Designed by Hudgins, Thompson, & Ball
NW 39th and Portland, OKC
The year was 1959.
Fidel Castro brought the threat of Communism to our doorstep with his takeover of Cuba; Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash on the snowy prairies of Iowa; Alaska and Hawaii were admitted into the Union, and, here in Oklahoma, prohibition of alcohol was finally lifted after 51 years. Perhaps to celebrate such a momentous event, or more likely to capitalize on the spread of suburbia to what was then the western reaches of the city, a company called Educators Investment Corp., decided that a four-acre plot of land along the much-travelled Route 66 would be a prime location to build the city’s newest bowling alley.
Designed by local firm, Hudgins, Thompson, & Ball, 66 Bowl was designed to be the grandest 10-pin alley in the city, but things got off to a rocky start when the owners decided to use non-union labor to construct the $500,000 building. Pickets ensued, and when one unfortunate non-union worker by the name of James Perry was hit in the mouth by a picketer, several of his workmates walked off the job for fear they would be next. Even with the tense situation, construction continued until one blustery winter night when a mysterious fire broke out among the building materials and debris piled along the back of the building, causing quite a bit a damage and a slight delay in opening.
As spring 1959 dawned, however, 66 Bowl, complete with a stunning bowling-themed neon sign, was finished and ready to open its new, clear glass doors for business. Along with a 100-seat restaurant, a snack bar, dressing rooms, and a lounge, the tied-for-largest bowling alley in the city (with Puddin’ Lanes) sported 24 lanes, each with state-of-the-art automatic pin-setting machines and “Magic Circle” turntable ball returns.
With so many swanky entertainment offerings under one roof, the new alley on Route 66 was an instant hit and quickly became a favorite hot spot for teenyboppers attending the newly-built NW Classen, John Marshall, and Putnam City High Schools. Thanks to these once-teens, now grandparents, the building witnessed countless first dates, and, call me a romantic, even more lingering, Saturday night kisses than knockout strikes, I imagine.
Year after year, decade after decade, people came and traditions were created. Parents took their young children to 66 Bowl for their first experience lugging the too-heavy ball to the foul line, dropping it with a Richter Scale-measuring quake, and watching the ball ever-so-slowly creep, creep, creep its way down the perfectly-polished wood lane to the 10 red-ringed pins longing to be toppled over for the millionth time. The young children grew up and, as parents themselves, took their children back to 66 Bowl for this uniquely American rite of passage.
Sadly, tens of thousands of disappointed gutter balls, picked-up spares, pieces of chewed pink bubble gum under plastic seats, and consumed Coca-Colas in paper cups later, 66 Bowl closed its doors forever in 2010. The long-time owners, Peggy and Jim Haynes, retired, and, although the business was still going strong, there were no takers to keep the bowling alley alive after their departure. So, after 51 years of crashing pins, high fives, and excited laughter, the guts of the old alley were auctioned off piece by piece and 66 Bowl ended its days and was transformed into an Indian spice shop.
As for 66 Bowl’s iconic, oft-photographed neon sign, its fate is up in the air. It was bought at auction for $3,000, and the new owner said he might be donate it to the Bowling Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas, or it could find its way to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton.
Check out this 2015 Oklahoman article about the creative way one man reused some of the wood from the lanes at 66 Bowl.