Beginning with two tiny eight-lane centers in the 1940s and culminating with the five ultra-modern centers that exist today, the history of tenpin bowling in the Sarasota and Manatee County area mirrors the game's nationwide ups-and-downs over more than seven decades.
Fifteen centers have been part of the area scene, and five of them were built in 1958 and 1959, when bowling was catching on big-time throughout America, and when the sport was at its peak in the late 1970s, there were 10 active establishments.
Also reflecting a nationwide decline that began in the 1980s, a pertinent fact is that no new center has arrived on the scene over the past 25 years.
Tenpin bowling's area beginnings date back to June 1939, when Bob Shanley and C.F. Brooksbank opened the eight-lane Sarasota Bowladrome at Fifth and Pineapple in downtown Sarasota. [To view a picture of the Bowladrome, click here].
Until 1947, when the Bowladrome was purchased by Nick Apone and Ed Questionati, business was restricted to open bowling, but the new proprietors began to organize leagues for the first time, and league players became members of a local Sarasota Bowling Association and the American Bowling Congress.
Meanwhile, an eight-lane Bradenton Bowling Center was opened on 13th Street in 1940, and the center, under the ownership of Ed Lapointe, relocated to Manatee Avenue (between 7th and 8th Streets) in 1951.
However, when both the Sarasota and Bradenton centers went out of business in 1957, the area was devoid of bowling facilities. But things heated up the following year with the launching of Sarasota Lanes and Rip Van Winkle Lanes, and by the end of 1959, three more houses -- Cortez Lanes, Early Wynn Lanes and Myakka Lanes -- were operational.
In the order built, beginning with Sarasota Lanes, here's a brief look at each of the subsequent centers, keeping in mind that some of the sites underwent one or more name changes.
- SARASOTA LANES (2250 Fruitville Road, Sarasota ... 1958-present) -- Bernie Levkoff, formerly in the clothing business in New York, moved to Florida in 1957 with the intention of opening bowling houses. He chose this area "because Sarasota was a pretty good-sized town without a bowling house." In a 1990 interview, 12 years after selling the center to Dick Hubbard, Levkoff claimed his success stemmed from "providing a full-service center and providing the freshness of a new game for a lot of people." The business opened with 24 lanes on Aug. 1, 1958, before expanding to the current 36 lanes the following year. The establishment also housed the Forum lounge, which offered late-evening snacks and dinner until 2 a.m., plus dancing and live entertainment. [To view a recent Examiner.com article reviewing the 55-year history of the center, click here].
- RIP VAN WINKLE LANES (8154 North Trail, opposite the Sarasota-Bradenton airport ... 1958-2004 ... now there: Bayside Pet Resort & Spa) -- The house opened six days after Sarasota Lanes, on Aug. 7, 1958. Early proprietors and managers included Harry Rogers, Andy Rapone, Frank Bodick and Harry Repaid, and Dick Hubbard Jr. owned the center for 17 years, until final closing on May 4, 2004. It was always one of the area's highest-scoring centers, and in 1989, Dennis Stearns made headlines with an incredible state-record 877 series, capped by back-to-back 300s. [For a newspaper report about the closing ceremonies, click here. And for an overall look at the center's history, click here].
- CORTEZ LANES (Cortez Plaza Shopping Center, Bradenton ... 1959-1988): Under proprietor Elwyn Deicke, the center -- designed by Ed Wyke and built by Carl Simmons Jr. -- was opened on July 26, 1959, featuring 24 Brunswick lanes. The house had a popular cocktail lounge and a nursery, and for years, it hosted the popular Cortez Doubles tournament. The center closed its doors at Cortez Plaza on April 13, 1988, and relocated to 5215 30th Street East two months later. [To see an article about the closing, click here].
- EARLY WYNN'S / CYRO'S / VENICE BOWL / SUPER BOWL / BUCCANEER BOWL (2224 South Trail, Venice ... 1959-1998 ... now there: Ideal Classic Cars) -- The facility opened in October 1959 as Early Wynn Steak House and Bowling Lanes, and it became Cyro's Venetian Bowl in 1963. Cyro's offered the Venetian Moon Restaurant and Cyro's Backstage Showroom. It became Venice Bowl prior to the 1975-76 season, advertising "a new look and improved conditions." The house was purchased in 1980 by Walt Stock, who hired Lefty Schmidt as manager and increased the number of lane beds from 22 to 24 in 1982. The location became Super Bowl in 1985 and Buccaneer Bowl in 1995, but it closed up for good in 1998. [To view a postcard and photos of Early Wynn Lanes, click here].
- MYAKKA LANES (300 South Trail, Venice ... 1959-1985 ... now there: Venice Herald-Tribune) -- The 20,000-square-foot building that would host the center was originally a hotel built in 1928. It was converted to a bowling facility under the ownership of Stan Allen in 1959, and John Thornton became proprietor in 1978. The business originally also housed The Circus Lounge, featuring live bands and dancing, and a package liquor store. The 12-lane center closed in late July of 1985 and was razed soon afterward. [To view an item about the final closing, click here].
- SOUTH GATE LANES (South Gate Shopping Plaza, Sarasota ... 1962-1987 ... now there: Burdine's) -- Four years after opening Sarasota Lanes, Bernie Levkoff chose this as a second location "because it was at the center of town." The center immediately offered such innovations as Moonlight Bowl, along with 3-6-9 and marathon tournaments. Levkoff sold the business to Dick Hubbard in June 1978, and the house survived the 25-year length of the original lease, closing after the 1986-87 season. [To read about the pending sale by Levkoff to Hubbard, click here].
- DeSOTO LANES / TOWN LANES (3115 SE Highway 70, Arcadia ... now there: vacant warehouse up for sale) -- Though not in Sarasota or Manatee County, the Desoto County center, which opened with six leagues for the 1974-75 season, is mentioned here, because for its first half-dozen seasons, it was under the jurisdiction of the Sarasota-Manatee County Bowling Association. It was renamed Town Lanes in 1978 before joining the Southwest Florida association, and it went out of business several years later.
- GALAXY SARASOTA / AMF GULF GATE (7221 South Trail, Sarasota ... 1976-present) -- Owned by Jamie Carrion and managed by his nephew, Rafi Carrion, the center opened with 32 lanes in time for the 1976-77 season, and eight additional lanes were added the following season. Right away, the Carrions brought Professional Bowlers Association national tour stops to the center, and the establishment advertised "dancing and live entertainment nightly" in its Astro Lounge. The center became Ebonite Galaxy Lanes in the early '90s and became part of the AMF group in 1997.
- ENGLEWOOD BOWL (299 South Indiana, Englewood ... 1977-present) -- Until the mid-1970s, the building was a furniture store, but it was opened as a bowling center with 12 Brunswick lanes under proprietor Frank Yust Jr. in March 1977. Bob Karbach became the proprietor in the late 1980s, and Jesse Jones succeeded him in 2006. Although originally and currently under the jurisdiction of the Sarasota-Manatee County Bowling Association, the center switched to the Southwest Florida Bowling Association for a dozen seasons, starting in 1994-95.
- GALAXY BRADENTON / AMF BRADENTON (4208 Cortez Road West, Bradenton ... 1977-present) -- It opened with 40 lanes, ultra-modern facilities and scorekeeping units, on Oct. 30, 1977, and it expanded to 64 lanes during the summer of 1984, after additional land was purchased to allow for the expansion plus 373 parking spaces. Along with other area Galaxy houses, it became an AMF center in 1997. [To read the announcement of the 1984 expansion to 64 lanes, click here].
- GALAXY VENICE / AMF VENICE (1100 Venice Bypass South, Venice ... 1982-present) -- Featuring all-new equipment, the house opened prior to the 1982-83 season. It was built and designed, in part, to host pro tournaments, and in addition to a number of Professional Bowlers Association Tour stops, the center played host to the prestigious U.S. Open in 1985 and 1986. It became part of the AMF empire in 1997. [To read a March 1982 item about the future opening of the center, click here].
- CORTEZ LANES / GALAXY EAST (5215 30th Street East, Bradenton ... 1988-1998 ... now there: Coast Bank, near Wal-Mart) -- After relocating from Cortez Plaza, the new $4.5 million, 40-lane facility opened on an 11-acre tract. The name became Galaxy East when sold to Ebonite Recreation Centers in 1991, and the doors were closed for good on Jan. 30, 1998. [To read an item that mentions the final closing of the center, click here].
- FANTASIA LANES /GALAXY PALMETTO (700 Haben Boulevard, Palmetto ... 1988-1997 ... now there: Manatee School For The Arts) -- The ultra-modern establishment was opened by Jack Moorhead in November 1988, featuring 40 lanes and a 40-foot concourse. After four seasons, the center was dark, prior to re-opening for the 1994-95 season as Galaxy Palmetto. But the house, located near the Manatee Civic Center, closed its doors for good in 1997. [To read about the 1992 re-opening as an Ebonite center, click here].
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