Once upon a time there were things to do on a Friday night in Kensington. You could walk over to Park Circle lanes, across from the Kensington Stables to bowl a few games. Skate at the Park Circle Roller Rink which was right next door to the Stables, and then have dinner at Scarollas Italian Restaurant, where Joe & Joe's Pizza is on Church Avenue. If you were really brave you could catch a midnight movie at the Beverly, where the fabulous "Deal 99 cent store" is now. But even with all we had back then in the way of entertainment, Kensington was never really first date material, that’s what Bay Ridge or Manhattan was for. We never really had a cool strip of Bars, restaurants or even the Discos that Bay Ridge or the City had to offer. Oh yes, but then again........we had something to offer that no one else had, a place that was actually known throughout New York City, the East Coast and even the globe. A place where the crowds were loud, the action was intense, the competition was first rate. And sorry Kevin, I'm not talking about Denny's here.....were talking about the Buzz-a-rama 500!
The Buzz-a-rama was (and is) located on Church Avenue just off of Dahill Road. It was one of the premier Slot Car racing establishments in New York City and the country back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The Buzz-a-rama was owned by my cousins Dolores and Buzzy Perri. There were at least four large slot car tracks in the place, each one had to be over 40 feet long and could race at least 6 or 8 cars at once.
On any given Friday or Saturday night the Buzz-a-rama was packed! The crowds there were like nothing you could ever imagine. The smell of burning electric motors from the miniature slot cars that people raced there filled the air. Sometimes Buzzy would hold these 24 hour races too. And let me tell you, most of the serious racers were grown men, and they didn't fool around with this stuff!
The track used for the serious races must have been over 50 feet long, with a 90 degree banked curve at the end. Sometimes the cars would jump off the track at high speeds and fly through the air like missiles! It's amazing no one was ever impaled by one of those things. And If you were a kid going to school at PS130, 230, 179, Ditmas and Montauk, you would always see someone with a "Buzz-a-rama 500" sticker on their lunch box.
It was also a place where most of us school kids gathered after 3, just as crowded as a Saturday night, except a much younger crowd. It was just such an amazing place and everyone knew about it or had raced their slot cars there at one time or another. We were very proud of our cousins that they opened this place with such perfect timing, when the slot car fad was at it’s peak the Buzz-a-rama rode the same wave of popularity with great success. But sadly another fad soon caught on, it was the video game, and soon adults and kids alike were driving cars on a TV screen instead of a 50 foot track. This once great proud center of miniature slot car racing soon was falling victim to the joy stick. But just like any proud icon, it stood it’s ground and kept moving along into the 80’s and 90’s. Children’s birthday parties and curiosity seekers kept the doors open, along with some old timers who still kept their cars.
I have not seen the place for a while and I know my cousins still open it up on weekends. Last year they had the stone torn down from above the building while they were in the process of having it re-faced. I remember driving by and seeing the original white facade that was there many years ago. If you looked real close you could barely make out the lettering that said "Buzz-a-rama 500" only a difference in faded paint made the letters appear to the naked eye. For a brief moment I thought maybe they were going to re-open the place full time, but the next day I saw a brand new surface of stucco and I knew that was it for the Buzz-a-rama I once knew. But still at least they open it part-time.
You see Kensington was never Park Slope or even Bay Ridge, and the real grit and flavor of Church Avenue is really not much different from when I was a kid. Sure the stores are all different, but you still walk on the same gum stuck to the sidewalk that I spit out when I was seven. No one scrapes gum off the sidewalk on Church Avenue like they do in Park Slope. And in a way I feel bad for many of the new comers and kids, including my own. When you want to take them somewhere for something to do, it usually means driving somewhere out of Kensington. Sad to say, but its true.
So lets bang the drum slowly for Kensington’s lost Bowling alleys, Movie Theaters and Roller Rinks, places where we as kids could always find some thing to do on a Friday night. Places that are shamefully long gone, now replaced by 99 cent stores and new construction. Places that made Kensington just that much more livable in a time when most others were heading to the “Ridge” for a night of Disco at 2001. (Saturday Night Fever was filmed there). But most of all, remember the Buzz-a-rama 500, a place that brought magic to this neighborhood, a place that stands with most of the tracks still there. Like huge massive dinosaurs from another time, they lay in darkness, frozen in time, waiting for their moment to come back to life for an occasional birthday party or curiosity seeker, or some serious racer who still goes there to re-live their youth.
And hey, if you ever see my cousins, Buzzy and Lolly. Say hello, and thank them for creating such a wonderful, magical place so many years ago that put Kensington on the map for New York City and the World.