Hello everyone. Today I will be writing about my fond memories at Ford City Bowling Center that was once located at The Ford City Shopping Center at West 76th St & South Cicero Ave in Chicago. When I moved to the Ashburn neighborhood in September 1974, the kids were telling me that it was a great place to bowl and it entertained everyone who has lived in that local vicinity of Chicago.
Other bowling alleys were well known in the area. There was Scottsdale Bowl, Laredo Lanes, which is now called Bluebird Lanes and Lawn Lanes. In the suburbs, Arena Lanes in Oak Lawn and Palos Lanes Bowling Center in Palos Hills, IL, are still open. There was Bleeker’s Bowling Lanes in Evergreen Park, but it has been closed for the past few years. When I lived in South Shore and Roseland, the local bowling alleys were Stars & Strikes and The Rose Bowl. I undoubtedly remembered walking by those places and smelled the cigarette smoke and hearing the pins falling down when the bowling balls hit them. Some bowling alleys in Chicago are closed today and new ones have opened up in recent years.
According to The Chicago Tribune, The Ford City Bowling Center opened on November 16, 1966, one year after the mall had its grand opening. It had forty bowling alleys and a pool room. I don’t remember how many pool tables were there, probably four or five. The video games were added later. I remembered playing Pac-Man a lot there. I don’t recall any pinball machines there. I’m sure they were there. I usually played video games at The Wizard of Game Video Arcade located at Ford City Mall, downstairs at Peacock Alley.
I remembered having the place having many pay telephones and the walls were white. The person who was at the counter would ask you how many games you want to play, your size for your bowling shoes to wear, and tell what alleys are available. I saw the porters there, and their responsibilities were carefully keeping the alleys cleans, putting the bowling balls in their rightful places, and picking up garbage on the desks and seats. The one thing that stood out in my mind was smoking there. The ashtrays were constantly overflowing with cigarette butts and gum wrappers. The distinct smell of the cigarette smoke lingered in that place for countless hours.
I have bowled a few times during when I was at Bogan High School. The other bowling alley was at Scottsdale Bowl. I will save that one for another story. Everyone who has lived in the area at the time remembered the classic red bowling pin When you hit the red bowling pin with a strike, you received a free game. While you were bowling during your games, the red bowling pin would randomly show up. You would either call the person at the counter using the phone at your desk, or he would wave at you for your free game. I have received free games for hitting the red pin at least twice. I remember seeing other bowlers that if the red pin was hit, they would jumping for joy. If they didn’t get the free game, some longtime customers would either not say anything, get irate, or were cussing loudly. That was always hysterical when this was happening.
The Ford City Bowling Center closed around 1988 or 1989. That was terribly dismal news to everyone. The Ford City Cinema closed in 1990 and was rebuilt elsewhere at the mall. New stores moved into theater and bowling alley. Many bowling leagues played there, both for men and women. I vaguely remembered the cocktail lounge. I just heard from other people that it was extremely lively and sometimes the customers were waiting in line to order drinks. Ford City Bowling Center was the first place that I learned how to bowl. Whether you bowl with your family, friends, or if you were in a league, Ford City Bowling Center is still mentioned today by everyone on social media. We all still miss it. Thank you. Pete Kastanes-Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook Page.