Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bowling dux at Ambridge Alleys

Stettler Motor Company building,
entrance to second floor Ambridge Alleys at far end,
Bridger yearbook, 1968

There were other towns that had a bowling alley. There were other towns that had a Cadillac dealership. There may have been other towns that had both a bowling alley and a Cadillac dealership. But I'd be surprised to learn that any town other than Ambridge had a bowling alley above a Cadillac dealership.

The Cadillac dealership was Stettler Motors at 916 Merchant Street; the alleys were Ambridge Alleys at 914 Merchant Street, owned in the '50s and '60s by Duke Larnish and George Maletic. 

When I was young, my grandparents would sometimes take me bowling at Ambridge Alleys. I only remember duckpins*--"dux" in the sports pages--although at some point, tenpin lanes were added; however, we always bowled duckpins.

To bowl, you entered a door on the south end of the Stettler Motors building (in the above photo, the door isn't visible, but it's at the far end of the building under the small, dark sign), and then climbed stairs to the building's second floor.

From the moment you entered the door, you could hear the loud crack of wooden pins being hit by bowling balls, then clattering as the pins hit the wooden floor.

And, from the moment you entered the door, you could smell the smoke of many cigarettes. When you got upstairs, you could smell ashes from the many ash trays too. In the '50s and '60's, so many people smoked just about everywhere except, possibly, in church during services. 

At the top of the stairs was a counter where you paid for your games and the alley rented bowling shoes and sold snacks and smokes. My grandparents would buy me a bottle of pop. My favorites to buy there were Squirt and "chocolate pop," otherwise known as Yoo-hoo chocolate drink, but never called that by anyone I knew.

In those days, lanes didn't have automatic scoring. I was good at math, learned how to keep score, and enjoyed doing it. [Update: April 13, 2014: But keeping score at Ambridge Alleys was easier than at most duckpin lanes because at Ambridge, duckpin bowlers only bowled two balls per frame, just like tenpins.**]

Bowling duckpins at Ambridge Alleys,
Bridger yearbook, 1953

Ambridge Alleys didn't have automatic pin-setting machines either. Instead, they had pinboys, boys as young as pre-teens, working for five or 10 cents a game (or per hour, depending on who is relating the story of their pinboy stint) who set up the pins and sent bowled balls back to bowlers.

While waiting for a bowler to roll the ball, the pinboy scrunched up on a ledge above and to the side of the pit area behind the pins. After the ball hit the duckpins, the pinboy would jump into the pit and step on a pedal which would lift a pin into the bottoms of any still-standing duckpins to hold them in place. He'd put the ball onto the ball return track so it would roll back to the bowler and cleared off any duckpins that had been knocked-down. Then the pinboy would release the pedal and jump back onto his seat.

Once the frame was over, the pinboy would then setup all ten pins for the next bowler.

Being a pinboy could be hazardous what with flying pins--which is why the scrunching was necessary--and balls that came rolling down the alley before the pinboy had returned to his perch, sometimes accidentally because the bowler was inept or inattentive, and sometimes not accidentally by a bowler who thought hitting the pinboy with a ball and pins would be amusing.

I don't know when the Ambridge Alleys closed. I believe it was still open in the late '60s when I went away to college. If you know, please leave a comment.

The Stettler Motors building is still standing. The lower floors have been subdivided and occupied by businesses. Here's what the building looked like last year. The door to enter the stairway to the bowling alley would have been at the right side of the photo.

Former Stettler Motors building,
914-916 Merchant Street, Ambridge
June 23, 2013

* In case you're not familiar with duckpin bowling, it's similar to tenpin bowling, but with lighter balls that are smaller and have no finger-holes, and squat pins that are shorter and lighter than in tenpins. You'd think that duckpin's shorter, lighter pins would be easier to knock down than the bigger, heavier tenpins, but in fact, it's harder. To compensate for the greater difficulty, the scoring in duckpins allows three balls per frame, but even with the additional ball, the final scores in games are typically lower than in tenpins.

Duckpins were/are bowled in only a few areas of the country, Pennsylvania being one of them. By coincidence, the Baltimore area where I've lived for over 40 years also has duckpin alleys, although fewer of them now than there were when I first moved to the area in 1971.

** My mother, an avid bowler who still bowls at age 87, confirmed that duckpin bowlers only bowled two balls per frame at the Ambridge Alleys. She said that the two ball per frame was also the rule for duckpins at Beaver Valley Bowl in Rochester. 


  1. It was explained to me that my grandfather George Mytinger built that bowling alley (or bought it) just before the crash of 29, Not a lot of folks could afford to go bowling during the depression. He lost his butt on that venture.

  2. my 1st memory of the lanes were late 1930s, worked there, had to get a social security card to work at age 12?? or so, got paid 2c a line, good pinball machines, lots of bowlers always busy, at nite duck pins were in, but u could buy lines for 10 pins if you wanted to. not many did that, last memory was about 1958, from chicago to ambridge week-end trip, 4 guys picked up 4 gals & went bowling. about same year we got the boot for dirty dancing in club on 3rd st, big building, name?? jd

    1. JD aka john domansky the above & below comment author
      do not recall 3 balls used ever for duck pins recall seeing La salles on showroom floor below alleys. also recall olds & caddies sold at 1300 th & merchant, late 40s & 50s tait garage was there too. ooops, almost forgot about i was 8yrs old car coming out of the alley there to merchant st, hit me, i woke up in a docs office on merchant somewhere, sister had to come & get me, was OK tho. same side as drugstore, where i sat near front door & read all the comic books in a rack, (wish i had them now, would be rich) sold papers in front of drugstore saturday night, remember a kid got pushed thru the front window & broke it, not hurt tho.drug store had the best soda fountain in ambridge, & candy selection.

    2. jd aka john domansky
      the pin setter was a pedal & it sat right in the center of the lane 1/2 way below the surface, easy for kids w/short arms to set em up, ten pins worked the same way bottoms of each pin had a metal lined hole for the pin to slip in, sometimes bowlers tried to hit the pin boys that gave them a hard time, duck pins flew hard & fast, we just sat back higher on the back wall. & say is that all you got to get back at the bowlers.

  3. forgot i drove a 1957 chevy black interior great pipes & skirts & green rims painted. jd

  4. This is a nice post explaining a lot about Bowling Alley. I really appreciate your efforts to do so. If you have more information about this topic plz reply me here in the comment. Thanks in advance.

  5. My grandfather George Maletic owned this bowling alley for a few years. I have fond memories of going there as a
    young kid and having the chocolate pop. For some reason, do not remember the exact date but the owner of the
    building raised the rent and padlocked the doors to the alleys. My grandfather went to work for the PA liquor
    control board as a clerk in the Ambridge store.