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South of Union Square: Where Bowlmor Lanes Began

Bowlmor Lanes was opened at 110 University Place by Nick Gianos in 1938, at the beginning of what has been referred to as the “Golden Age of Bowling”. During this time, roughly the 1940s through 1960s, the popularity of the sport exploded with the introduction of the automatic pinsetter.

110 University Place ca. 1940, with bowling alley sign visible. Source: 1940s Municipal Tax Photos

From the beginning, Bowlmor Lanes was far from the average bowling alley. For decades it attracted the top bowlers in the sport. Starting in 1943 it hosted the prestigious Landgraf Tournament, an annual competition held at Bowlmor until the 1980s. In 1954, it was home to one of the first televised bowling tournaments, East vs. West. Notable guests were also common, including Vice President Richard Nixon who bowled here in 1958. 

Interior of Bowlmor Lanes, 1950s. Source: Gothamist

By the 1980s, the popularity of the sport began to fade, and many of the city’s oldest bowling alleys began to close. In 1981, Bowlmor’s original owner, Nick Gianos, retired, and his son John took over the business. Bowlmor remained open, but shifted its business from that of a traditional bowling alley and began to expand its nightlife offerings.

The following year, Bowlmor Lanes started to operate as a nightclub several nights of the week. It was known as Alan Platt’s Bowling Club, and was open from 12 am to 5am Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Alan Platt not only launched the club but was also the DJ, and had previously been a music writer for Rolling Stone and SoHo News. When Platt suggested the idea, Bowlmor’s owners were happy to have the additional revenue this nightlife would bring. 

Bowling leagues took these nights off, and the alley’s lights were dimmed down. Platt played all sorts of music, aiming to attract people from all walks of life. The club attracted celebrities, such as Debbie Harry, Grace Jones and John Lydon. It was popular; there were lines to get inside, and the shoe sizes would commonly run out. 

Weekends at Bowlmor were similar. Although not Allan Platt’s Bowling Club, disco music was played, and customers would dance in between their turns. These changes helped the alley stay relevant even as many other bowling alleys began to close down.

Despite these advancements, by the end of the 90s, Bowlmor was nearing a similar fate. The looming possibility of closure grew greater as Bowlmor neared the end of its lease. Now nearing its 60th birthday, Bowlmor was Manhattan’s oldest Bowling alley, and was in need of some additional improvements. In 1997, Bowlmor was sold, and the new owners underwent a multi-million dollar renovation of the space. Removing two of the center’s 44 lanes for a bar, they also added computerized scoring and glow-in-the-dark pins, thus offering a more upscale bowling experience. 

Under this leadership, Bowlmor lanes began to expand. In 2010, they opened a 90,000 square foot location in Times Square, located in what had formerly been the New York Times Newsroom. This expansion, as well as a series of mergers and acquisitions, have since made Bowlmor, known as Bowlero since 2018, the largest ten-pin bowling alley operator the world. The spaces are known for offering a more high-end bowling experience, an idea that can be traced back to the original Bowlmor location. Which in the 1980s, began offering a more elaborate bowling experience at a time when many alleys were closing down.

Bowlmor lanes in 2014. Source: amNY

This location at 110 University Place closed in 2014, after it was denied a lease renewal. After 76 years of operation, it was New York City’s oldest bowling alley, and one of the oldest on the East Coast. It was announced that the building would be demolished to make way for 23 story tall luxury condo. As one of the tallest buildings in the neighborhood, Village Preservation fought the proposed development. Unfortunately, the condos were completed, and at nearly 300 feet tall the structure looms over the surrounding buildings.

Condo at 110 University place. Source: Loopnet

The history of Bowlmor Lanes is one of many examples of the fascinating history South of Union Square. While this building has been demolished, many others with still stand. To learn more about these buildings, check out our South of Union Square Map + Tours, where you’ll find it on our “Gone But Not Forgotten” tour (along with some other great gathering spots like the Palladium and the Cedar Tavern, as well as our Pop Culture tour, where it is found along with the former Lone Star Cafe and Schraffts, among many other sites.

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