hasidic, Asian, Muslim, kids from high school gym class. For whatever reason, it works.”

Generations have grown up in Maple Lanes. Damien Sloan, 22, bowls in the Parking Lot league with his brother Perry and works repairing the center’s machines; their father and uncle both have worked at Maple Lanes for 25 years.

Sylvia Arena, 78, learned how to bowl at Maple Lanes 35 years ago. She will never forget her 300 game on Lanes 5 and 6 in 1997. “Twelve perfect strikes,” she said, beaming.

Ms. Arena, a wisp of a woman with wiry arms that can still throw a 16-pound ball, is charmingly fierce, the captain of her team. She refuses to consider that Maple Lanes might close.

“I’m going to bowl till I drop,” she said.

{The New York Times/ Newscenter}


  1. Oh well. All good things must come to an end. Who will be the new owner of the property? How do I get on the waiting list for an apartment?