I think my earliest recollection of Park Circle Lanes was when my cousin Tony took us there on a snowy winter’s day. I must have been no more than seven years old and it was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a bowling alley.
And the walk to the bowling alley was real simple too. Just straight up East Fourth and then a right on Caton Avenue. Follow the horse crap from Kensington Stables and then you're there! You see the bowling alley was right across from the horse stables and also the Park Circle roller rink. Just a little wonderland of things to do when it was snowing outside.
So with cold toes and snow on our feet we opened the doors and walked into the warm air of the bowling alley. The long dark maple planks that made up the alleys along with bright lights shinning on the bowling pins were the first thing I noticed. There was a concession stand that sold hot dogs and popcorn along with soda machines lining the back wall. And of course there was cigarette smoke in the air, because back in the 60’s everyone smoked at bowling alleys. So smelling like smoke when you got home was no big deal, no, just change your shirt and it will all be fine.
Now cousin Tony was always so nice to us little kids when we were growing up on East Fourth. He must have been at least fifteen years older than us and I’m sure could have been having much more fun with his friends down by Avenue M where he lived. But for whatever reason Tony always made sure to show us all a good time, either riding sleds in Prospect Park or ice-skating at Wollman Rink. Yeah we all loved Tony, and were always excited when we heard he was coming over.
“Ok guys, we’re going to have to get each one of you a pair of bowling shoes”.
I remember being very confused because I was told to take off one shoe and give it to the lady behind the counter.
“What size is he?”
“He looks like a size five to me”
“Here, just make sure you return them with the laces UN-DONE!
The women behind the counter handed me a pair of strange looking red and white shoes. I walked over to a plastic bench and proceeded to put them on.
There were also racks and racks of bowling balls all over the place too, mostly black bowling balls with a few red ones scattered around.
“Ok Pete, Ronnie and Joseph, I am going to get each one of you a bowling ball and I want you all to be very careful with them. They are very heavy and if you drop it on your foot your parents aren’t going to be very happy with me.”
Tony walked over to the racks and lifted various balls with his right hand. After a couple of minutes he started bringing over the black balls and gently placed them on the rack right behind the ball return
“Now Ronnie this is how you throw the ball”
I remember watching Tony as he rolled the black ball smoothly down the long dark alley. Within seconds the pins exploded and the ball disappeared into darkness. Tony looked at us and smiled.
“See guys that’s how you do it”
When it was my turn I remember picking up the heavy ball with both my hands, I slowly walked up to the alley and rolled it with all my might. Within moments the ball slid sideways into the gutter. I walked back feeling somewhat dejected but Tony made sure to cheer me up by telling me I did a great job. He also did his best to encourage me too.
"Ronnie, try to roll it straight down the lane next time, I know you can do it".
So the second time I rolled the ball it did go straight down the lane, it hit about three pins and I felt like a millionaire!
That was 1965 on a snowy winter's day in Kensington Brooklyn.
It’s funny how you just remember certain things in life, and if there’s one thing I will always remember it’s the first time I rolled a bowling ball down at Park Circle Lanes. The agony of seeing it fall into the gutter, along with the joy of seeing the ball knock down a pin or two. The smell of popcorn and hotdogs along with cigarette smoke on your clothes. The walk home through the snow filled sidewalks of Kensington with Tony, Joseph and Pete. Feeling so proud of myself that I got a twenty-five, and so excited to tell my mom about the bowling alley and the fun I had there.
I still remember that day, isn’t that something?
So whatever happened to Kensington’s Park Circle Lanes?
Well sometime back in the late 80’s or early 90’s it closed down like many other bowling alleys in Brooklyn and just became another memory for a child of Brooklyn. Now replaced by a gigantic church right across the street form Kensington Stables where it once was.
Oh, but don't you worry, some things never change. One snowy Saturday a few weeks ago I took my kids over to Melody Lanes in Sunset Park. When the lady behind the counter handed us our shoes she made sure to remind us to return them with the laces UN-DONE!
And both my kids had the time of their lives, and maybe someday will think of it too.