After 57 years at the intersection of Collister and State Street in Boise, 20th Century Lanes is closing down June 30. A community fixture since Eisenhower was in the White House, the same family has operated the alley for generations.
Stepping into 20th Century Lanes, the first sound to hit the ears is the unmistakable clunk of bowling balls hitting the polished wood of the lanes and the crash of pins. Mixed in with the clatter of strikes and spares, a steady hum of conversation and laughter fills the air of the alley. Over the shoe rental counter, near the entrance, is a big sign. It says, “Bowling is for everyone.”
On this weekday afternoon, teens are lounging and playing in the arcade, grandparents are holding kids as they watch the lanes, and a large group of seniors is bowling at the far end of the alley. One of the people trying to knock down the pins is Mona Lindeen.
“My father put this bowling center in here in 1960, and I came out with him and worked all the time I went through college,” Lindeen says. She chuckles as she says after 57 years, she’s still here.
Lindeen is in her 70s, has blond hair and is bowling around a 150. When the bowling alley entered her family, she says it only had 14 lanes.
“My father, he was a guy who went out and sanded bowling lanes with an old time sander, and we’d go all over the country and do that. He did it for the 20th Century and then they hired him. And then he became the manager,” says Lindeen. After managing the lanes, he eventually bought the bowling alley.
Lindeen runs back and forth between our conversation and one of the four bowling leagues she’s in. This particular one is pretty informal. Keeping one eye on the score board to watch her turn approach, she says the group she’s bowling with started out as class.
“They were supposed to bowl 12 weeks and then we had a party. And then we bowled 12 more weeks – we’ve been doing that for two and a half years now,” she says with a laugh.
As she gets back to her game, the manager of 20th Century introduces himself. A fresh-faced 26, Lucas Hohnstein is Lindeen’s grandson.
Hohnstein says he grew up at the alley. After-school hours in elementary school and high school were spent at the lanes.
“I went all through school on a bowling scholarship so it paid for my college degree. Bowling really is my life, my passion and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Hohnstein
According to the manager, the bowling alley’s lease runs out in August. They tried negotiating a new one, but the landowner got an offer 20th Century couldn’t match. Following the closure of the bowling alley, a skating rink is expected to take over the space.
Hohnstein says the closure isn’t just a personal loss.
“It’s really tough to find something that every generation, every age, every group can get together and do together, so I think the community really is losing something,” he says.
Among a lifetime of memories at the lanes, one of Hohnstein’s favorite is when he won his first professional bowling title at 20th Century.
Sitting in the alley’s snack bar, I ask Hohnstein to show me his favorite part of the bowling alley. On our way there, we go behind the polished lanes to where the pins are collected. The spidery machines placing the pins are hypnotizing as they whir and clank.
“These are called A2 pin setters,” he says as he climbs on a small gangway between the lumbering machines. “These ones specifically are about 55 years old. They’re completely mechanical, very minimal electronic computerization. People like to say these things’ll survive a nuclear bomb.”
After watching the machines complete several cycles of collecting and setting the pins, Hohnstein takes leads me to a workshop at the very back of the building he calls “The Batcave.” It’s where he and his late father would watch movies, tinker with equipment, and where he learned the business.
As we stand in the workroom, surrounded by old pins and a menagerie of parts, I ask Hohnstein what will be going through his head the day he walks out of the room, closes the door and knows he won’t be coming back in.
Pausing a moment, Hohnstein says “I tried not to think about that for the most part. It’s going to be a real tough day.” He plans to spend the day with his family: his wife, his mom and his grandma. “I kind of consider it almost the same thing as like a funeral and a wake,” he says. The plan is to “just reminisce, talk about the good times, remember everything that we had and just try to move on afterwards.”
As he takes in the disheveled back room, Hohnstein is paged that he’s needed in the front of the alley. We leave “The Batcave” and go back out front. The seniors are still bowling; the staff brings them coffee and little paper baskets of popcorn.
Looking around the bowling alley, it could just as well be 1995 as 2017. Teens are playing in the arcade, people are bowling and time has overlooked 20th Century in exactly the right way.
On the last day of business, June 30, the lanes will offer free bowling and a cookout as a farewell.
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