My list of significant Oahu sites and what was there before continues to grow. Today I look at some of those places that at one time were bowling alleys.
A bowling lane or two existed in bars and other establishments in the past. Herman Melville even worked as a pinsetter here in 1843, eight years before writing “Moby-Dick.”
Businesses dedicated to bowling began in 1937 when Adelaide (“Mom”) and Arthur (“Pop”) Stagbar opened Pla-Mor Recreation on the corner of Hotel and Richards streets.
Pla-Mor was on the second floor, above the Black Cat Cafe. It was torn down and became the two-story Alakea-Richards parking lot around 1970. The 25-story Alii Place office building was erected on the site in 1992.
It had 10 lanes and a game cost 15 cents. Pop Stagbar saw bowling as a good, clean, healthy sport for families.
In the following 22 years, 19 public bowling centers opened on Oahu. They usually offered plenty of free parking, air conditioning, a snack bar and lockers. Over 500 leagues operated. TV stations had bowling programs, and newspapers had columns on the topic.
The corner of Ward Avenue and Kapiolani Boulevard where the Symphony Honolulu condo now stands has an interesting history.
In 1897 the area was a bicycle-racing track called Cyclomere Park.
A clubhouse and grandstand allowed crowds to view the bicycle races in comfort. Admission was 25-50 cents. President Sanford Dole was among the 2,000 attendees at the grand opening on Oct. 23, 1897.
Afternoon races began at 2 p.m. and ran until 4:15 p.m. A band furnished music between competitions. Lighting allowed for spectacular evening races beginning at 8 p.m.
Races varied by distance, with amateurs separated from professional cyclists. Boys did not compete against men, and women did not compete at all. In the middle of the oval track was a 5-acre lake. Following one of his races, 15-year-old “trick rider” Trilby Fowler from San Francisco rode his bicycle into the lake, to the amusement of all.
Fowler had come dressed in yellow and black stripes and asked the crowd if he looked like a wasp. Then, mounted backward on his bicycle, he bounced downstairs on one wheel.
His other tricks included riding on one wheel, and spinning around like a top.
“Prince Cupid” (Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole) participated in the 1-mile race but did not place. Local cyclists did beat some of the visiting mainland “crackerjacks” to the delight of the crowd.
The Cyclomere was not a moneymaker and closed the following year. Homes were built on the site.
In 1949 Kapiolani Bowl, with 20 lanes, opened on the mauka-Ewa corner of Ward and Kapiolani. It had lunch and fountain service, spectator seating for 250 and 400 lockers.
On weekends in the 1950s, it wasn’t unusual for over 2,000 games to be bowled there a day.
Pacific Insurance occupied the second floor of the building. Kapiolani Bowl was popular for over three decades but closed around 1979. The Symphony Honolulu condo opened on the site recently, and Audi of Honolulu has a showroom on the ground floor.
Another noteworthy site in Honolulu is the mauka- Diamond Head corner of King and Alapai streets. The Joint Traffic Management Center is being built there today.
The site was first occupied in 1871 by Juliette and Joseph B. Atherton. They named their home Fernhurst because the grounds were covered with ferns and stately palms.
In 1921 they donated it to the YWCA to be used as a home for single, young, working women. Boys were welcome to visit in the living room until 11:30 p.m., a 1946 Honolulu Advertiser story said, and many weddings were held in the garden.
It was there for 30 years until moving to Manoa, into the former Pleasanton Hotel at Punahou Street and Wilder Avenue.
The Honolulu Rapid Transit Co. took over the grounds in 1951 and used it as a trolley bus storage area.
Bowling City opened 24 lanes on the site in December 1955. For its first two years, it employed pin boys before installing automatic pinsetters in 1957. The boys were paid 5 cents a game and had to dodge flying pins. Most of the time they succeeded.
Bowling City was there 22 years until reverting to the city to use as a bus barn. The Joint Traffic Management Center is nearing completion on the corner today. It will coordinate activities of the police, fire, emergency services, HART and city and state transportation departments.
Other bowling alleys
>> Waialae Bowl was a popular hangout for 50 years, 1958-2008. Over that time the rent jumped from $8,000 a year to over $370,000. McDonald’s occupies the site today.
>> Kelly’s Bowl was next to the old Kelly’s restaurant on Nimitz Highway and Puuloa Road. It opened with 16 lanes in 1955 and changed its name to Pacific Jet Lanes in 1963. Harley- Davidson has its showroom there today.
>> Mom and Pop Stagbar opened the Stadium Bowl-O-Drome in Moiliili in 1955. Pop said he chose the name to communicate the size of their 24-lane facility. Before 1955 the area was a staging area for Honolulu Stadium events.
When it closed in 1999, bowler Al Aquino said he preferred bowling to golf because you have to chase the golf ball, but with bowling it comes back to you.
>> Classic Bowl opened on Dillingham Boulevard near Waiakamilo Road in 1959. It became Watson Yoshimoto’s World Wildlife Museum in 1992 and is a used car lot today.
>> Kam Bowl on North School Street across from Kamehameha Shopping Center is now a Walgreens, but the Kam Bowl restaurant has moved into Kenny’s old spot in the shopping center.
>> The Kaimuki Bowl at 1136 12th Ave. opened in January 1952 and did well for 36 years. In 1988 it closed, and the Honolulu Board of Realtors moved in.
>> Tropicana Lanes opened at 45-655 Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe in December 1964. Six years later it closed, and became Windward Toyota in 1970.
>> Across the street, in the Windward City Shopping Center, the Yamane family opened Windward Bowl in 1964. Gov. John Burns and Mayor Neal Blaisdell attended its grand opening. It lasted 26 years until 1990.
>> The Country Lane Bowling center in Waipahu was there from 1967 until about 1989 when it became a Samsung store. It’s now a strip mall called Lee Town Center.
>> Starlite Lanes opened in 1960 at 91-923 Fort Weaver Road in Ewa Beach. I believe a Public Storage facility is there today.
That leaves four public bowling alleys still operating: Aiea Bowl (opened in 1966), Leeward Bowl in Pearl City (1954) and Pali Lanes, which opened in Kailua in 1961.
Barbers Point Bowling Center opened as a military center around 1949 but is now open to the public.
One week after Pali Lanes opened for business in 1961, KPOI disc jockey Tom Moffatt bowled for 60 hours and 19 minutes, which set a World Bowl-A-Thon record. He wondered whether his thumb would ever be able to walk again.
There were several other public bowling alleys in Kalihi, Waikiki, Keeaumoku, Wahiawa, Waianae, Mapunapuna, Kakaako and Moiliili.
In 1966 bowling may have reached its peak. There were 21 civilian bowling centers with 420 lanes and 17 military alleys with 129 lanes on Oahu.
Why did bowling fade away? Rising rents were one culprit, and bowling alleys took up a lot of space. One could make a case that too many alleys were built. The advent of TV in the 1950s also may have played a role.
Unfortunately, bowling is not what it used to be and is receding into our rearview mirror.
Have a question or suggestion? Contact Bob Sigall, author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, at Sigall@Yahoo.com.