When Kate Grabowski showed up at a friend’s 4-year-old daughter’s birthday party at Patterson Bowling Center on Saturday morning, she wasn’t expecting to be among the last bowlers to enjoy a game at the nearly century-old duckpin bowling alley.
Grabowski, a 15-year resident of nearby Upper Fells Point, said an employee approached her party in tears, informing them that the Canton bowling alley would permanently close later that day.
“It was such a stable institution in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s just so depressing.”
Patterson Bowling Center owner Ken Staub confirmed the closure and told The Baltimore Banner in an email that the building’s owner was finalizing a sale of the two-story building on Eastern Avenue to buyers who would convert the bowling alley into 15 apartment units.
The building is listed on the market for $720,000. Details on the buyers were not immediately available.
Staub also owns the duckpin bowling alleys Stoneleigh Lanes in Towson and Glen Burnie Bowl. He took over the Patterson Bowling Center in 2016, the Baltimore Business Journal reported shortly after the change.
He told the BBJ he was eager to restore the historic alley — which he said needed hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and cosmetic adjustments — to its former glory.
Patterson Bowling Center opened in 1927 with lanes on two floors, according to a history on the business’ website. Although the origins of duckpin, which features smaller bowling balls that fit in an adult’s hand and shorter, wider pins, are disputed, the game has been played in Baltimore since around 1900.
One origin story says duckpin bowling was invented by Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw, two eventual members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, who owned a Howard Street saloon called The Diamond, according to a 2018 article in The Baltimore Sun.
Grabowski, an active member of the Upper Fell’s Point Improvement Association, said the neighborhood group was unaware that the alley was closing or that there were plans to convert the building into apartments, calling it unusual that such a historic institution would close so quietly.
“I think people are going to be really up in arms about it,” she said.
Councilman Zeke Cohen, who represents Canton, said he was also unaware the alley was closing.
As Grabowski and her group finished their games, the 4-year-olds couldn’t fully understand that the bowling center was closing for good. “But we adults were very sad,” she said.
The pre-booked private party was one of the last events at the alley.
Other would-be celebrators with bowling birthday parties and reservations on the books were unaware that their afternoons would not go on as planned. Social media pages for the alley were not updated with news of the closure, nor was the bowling alley’s website.
Alisha Hatfield said she spoke with an employee on Friday afternoon to schedule a birthday party for her daughter, Emerson, the next day.
“She was excited and couldn’t wait to see us today. This is a slap in the face, especially because she’s a grandmother herself,” said Hatfield, birthday cake in hand.
Attempts to reach the employee were unsuccessful.
Hatfield was one of about 30 people who showed up at the lanes around its public opening time of 3 p.m., only to find the doors locked and lights off.
She left a note on the door of the bowling alley instructing Emerson’s friends and their families to head to a nearby park instead.