I went to Patterson Bowling Center once, in March 2021, for a neighbor kid’s birthday party. It was a hoot watching my son roll duckpins for the first time, reminding me of my own Baltimore childhood bowling experience.

Except my kid is a good bowler and I am not.

Every time I have driven by the place since then — and I drive by it just about every day — I’ve thought, “We gotta go back there sometime.”

Well, that’s not going to happen now. As Chicago once sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and I found out a little too late.” The 95-year-old bowling alley recently closed to make room for apartments. I didn’t know what I had in that neighborhood gem, and now it’s gone.

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City Councilman Zeke Cohen told me that the bowling center’s loss means the shuttering of a century-old landmark, as well as one less place in the city to enjoy time with your whole family. And because it’s duckpins, a very Baltimore thing, it seems like the unfortunate shearing away of one more piece of what makes us, us.

“I wish I could have gone more,” said my neighbor Mike Zivic, the host of the birthday party we’d attended. “I never saw duckpin bowling till I moved here. It’s a Baltimore institution. That’s what that place was. It had the kind of character you miss when things change. And when you lose that, that’s what really makes you think. It’s the character of the city.”

That quirky, singular character that those little bowling pins represent is very pronounced in South Baltimore. We’ve got people like my friend Miss Teresa, who grew up in this neighborhood, city natives like myself who relocated across town, and those like Zivic, who were raised outside the state but made this his home. The biggest thing we have in common, besides shared trash days and terrible parking, is that we could live anywhere, but chose to be here. We picked this quirk, this richness. And we’re terrified of waking up and finding it gone.

“There’s something really important about protecting our history. That place is so Baltimore to me,” said Cohen, who took his daughter to a birthday party at the lanes about six months ago and noticed it was a cultural microcosm of the city, people of all races, coming together under one roof to bowl. “It’s unpolished and real. If we decide that something like the Patterson Park Bowling Center is unimportant, it devalues our history.”

Like my neighbor Mike, Heather Hairston had never heard of duckpins before moving to the area from Pennsylvania in 2001. But after attending a work Christmas party there, she was so charmed that she and her husband rented out the second floor for their wedding rehearsal dinner.

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“We bought a ton of pizza and a ton of booze and bowled all night, and people, to this day, say it was the most fun wedding rehearsal dinner ever,” she said.

She’d been back several times over the years, but not enough. “With some buildings, you think it’s gonna be there forever,” she said. “But they’re not.”

I had a similar conversation with Miss Teresa, one of those South Baltimore neighborhood ladies who are as much of a local institution as Patterson Park Bowling Center itself. She’s lived within about a mile radius of the place for the entire 60 years she’s been on this earth, and has gone there frequently since she was about 6 years old.

“I heard it was closing, and it’s sad,” said Miss Teresa, as my son and her grandkids played on her stoop. Her last name is actually Bennett, but where we’re from, “Miss Teresa” is a complete name. The closing of the lanes, of course, isn’t the only thing different around here. She told me about how you used to know your neighbors, “but nobody sits out and talks anymore. I don’t know their names. It’s all changing.”

Some change is inevitable. People move, or die, and new ones come. Businesses close, sometimes because they run their course, and sometimes because maybe too many of us take them for granted. Every person I spoke to for this column loved Patterson Bowling Center, but just couldn’t get there as much as they wanted. Unless this is a situation like in “The Goonies” with rich people knocking down people’s houses willy-nilly to build more rich people stuff, there’s not an identifiable bad guy. Pandemics happen. Shinier new things pop up. Sometimes things just change. It still sucks, though.

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But there’s some hope, however faint, that the space could, once again, hear the clank of bowling balls against diminutive pins. Cohen says he’s been in touch with the parties involved and pledges to “do everything within my power to keep from losing a duckpin bowling alley in the building.” While there are “no promises and no breaking news, I am very committed, and I know that the community is very committed to keeping that bowling alley a bowling alley.”

I hope that happens, because it would be a shame if that place was not, now and forever, a bowling alley. If it gets to be that again someday, I promise to go and support it more often. Even if I lose every game, which I will, because I’m a terrible bowler. It’s established.

It’s not about that, though. It’s about hopefully getting another chance to put my money where my mouth is, and not realize how much you’ll miss a thing until it’s too late.