Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling Alley
Dating back to 1900, the sport of duckpin bowling is unique in a number of ways: It is a regional sport, played primarily in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states; it is a sport that has attracted people from all walks of life–the high and the humble–including the likes of Babe Ruth; and it is both an easy and a frustrating sport at the same time.
To quote a Washington Post article, “With its relatively light balls, duckpin bowling doesn’t require much brute strength, and the pins scatter like birds — hence the name — when struck. The game can be played by children, who could never hoist a regular bowling ball. But it’s famously exasperating to anyone seeking super-high scores. Spares and strikes are rare, and nobody has ever recorded a perfect game of 300, a nearly routine occurrence in tenpins. That’s a selling point to die-hards though, who say that ducks, like life, is about the endless quest for perfection that seems forever out of reach.”
In spite of ceaseless change, some old West Haven landmarks still survive. There were two duckpin bowling alleys here until the 1960s, when West Haven Bowling Alleys, located roughly beneath the old Horwitz Department Store, went out of business. Today, there remains only Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling Alley, at the intersection of Platt Avenue and Jones Hill Road, and most evenings, the place is alive with activity. Weeknights, it is a place where bowling leagues gather; weekends, it is a family place, and often, several generations of one family can be seen bowling together.
Woodlawn has operated continuously for 57 years now; it came into existence in 1954, under the ownership of Charlie Brown and Nick Morro. In 1971, they sold it to Tommy Carboni and Danny Rhea, who ran it until 1983. Dave Terese was the next owner from 1983 to 1994; next was Jim Szligyi, who ran the business until 2004 when he sold it to present owner Bob Nugent.
The first thing Nugent did was to give the place a thorough overhaul, which updated the furnishings, without changing the historic character of the alleys and their surroundings. Then he began a one-man marketing campaign throughout the city, aimed at restoring Woodlawn to its former popularity. His efforts paid off, and eventually, Bob Nugent had to quit his day job, in order to devote himself full-time to his growing business.
Why did Nugent get into this line of work? “I don’t know,” he grins, “the truth is, when I bought this place, I hadn’t bowled in twenty years; I guess I just like old things. The world changes too quickly–doesn’t it? You know, I’d bring back drive-in movies if I could.”
He likes old things? Absolutely. Woodlawn was the first bowling house to open completely automatic—without “pin boys” to reset the toppled pins. The machinery that resets those pins today is the same machinery that was installed there in 1954; and if you ever wanted to take a trip back in time, all you’d need to do is take a look behind the far wall, for down there in the dim light, the pinsetters faithfully perform their tasks, day after day. There are no LED readouts, no computers or electronic controls, just switches, motors, gears and belts—all Made in The USA—and that’s still a satisfying sight for many of us.
One man, Bobby Boshea, keeps all that old machinery running smoothly. He has worked on those pinsetters ever since he was ten; for as he says, “It’s a labor of love.” He has a knowledge not found in books, and a feel for the machinery that can only be acquired the hard way.
What’s next for Woodlawn? “More of the same,” says Nugent, “I’m not going anywhere! I’ve got the best job in the world! Every night is fun, and someday, I hope to turn this whole operation over to my daughter.”
For West Haveners, and for Bob Nugent, that sounds like a solid plan for the future.