Stumbling On A Prohibition-Era Bowling Alley Speak-Easy

Note: this is no longer available for filming.

I received a very unexpected email last week:

We recently purchased a building in Ridgewood, Queens, and while clearing out the basement we discovered a two lane manual bowling alley in very good condition. We did some research and this basement was most probably a club during the prohibition era. Would you or someone you know be interested [in the space]?

A hidden prohibition-era bowling alley? Yes, definitely interested. I took a trip to see it today – Just incredible:

Bowling Alley - 001

According to the owner, the bowling lanes were hidden under boxes and boxes of junk. After researching the property, the owner now believes the basement was a speak-easy club during the Prohibition Era, with two bowling lanes to entertain customers.

Bowling Alley - 003

The building itself was once a small garment factory in the early 1900′s, employing local women to work the sewing machines and men to keep the equipment running smoothly (often husbands and wives). This is the main room, where as many as 50 ladies would be operating sewing machines (though I was told it was not the sweat shop conditions one would assume):

Bowling Alley - 014

What was going on in the basement, however, is a different story…

stairs

Each lane features two shallow gutters…

Bowling Alley - 004

…with wood panels set at the ends to keep pins from bouncing out of the lanes (the pins were set-up by hand, of course):

Bowling Alley - 005

Incredibly, the right lane still has a hanging cushion to stop the balls:

Bowling Alley - 006

You can see it better below. Also note the screen on the right:

Bowling Alley - 007

Incredibly, the cushion still hangs to this day by a pair of rusty iron hooks:

Bowling Alley - 008

Lining the outer lane are several decorative poles:

Bowling Alley - 009

Each is a dark-stained wood and features several ornamental rings:

Bowling Alley - 010

A close-up (one can only imagine the parties these have been around for):

Bowling Alley - 011

The wood on the lanes is in great shape. There are a few holes toward the starts…

Bowling Alley - 012

But this is pretty much the only damage for the entire run:

Bowling Alley - 013

Numerous entrances and exits throughout the property would have facilitated discreet access.

doors

The owner is interested in any offers for film, television, commercial, or photographic use. He suggested it as very appropriate for a show like Cold Case, and I totally agree. Pretty much any production looking for an authentic relic of a prohibition-era club could do wonders with this space, a VERY rare find.  The upstairs is also available.

If you are interested, send me an e-mail and I will forward it on to the owner.

And PLEASE, if you have something like this in your basement or attic or rooftop or whatever, drop me a line!

-SCOUT

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57 comments

  1. That is so amazing!

  2. Scout, it’s amazing how much these proportions resemble the bowling alley that was recently reconstructed in the basement of the Frick. Nobody gets to see it, because of fire laws. Perhaps you can gain access.

  3. What a great discovery! I’d love to see it all dressed up for film or TV, too.

  4. Awesome find! This is a super cool thing you got to see – thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. uh… where in queens?

  6. Wow. Where in Queens is this?

  7. In the mid to late 80′s i worked for a tire company in Seattle. We rented an old, one-story bulding in an industrial area south of downtown for a distribution location, and the rar of the bulding was a very strange “space”. The walls had surreal, semi-NSFW murals all over them and the celing was a metal grate with a heavy-gauge steel box in the middle of it. We later found out from some local old-timers that it had been an illegal gambling club during prohibition. The metal grate in the celing was so people could walk around and have a birds-eye view of the card games to watch for cheating/stealing, and apparently the steel box was always inhabited by a well armed man who had a direct line of sight to both the entrances to guard against robbers or police. We loved showing it off to visiters – a real peice of history.

  8. Spectacular. Just freakin’ spectacular. I hope they restore it! If a film shoots there, might there be restoration funds in a production budget??

  9. This is so cool! We just went to a cool duckpin bowling alley in Mattapoisett MA that looks straight out of history, so I’m now all about Retro Roadmap worthy bowling alleys- what a find!

  10. Way cool, as all ways your site and the goodies you come across are one of the brighter blog’s I look forward to each day. Please keep up your wonderful trip in around and some times even underground.

    Mike

  11. Spoiler alert: Watch the last scene of “There Will Be Blood” to see a prohibition-era basement duplex bowling alley. Not many filmmakers would be brave enough to use a similar location going forward.

  12. This is absolutely why I love your blog. An amazing story I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Thanks for the photos.

  13. This reminds me of the last scene in There Will Be Blood

  14. Andrew – Do you know if the building in Seattle is still there? Sounds cool.

  15. There was(is?) a two-lane, manual bowling alley of similar vintage in the basement of the old Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, CT. I’m not sure if the building is a church any more (the congregation couldn’t afford to keep up with maintaining) but I remember piles of candlepins and several bowling balls laying around down there. I’m pretty sure a scene or 2 of Jackknife(1989, DeNiro) was shot in the church.

    • I can remember finding a similar two-lane set up in the basement of the Webb-Horton Presbyterian Church in Middletown, NY. I am thinking that there was a period of time when churches installed these things. (Not just speakeasies).

      The one I found had not been used for at least 30 years (or so I was told) and this was the late 1950s when I found it. It was in pretty rough shape at the time and clearly had not been used in quite a while. Bowling in our area in upstate NY had acquired a sort of unsavory air by the 1940s — I wonder if the speakeasy/bowling alleys were the cause of that?

  16. This is wonderful! Love it. Some people have mentioned There Will Be Blood, there’s also one of these bowling alleys in the movie Girl, Interrupted, in the basement of a mental institute of all places!

  17. You can also find one of these manual bowling alleys at Bobby’s Bar on Mackinac Island. Bobby’s Bar is part of the Grand Hotel.

  18. Where is this? Only wondering because there used to be a bar called Galaxie on Metropolitan Ave in Ridgewood that had a bowling alley in the basement too – it closed maybe two years ago. I wonder if there are a lot more of these in the neighborhood…

  19. LOVE your website! new here and loving it. if I had things my way I’d be living in nyc doing just this: exploring and documenting.

  20. Oh my god!!! Awesome, this is so amazing place. I think, this place is very suitable for photographers, they could make there wonderful photos in old style.

  21. Wow ! its so incredible .Bowling has something for everyone to enjoy, the die hards as well as young children who just want in on the action.

  22. Wow! What a find! Great shots. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Mysterious!!! i really like this place. Thanks for sharing photos.

  24. Cold Case looks like CSI just like anyother detective tv series*`.

  25. I went to a small catholic school in Ozone Park, Queens. We had a similar bowling alley in our makeshift cafeteria (ie the basement of our school building). We never used it, but it was actually in pretty good shape. I wonder what ever happened to it.

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  27. anyone wanna take a road trip to Manitowoc, Wisconsin? My brother bought an old building there that was originally the Knights of Columbus building, later turned V.F.W. It’s huge. Basement has old but beautifully working bowling alley and fully stocked bar. Main level is bar/restaurant, and top level, massive open ballroom with barrel ceiling. This place was such a dump when he bought it but he fixed it up pretty nice. Tiny mosiac tiles all over. I could see a movie being filmed here. Wish I could post pictures.

  28. My god! I used to live 3 blocks from there! (I checked the map) Who knew there were such awesome secrets hidden away so close to me

  29. I remember when I was a child in Ridgewood around 1964, I was at a local bar and grill with my family for a christening party. I went down the basement an there was an old manual bowling alley like this one and it was being used when I was there. I assume this isn’t the same one as the one I saw because this one is in the basement of a clothing mill, not a bar. Makes me wonder how many of these there are in Ridgewood and in the city overall.

  30. I grew up in Ridgewood. :) this is neat!!

  31. Hey Im the new owner of this building and the bowling ally is still intact.
    I am still renovating the apt. upstairs to be living there.
    I will organize a kickstarter event to see if I can get some money for restoring the lanes.
    Will keep you posted for any developments
    Thanks

    • Rick from Bensonhurst

      Nao;
      Sir, you have lucked into a true treasure.
      Not only because the lanes are in such good shape to start with, but the fantastic back-story that goes with them. Just think how great that little bowling alley will look when the lanes are fully restored, and lighted, as well as the value they’ll add to your property.
      Just imagine if the day comes you decide to sell, and after showing off the apartment, you say, “Oh? Did I mention the bowling alley?”
      Some folks think it’s swell to have a pool table in their basement, but very few can say they’ve got a working, Prohibition Era, Speakeasy bowling alley. (And it looks like you’ve got room for a pool table, and a full wet bar down there, too.)
      All I can say is, once you’ve got that basement fixed up, I don’t think I’m the only one who’d want to party at your place.
      Best wishes!

  32. A bowling ball is a spherical ball made from plastic, reactive resin, urethane or a combination of these materials which is used in the sport of bowling. Ten-pin bowling balls generally have a set of three holes drilled in them, one each for the ring and middle finger, and one for the thumb; however, rules allow for up to five finger holes. They generally range from six pounds to 16 pounds in weight. ..

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  33. I recall bowling alleys like this in the basements of German-American bars in Ridgewood, Glendale, and Yorkville. Guys from my high school used to stop by in the afternoon after classes in the late fifties.

  34. Again another great story. I wish they would make a speakeasy like bar or restaurant in there again. It would be so cool to come down those stairs and see people playing!

  35. There is a very similiar bowling alley in the basement of the Hunter College dorms on E 25 st and First Ave. We actually used it for bowling in the 90s when I was in college there.

    Another amazing place is the Summner Ave Armory in Bed Stuy. This place had pools in the basement as well as a bowling alley and Rifle range. These armorys were set up to be used for long term purposes. Now many are used as homeless shelters.

  36. THres a similar (fully restored and operational as of 2011) set up in the basement of teh Glen Cove Mansion Hotel and Conference Center. Located in Glen Cove , NY

  37. this is such an obvious set for Boardwalk Empire :)

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