Historic PAS Report Series
PAS published its first Information Report in 1949. To celebrate this history, each month we're presenting a new report from the archives.
We hope you enjoy this month's fascinating snapshot of a planning issue of yesteryear.
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF PLANNING OFFICIALS
1313 EAST 60TH STREET — CHICAGO 37 ILLINOIS
|Information Report No. 110||May 1958.|
The bowling alley is fast becoming one of the most important — if not the most important — local center of participant sport and recreation.
Once pretty much a game for men only, bowling now is a popular family recreation, and smart proprietors are turning their alleys into "the poor man's country club." And instead of near-industrial or downtown locations, bowling proprietors are building in the suburbs.
The modern bowling alley is a far cry from some of the dingy old ones of pre-war years. Many are luxurious — attractive decor, comfortable seats, air conditioning, elaborate scoring and pinsetting facilities, a snack bar, coffee shop, or restaurant, often a bar or cocktail lounge, sometimes a nursery, and usually parking areas. In fact, investment in a new bowling alley may run as high as $2 million or more, although some cost as little as $250,000.
There are a half-dozen or more reasons why bowling has grown in popularity so rapidly: people have more leisure time, cost to the bowler is low, people of almost all ages can participate, the game requires no special physical ability, and as new bowling alleys have been built in the suburbs with better facilities, it has become a socially acceptable sport. Undoubtedly television coverage of tournaments and professional matches has also increased interest in the game.
Moreover, women and young people are being encouraged to take part in the game. Special efforts are made to attract housewives to bowling alleys in connection with shopping trips; in many junior and senior high schools bowling has become a part of the physical education program, and school buses are used to take students to the bowling alleys. Junior league (not "Junior League") bowling is encouraged to fill the bowling alleys on afternoons and Saturday mornings; and proprietors also try to attract people who work unusual hours — doctors, waiters, and night-shift workers — who increase business by using bowling facilities in off-peak hours.
Compared with other sports, bowling costs are low. Although balls and shoes may be rented, many bowlers buy the necessary equipment, which, with a carrying bag for the ball, comes to only about $50. These initial expenses are low compared with $150 to $200 for golf, hunting, or fishing equipment and $350 for a start in boating. Furthermore, bowling requires no license, no club membership, and no out-of-city travel, as many recreational activities do. The average bowler spends a little more than $2 a week, or about $10 a month, so that for approximately $120 a year he can enjoy a year-around activity.1
Although an easy game to play, perfection is elusive and no bowler believes he can ever master the game, so he often becomes a steady player. However, the game itself does not require excessive physical activity. In league play, with five on a team, the bowler is seated at least 80 per cent of the time.
At any rate, bowling is not only attracting more enthusiasts, but the new bowling alleys are getting bigger each year. Thirty-six lanes instead of 12 or 16 may soon be the usual size of new installations.
But more important than size — as far as planning agencies are concerned — is the change in location of bowling alleys. As bowling alleys have been moved to the suburbs, more and more patrons come by car, increasing parking problems. Moreover, zoning, noise, lights, and traffic problems have changed to some degree. It is with these problems that this report deals.
A questionnaire, prepared jointly by PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE and the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, the national organization of bowling alley operators, was sent to the 3,200 members of the Bowling Proprietors group. (About one-third of all proprietors in the United States belong to BPAA.) Nearly 800 questionnaires were returned, an indication of the interest that bowling alley proprietors have in learning about each other's problems and operations. Highlights of questions and replies are summarized in the Appendix.
A few definitions will clarify the differences in meaning between terms in common usage and those in the field of bowling. Clarity is advisable, especially when figuring the number of off-street parking spaces needed for a bowling place.
Among bowling proprietors, the term "bowling establishment" is preferred over "bowling alley" and is being used to upgrade the status of bowling places. However, this report continues to use "bowling alley" because that term is common, both in zoning ordinances and in popular usage.
The word "alley" sometimes is short for "bowling alley" and refers to the whole bowling place; or, sometimes it means the alley itself on which the game is played. To avoid confusion in this report, the word "alley" is not used by itself; the word "lane"2 refers to the actual boards on which the game is played.
Figures on participation in bowling and on number of lanes and establishments were received from the American Bowling Congress, the Women's International Bowling Congress, and the American Junior Bowling Congress. The two major equipment manufacturers, AMF Pinspotters, Inc., and the Brunswick Automatic Pinsetter Corporation, provided extensive help on design, layout, and size of bowling alleys through their architectural services departments. The National Recreation Association furnished information on the importance of bowling in company or industry sponsored recreation programs.
PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE appreciates the help of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, the equipment manufacturers, and the bowler organizations.
A list of organizations concerned with various phases of bowling is included in the Appendix.
Growth of the Business
Patronage and Organization Membership
Figures on bowling patronage probably have been inflated to boost bowling into first place among participant sports to outrank golf, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Total patronage has been estimated by the National Bowling Council at from 18 to 22 million a year, although another authority says actual patronage is probably considerably less. Nevertheless, the growth is phenomenal, as membership figures in nation-wide bowling organizations show.
In the tenpin bowling field, three player organizations — the American Bowling Congress, the Women's International Bowling Congress, and the American Junior Bowling Congress — endorse or approve for record purposes (by "sanctioning") players, teams, and leagues for competition in league and tournament bowling for men, women, and young people, respectively. There are also organizations for players competing on candlepin and duckpin lanes.
There are three forms of the game of tenpins: candlepins, duckpins, and tenpins. Tenpins is the most common game. The different pins and balls used are:
Candlepin — a slender, candlelike pin used in the game of candle pins.
Duckpin — a short pin, 9 and 3/8 inches high, used with a small ball, 5 inches in diameter, in the game of duckpins.
Tenpin — a pin 15 inches high used with a ball not more than 27 inches in circumference and weighing not more than 16 pounds or less than 10 pounds in the game of tenpins.
Tenpin competition is highly organized and strictly controlled. Each bowling alley and its lanes are inspected yearly by ABC representatives and "certified" as suitable for league use. The ABC also approves equipment, especially the pins. ABC certifications are used by the WIBC and AJBC as a basis for their league play, too.
The WIBC grew from a 1940 membership of about 82,000 to about 866,000 in 1958. Membership in the American Junior Bowling Congress grew from about 8,000 in 1940 to about 175,000. The ABC membership grew from about 700,000 in 1940 to about 2,300,000 members. (Membership in the ABC is computed on the basis of 4.4 members a team because membership is on team basis.) The National Duck Pin Bowling Congress membership grew from 11,000 members in 1940 to 127,000 members in 1957. With a base of more than 3 million "steady" bowlers, it is obvious that total patronage is large.
League membership in the ABC has been analyzed for the 1956–1957 season.3 Membership by sponsors indicated that "house" leagues — leagues that often carry a bowling establishment's name in their title and whose members have no commercial or other sponsor — made up 38.5 per cent of the league membership. "Mixed" leagues — those in which both men and women compete, usually two men and two women on a team — were 26 per cent of the membership. The mixed league has had an amazing growth. The last time an ABC membership survey was made, for the 1949–1950 season, mixed leagues were not even a category. Other major sponsors are religious groups, 9 per cent, and industries, 8 per cent. Table 1 further analyzes league membership.
American Bowling Congress League Membership Analysis
|Leagues||Per cent of Total|
|Oil, gas, railroads||324|
|Financing, banking, insurance||332|
|Federal, state, city||448|
|Knights of Columbus||676|
|Veterans of Foreign Wars||416|
|Civic, luncheon clubs||588||1.0|
Source: American Bowling Congress Newsletter, March 26, 1958.
No commercial bowling alley can be considered a success unless its lanes are certified and it is used by several leagues. In most areas league play dominates a large part of the evening hours. Most leagues are composed of eight or more teams with two to five members on each team. Teams usually have the maximum number of five players. In league play two teams compete against each other on adjoining lanes; each team player bowls three games a night.
To take care of the usual eight-team league, eight lanes are required so that the bowling business considers that the minimum size bowling alley should have eight lanes. Two more lanes may be added for "open" bowling (open to the general public) in order to eliminate waiting until late hours for the lanes to be free of league play. The number of lanes usually increases in multiples of four.
The winter league bowling season of 30, 32, or 35 weeks usually starts in September (memberships in the ABC are renewed on August 1) and ends in the spring. A summer league is one that starts its season after March 15 and ends it by October 1.
Number of Establishments and Lanes
The 1957 ABC Yearbook, in commenting on industry growth, said: "Since the end of World War II to the present day [September 1957] over 20,000 alley beds [lanes] in 2,000 establishments [bowling alleys] have been added to the certification progress report."4
The National Bowling Council estimated in 1956 that the total number of lanes in the country was about 97,000 in some 9,000 bowling alleys. Most of these are tenpin lanes. There are also about 5,000 candlepin lanes (concentrated in New England) and about 8,000 duckpin and rubber band duckpin lanes, which are located mainly along the East coast.5
The biggest factor in the industry's growth is the perfection of a fully automatic pinsetter. The American Machine and Foundry Company developed its first model in 1945 but did not produce a commercial model until 1952. Brunswick-Balke-Collender introduced its automatic pinsetter in 1956, although its first designs date back more than a quarter-century. The AMF leases its machines, while Brunswick sells its. It is estimated that AMF has installed more than 30,000 machines, enough to mechanize pinsetting on about one-third of the lanes in the country. The 1957 annual report of Brunswick shows installation of about 2,000 machines in 1956 and 7,053 in 1957. Automatic machines are also available for candlepin and duckpin lanes.
The results of the PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE survey showed that while 526 bowling alleys used automatic machines — about 68 per cent — 251 were still using pin boys. Although automatic pinsetters have been in use for only about six years, more than 50 per cent of the country's bowling alleys and probably a larger percentage of the lanes now have them. A considerable market for conversion to automatic equipment still remains, but a large proportion of the bowling alleys existing in 1952 have been converted and nearly all opened since that date use automatic machines.
The automatic machine has been installed for several reasons. It is faster and more evenly paced than pin boys. The machines cost little more than the wages of pin boys and have permitted bowling alleys to locate in the suburbs where it has been difficult to hire boys. Automatic machines also permit around-the-clock bowling. Twenty-four hour operation is increasing and has been able to boost income substantially.
Tables showing growth in numbers of participants, number of bowling alleys, and number of lanes follow.
American Bowling Congress Membership, Certified Establishments and Certified Alley Beds
Growth of ABC — Founded Sept. 9, 1895: Membership — 300's — Lanes — Annual Tournament
|ABC ERAS||End of Season||Teams||Leagues||City Assn.||States||300 Games||299 Games||298 Games|
|ABC formed Sept. 9, 1895. Constitution adopted Jan. 13, 1896. No team dues; league dues were $1. Figures with * indicate that they were estimates made by early ABC officials.||1895*
|Stage first ABC tourney, Chicago, in 1901.||1901
|Dues changes to $1 per team which is henceforth the unit of membership.||1904
|Gambling, pool making in tournament building stopped; printing of prizes.||1906
|First gold medals for 300 games. Eliminate Proxies in 1911.
Eliminate loaded ball in 1913.
|World War I period.||1914
|The Prohibition era, the first period of great growth.||1920
|The Great Depression. (Team membership in round figures for convenience of comparison.)||1930
|World War II.||1942
|The Post-War Period.||1946
*Includes District of Columbia and seven foreign countries.
|ABC ERAS||ABC Establishments||ABC Alley Beds||Host Cities to ABC Tournament||Teams||Prize List||Year|
|ABC formed Sept. 9, 1895. Constitution adopted Jan. 13, 1896. No team dues; league dues were $1. Figures with * indicate that they were estimates made by early ABC officials.|
|Stage first ABC tourney, Chicago, in 1901.||Chicago
|Dues changes to $1 per team which is henceforth the unit of membership.||Cleveland
|Gambling, pool making in tournament building stopped; printing of prizes.||Louisville
|First gold medals for 300 games. Eliminate Proxies in 1911.
Eliminate loaded ball in 1913.
|World War I period.||Buffalo
|The Prohibition era, the first period of great growth.||—
|The Great Depression. (Team membership in round figures for convenience of comparison.)||2,732
New York City
|World War II.||5,665
|The Post-War Period.||4,874
*Annual tournament postponed.
Source: Bowling Magazine, September 1957, p. 107.
Women's International Bowling Congress Membership
|Year||Host Tournament City||Team Entry||Prize List||Membership||Sanc. Cities||Sanc. Leagues||Increase in Membership||Increase Sanc. Leagues|
|1916||St. Louis, Mo.||No Records|
|1917||St. Louis, Mo.||8||40|
|1923||St. Louis, Mo.||106||$4,892||2,219||28|
|1931||New York City||242||$7,728||9,400||50||168|
|1932||St. Louis, Mo.||303||$9,024||9,746||58||212|
|1939||Oklahoma City, Ok.||548||$17,691||51,913||235||1,528||15.753||484|
|1941||Los Angeles, Cal.||1,015||$30,837||127,705||519||3,848||45.929||1,449|
|1943||Tourn. Postponed - Country at War||200,610||563||5,702||16.873||328|
|1946||Kansas City, Mo.||1,543||$49,569||250,478||753||7,282||2.062||43|
|1947||Grand Rapids, Mich.||169||$62,022||301,064||901||9,064||50.586||1,782|
|1950||St. Paul, Minn.||2,208||$72,660||495,880||1,254||15,054||62.954||1,990|
|1952||St, Louis, Mo.||3,045||$84,867||582,703||1,384||17,885||39.980||1,370|
Source: Women's International Bowling Congress, Inc., April 1958.
American Junior Bowling Congress Membership
Source: Bowling Magazine, September 1957, p. 71.
National Duck Pin Bowling Congress Membership
Source: Letter from A. L. Ebersole, executive secretary, National Duck Pin Bowling Congress.
Economics of the Business
Although the total investment in a new bowling alley may run from $250,000 to more than $2 million, it is possible to become a proprietor with only a small investment. An operator can rent a building and either lease his equipment or buy it with a 35 per cent down payment and the balance payable in two to five years. In such an operation, the proprietor's investment need only be large enough for the equipment down payment and funds for rent and operating expenses. Concessions for services are usually leased to others.
Exclusive of building, land, and subsidiary services, the cost of a bowling alley is usually measured by the cost of each lane. The cost of a lane includes a prorated share of the costs of house balls, rental shoes, player equipment, alleys, and spectator seats. The minimum price today, including semi-automatic pin setters (which are hand-fed and operated by a pin boy), is estimated at $5,000 a lane. With automatic pinsetters, the price goes up to about $13,000 to $15,000 a lane.6;7 In 1956, a Brunswick machine sold for $7,700, while AMF leased for a yearly minimum fee of $800.8 Present estimates place the cost of automatic pinsetters at about $10,000 a lane.
An establishment with 12 to 16 lanes is considered necessary to provide adequate returns in a single-proprietor operation. Many new bowling alleys are being built by corporations or chains under a single owner because of the large investment involved, even with liberal financing by equipment manufacturers. There is a definite break-point in size at about 36 lanes. The same number of employees is needed to run a l6-lane bowling alley as to run a 36-lane but above 36 lanes requirements almost double. This employee factor will cause the size of most new bowling alleys to be either 36 lanes or to jump way above this size — to 52 or more lanes.
Officials of BPAA think that equipment manufacturers have used misleading profit figures in attempting to attract investment in bowling alleys.9
The Ernst and Ernst analysis10 reveals that the average operating profit (total receipts less cost of goods and services sold) before federal taxes was 8.2 per cent. Manufacturers claim that profits are higher — better than 20 per cent. Another measure often used is the return on investment (usually the investment in equipment only). Manufacturers in their promotional brochures,11 claim a return of more than 25 per cent, while more realistic analyses place the return at about 10 per cent,12 which includes the time the proprietor spends on management, a figure that is not generally taken into account by proprietors.
There has been overbuilding of bowling facilities in some cities and over concentration of bowling alleys in parts of other cities, according to the BPAA.13 The association says operators can make a profit at a ratio of one lane per 2,000 population. Other ratios such as one lane per 1,500, or even as low as one for 500 population, have been used, particularly by the manufacturers. In several metropolitan areas, the increase in new bowling alleys has produced an actual ratio of 1 to 900 population.14
Locations and sites of each installation are carefully reviewed by equipment manufacturers. Same type of market research service is provided, either through the manufacturer or a consultant hired by the manufacturer. Although equipment manufacturers attempt to discourage poor location and site choices, they will sell to any operator who can buy, even at the risk of destructive competition among local operators. Each manufacturer reasons, perhaps correctly, that he cannot forbid construction of new bowling alleys; he must provide equipment because someone else will do so if he does not.
The number of lanes and the size and variety of services to be provided are estimated by sales personnel of the manufacturers and are recommended to prospective operators although the operator makes the final decision. The branch sales engineer is supposed to be well acquainted with local conditions, such as zoning, liquor laws, and community attitudes.
The question of control of local concentration of bowling alleys is one that raises difficult legal problems; even informal limitation by proprietors and manufacturers would contravene restraint of trade laws. Planning and zoning can contribute little directly as far as controlling the number of lanes in a community. The bowling industry must solve this problem itself.
The Ernst and Ernst study showed that an average bowling alley derives 65 per cent of its income from bowling itself. Bowling income is based on a charge for each "line" (a game rolled by one person). The same study showed that patronage by per cent of yearly lineage was: league bowlers, 52.6 per cent; open bowlers, 39.8 per cent; tournament bowlers, 4.3 per cent; and junior bowlers, 3.3 per cent. Charges in open bowling averaged 39 cents a line, with a high of 45 cents and a low of 30 cents. League bowlers paid an average of 42 cents a line with a high of 55 cents and a low of 33 cents. Obviously, league bowling is the principal source of income and patronage.
The principal additional source of income is a bar or cocktail lounge. According to the Ernst and Ernst study, bar receipts averaged 17.3 per cent of total receipts. However, the importance of liquor sales varies with state and local liquor laws.
Food sales are also important. The Ernst and Ernst analysis showed that restaurant service produced an average of 7.4 per cent of total receipts. Other items providing income were counter sales (candy, cigars, cigarettes, and soft drinks), 2.1 per cent; sale of balls, bags, and shoes, 2.2 per cent; shoes rentals, 1.8 per cent; amusement devices (such as pinball machines), 1.1 per cent; and miscellaneous, 2.6 per cent. What was once a companion amusement, billiards, produced only 0.5 per cent of total revenue. These averages do not indicate the wide variation in percentage of total income from some of these sources. In particular, bar and restaurant receipts were well over 50 per cent of total receipts in some bowling alleys. Rent from concessions is often on a percentage basis of from 4 to 7 per cent of gross sales.
Perhaps the chief distinction of the modern bowling alley is that it has become a recreation center in itself. The size of plant and the number and kinds of extra services attract many people who come not only to play the game but also to spend the evening. What started out as devices to amuse spectators and players while watching or waiting their turn to play have in many cases become a part of an evening out.
The least that a proprietor offers in the way of services (in addition to the lanes themselves) is rental of balls and shoes and sale of refreshments, which may be by vending machines only. However, these are bare essentials by today's practices and standards, and the modern bowling place offers far more.
The wide range of extra services is to some extent reflected in the following table, which shows the result of the PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE survey of bowling places, both old and new.
|Extra service||Per cent of replies|
|Bowling equipment sold||82|
|Sandwiches or snacks||67|
|Pool or billiards||15|
|Nursery or children's play area||13|
*Beer was also sold in almost all places that sell cocktails — probably a reflection of state and local liquor laws.
The survey also showed the following variations from the general pattern: 13 places reported food service by vending machines exclusively; 23 reported selling only candy, cigars, cigarettes, and soft drinks; 12 reported having pinball machines; and nine reported banquet rooms.
Still other fringe services sometimes provided are locker and check rooms, meeting rooms (for league business meetings), and banquet rooms (in conjunction with a restaurant). But the modern bowling alley apparently has not yet reached the peak of its development.
Observations made by the Architectural Design Division of AMF Pinspotters, Inc.,15 indicate the lines along which expansion can be expected to take place.
Restaurant facilities are usually provided in the larger establishments being built today. However, we usually recommend a snack counter and restaurant as small as possible to take care of the bowling patrons, but large enough to lease.
The all-purpose room that can be used as both nursery and meeting room is being introduced in new bowling alleys.
The nursery and all-purpose room is the most necessary in bowling establishments today. We usually try to plan a large room that can be used as an all-purpose room, nursery, and meeting room. This room can also be used for an over-flow of the lounge trade and restaurant trade. It is usually suggested that this room be broken up by folding or sliding doors.
Many of your new communities do not have facilities for large congregations in their churches, schools, or public buildings; therefore, this all-purpose room can be offered as a service to the community for meetings. Many proprietors today offer this room to groups who have no place in which to hold their meetings, and in this way the bowling leagues are enticed to join the establishment. Usually, there is no charge for the use of the room, with the exception that all food and drink is purchased on the premises.
The all-purpose room reflects the emphasis on features that attract women and families. Not only is a nursery offered, but some of the newest bowling alleys provide nursery attendants or have closed circuit TV to monitor it. Also, manufacturers place strong emphasis on the important of "clean, attractive washrooms" that are well designed and maintained.
Number of Lanes
The industry claims that new bowling alleys have been increasing in size for some time. However, the facts indicate that the era of large bowling alleys may be just beginning. The Ernst and Ernst study reported an average of 15 lanes per bowling alley in 1956, with a high of 32 and a low of four. In 1957, the BPAA membership average was 13.2 lanes per member.
The average number of lanes per ABC certified bowling alley is 9.2 (1957). Table 6 shows the average lanes per member and average lanes per new member for the BPAA membership.
Membership in Bowling Proprietors Association of America
|Number of members||Number of lanes||Average number of lanes|
|Year||Total||Increase over previous year||Total||Increase over previous year||Per member||Per new member|
Source: Based on data supplied by Howard C. Seehausen, executive director, Bowling Proprietors Association of America.
The size of existing alleys was distributed as follows, according to the PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE survey:
|Number of lanes||Per cent|
|1 to 8||33|
|9 to 16||44|
|17 to 24||16|
|25 to 32||5|
|33 or more||2|
For the year 1957, AMP Pinspotters reported new alleys installed by them were distributed by size as follows:
|Number of lanes||Per cent|
|4 to 14||32.5|
|16 to 24||42|
|26 to 32||15.5|
|36 to 56||10|
When compared with the PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE survey, the percentage of large new bowling alleys reported by AMF is much greater; our survey shows only 7 per cent had more than 25 lanes, while AMF's new construction list showed 25.5 per cent with more than 25 lanes. The largest bowling alley reported by Bowling Magazine (September 1957) was one in Detroit with 88 lanes. Altogether there were 25 bowling alleys that had 42 or more lanes each. More than half were in the mid-West and most of the others on the East coast. But regardless of whose figures are used the facts are that the average bowling alley is still small; large alleys are exceptional.
The minimum area for a bowling alley is determined by the number of lanes, although the over-all size may be a third again as large if extra facilities such as a restaurant, cocktail lounge, or billiard room are provided.
Floor plans for two bowling alleys are shown on pages 16 and 17. The first is a 32-lane alley, arranged in the so-called back-to-back style. (The backs of two sets of lanes are separated by the general area.) The second is a 50-lane alley, with all lanes adjacent to each other. It is notable for the wide variety of facilities offered in addition to the 50 lanes for bowling.
Lane — Back to Back Installation — 10 1/2 Ball Returns
Source: Architectural Research Division, Brunswick-Balke-Callender Company.
Floor Plan for 50-Lane Bowling Alley
Source: Architectural Design Division, AMF Pinspotters, Inc.
In Time Saver Standards16 reference is made to sound propagation in bowling alleys. Apparently most alleys use sound absorbent materials to reduce the noise level. If the interior noise is cut appreciably, little reaches the exterior unless doors or windows are open.
With air conditioning, many bowling alleys are fully enclosed and doors are closed, thus solving the airborne noise problem. Seventy-three per cent of the respondents to the questionnaire reported that their alleys were fully air conditioned.
The book, Acoustics for the Architect17 describes the problem of external noise control as follows:
For other sources, such as a hotel dance orchestra or a bowling alley next to an apartment, the sound isolation is best provided by two measures: mechanical isolation of the floors to isolate the impacts (percussion instruments or balls and pins) and walls designed to enclose the sound and prevent its being airborne into quiet spaces.
The modern alley, with its emphasis on customer comfort, is probably no more noisy either internally or externally than any other commercial use. For a planning agency, the noise problem is one of the volume and number of people and automobiles in the vicinity of the alley. It is from late night boisterousness, banging of car doors, and the noise of car movement that most objections to the bowling alley as a neighbor to residential uses arise.
Signs and Lighting
The modern bowling alley makes extensive use of exterior signs and lighting for advertising and for illuminating parking areas. Manufacturers advise their clients that for bowling alleys in a "city with public transportation facilities, an impressive entrance from the main thoroughfare has great advantages for drawing bowlers."
Although lights and glare from parking areas make bowling alleys an inappropriate use in certain zones, bowling alleys do not present an unusual problem in this respect. Lights and signs can be controlled satisfactorily under zoning ordinance provisions relating to each district in which bowling alleys are permitted and by a sign ordinance.
Hours of Operation
In general, according to the survey, bowling alleys are open from midmorning to midnight or one a.m. Only a small number of alleys reported 24-hour operation. Opening hours ranged from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., while closing hours ranged from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Some places stay open until the last bowler wants to leave. Closing hours are regulated in many municipalities and bowling alleys must be licensed. For instance, under a general ordinance regulating business hours, Modesto, California requires that bowling alleys be closed from 2:30 to 8 a.m. If it is desired to regulate hours or other particular aspects of the bowling alley as a business, this should be handled in connection with the issuance of licenses.
Because the bowling alley is dependent upon the automobile for patron transportation to the site, parking is a major factor in site selection. Responses to the question "What per cent of your patrons come to bowl by: walking, public transportation, and automobile?" gave estimates in nearly all cases in excess of 90 per cent for patrons coming by automobile. The responses were so uniform and emphatic that no attempt was made to tabulate them. Of the proprietors who answered, 55 per cent reported that their parking facilities are not adequate for the next five years.
What standards have been proposed or used in efforts to provide adequate parking for bowling establishments? A study of existing ordinance provisions showed that the requirements were, in general, less ample than those suggested by equipment manufacturers and by several proprietors who answered the question on how parking area size was determined. For example, in cities that required so many parking spaces for each lane, requirements ranged front three spaces (Fontana, California, 1957) to seven spaces (Du Page County, Illinois, 1957). The most popular figure was five spaces for each lane (Seattle, Washington, 1957, is an example). However, present off-street parking zoning requirements fall short of most recommendations.
Brunswick suggests a ratio of six parking spaces per lane, and AMF suggests 7.5 per lane. Several respondents said they had tried to obtain sufficient space to park from eight to ten cars per lane in order to accommodate all bowlers at the time leagues changed play.
The change of leagues is the peak demand period (similar to the change of shift for industrial employee parking). The assumption is that each league bowler drives his own car and that every team has five men. So on the basis of ten spaces a lane, a typical 16-lane establishment requires 160 spaces for customer parking. In Building Traffic Safety into Residential Developments18, operators reported their requirements for parking to be ten spaces for each alley.
There can be little quarrel with the need to anticipate the peak demands at changes in leagues when the shift occurs several times a night. Each league takes about an hour to bowl the three games required in league play. Leagues often use the entire bowling alley from late afternoon to midnight.
A requirement of ten parking spaces for each lane may seem excessive because some bowlers will undoubtedly share rides. (Brunswick estimates that 40 per cent arrive as passengers.) However, the suggested requirement probably is not excessive because parking space is needed for those who use the restaurant, bar, and game room facilities, and for employees (if other space for employees' cars is not provided).
Off-street parking requirements for bowling alleys have been set in zoning ordinances by three methods: (1) a required number of parking spaces per lane; (2) a required number of spaces for a specified floor or building area; and (3) a required area for a specified floor or building area (a parking ratio). The second and third methods are cumbersome to use for bowling alleys although they are useful for other businesses. Two Highway Research Board publications19 on parking requirements illustrate the wide variety of methods applied to bowling alleys in ordinances.
The first method is the only one suitable for bowling alleys. However, additional spaces should be required for the auxiliary facilities, such as restaurants and for employees. The method followed elsewhere in an ordinance where parking spaces are required for restaurants and employees, for example, should be used to obtain the additional parking spaces.
Du Page County provides an example of multiple parking requirements:
"Bowling alleys: Seven parking spaces shall be provided for each alley and one parking space for each three employees, plus such additional spaces as may be required hereinafter for related uses such as restaurants."
Some ordinances have dual parking requirements for bowling alleys based on the number of lanes, and for auxiliary facilities, such as restaurants or bars. The Elkhart, Indiana ordinance (1957) says: "for bowling alleys — two parking spaces for each alley plus such additional spaces as may be determined by the Building Inspector for affiliated uses such as bars, restaurants and the like."
Adequate employee parking can be obtained by use of the usual requirement of one space for each two or three employees.
The number of employees, of course, varies with the number of lanes and size of facilities. In particular, the number of bar, cocktail lounge, and restaurant employees increases rapidly as the size of such facilities increase. Our survey showed that 37 per cent of the establishments had one to five employees (not including pin boys), 23 per cent had six to ten, 14 per cent had 11 to 20, 7 per cent had 21 or more, and 19 per cent of the establishments reporting either included pin boys in their totals or failed to answer this question.
Many zoning ordinances attempt to set off-street parking requirements for bowling alleys on the basis of a ratio of parking area to building area, the second method. For instance, Skokie, Illinois (1956) requires:
. . . there shall be provided parking spaces in the ratio of not less than one parking space for each 300 square feet of floor space in the building which is used for such purposes, except that any recreation or amusement building . . . shall provide parking space on the lot in the ratio of not less than one parking space for each 100 square feet of floor space in the building.
Briarcliff Manor, New York (1957) requires: "For each one hundred square feet of area in any place of recreation or amusement — one unit." (A unit is an 8 by 20 foot parking space.)
A variation of this type of requirement appears in the Warwick, Rhode Island ordinance (1957): "Commercial Recreation — One space for each three seats provided for patron use or one space for each 200 square feet of gross floor area used or intended to be used for services to the public, whichever requires the greater number of parking spaces."
Parking space requirements based on floor area or on seats are not appropriate for bowling alleys, nor are those requirements based on a ratio of floor area to parking area, the third method.
In the ordinances reviewed for this report, it was difficult to determine which off-street parking requirements applied to bowling alleys unless specific reference was made to them or to recreational and amusement uses. For example, it was not possible to determine if bowling alleys were in the category of a place of assembly or a retail service business. In many cases bowling alleys seemed to be considered places of assembly for which requirements were based on seats or floor area, neither of which is a realistic measure of the parking demand created by a bowling alley. The use of the word "alley" instead of "lane" could lead to trouble if "alley" was interpreted to mean ''bowling alley."
As the preceding analysis of peak parking demand demonstrates, the impact of a bowling alley on traffic should be evaluated in terms of the number of lanes. During the shift in leagues, a great deal of traffic is usually generated.
Planning agencies, when reviewing bowling alley proposals, should consider whether streets can handle the additional traffic generated by the bowling alley. Some control over curb cuts and driveways also will often be desirable.
Planning and Zoning
Bowling alleys built before 1930 are usually in or near the central business district. In the past, a close tie often existed between the pool hall, the bowling alley, and the saloon in the same neighborhood. The patron was a workman who walked or took public transportation to the alley. Today the market is in the suburbs. Bowling is still largely an after-work and after-dinner sport. Accessibility by car and good parking facilities are the prime considerations, so that downtown is no longer a good location for an alley except in small communities.
Present Locations and Zoning
Bowling alley proprietors want to locate close to the center of a potential market and on heavily traveled arterial streets. These prerequisites closely correspond to those for a shopping center. For this reason, many people think that an integrated shopping center is a good location for a bowling alley. The bowling equipment manufacturers prefer locations in or near industrial areas, in shopping centers, and in areas that are close to middle-income housing.
At present, the actual locations of bowling alleys are quite different from what operators and equipment manufacturers want. Answers to the questionnaire revealed that 39 per cent of the bowling alleys reported on were located in the central business district; 47 per cent were outside the CBD but within the city limits, and only 14 per cent were outside the city limits. Interpretation of their relationship to a CBD by respondents to this question probably varied a good deal, but the results are interesting. Only 10 per cent were located in integrated shopping centers. (Judging from the responses, this is probably an over-estimate of the percentage actually located in such centers.)
By age, 36 per cent were in buildings built before 1930; 11 per cent in 1931–1940 buildings; 10 per cent in 1941–1946 buildings; and 24 per cent in buildings constructed in 1952 or later.
A cross tabulation of age and location showed that only since 1952 has the number built in the central business district decreased sharply and the number built outside city limits increased. Most bowling alleys in integrated shopping centers have been built since 1946, as might be expected.
Of the zoning ordinances examined, bowling alleys are first permitted in local or neighborhood shopping zones only rarely. Elkhart permits bowling alleys in the B-1 — Limited Retail Business zone but attaches the following restrictions:
Bowling alleys, billiard and pool rooms, dance halls, gymnasiums, meeting halls, lodge halls, fraternal organizations and clubs, provided they are located in a basement or above the first floor and above a business use permitted in this section, or said uses may be located on the ground floor when permitted business establishment occupies street frontage except for an entranceway to the rear use.
Bowling alleys are not permitted in Elkhart without restriction until the B-3 zone.
In a city with only two business or commercial zones, bowling alleys are confined to the lower or less restricted of the two zones. Briarcliff Manor, Kern County, California (1957); and Fillmore, California (1957) are examples.
In cities with more than two business or commercial zones, bowling alleys are usually first permitted in the third zone. Zoning ordinances for Skokie, Warwick, Fontana, Pomona, California (1957), and Darien, Connecticut (1957) first permit bowling alleys in the third commercial zone, which is variously called commercial, heavy commercial, central commercial, general commercial, and service business. In Du Page County, bowling alleys are first permitted in the B-4 service zone as a use requiring a special permit.
An exception among communities with more than two commercial zones is Seattle, which first permits bowling alleys in the BC-Community Business zone, the second commercial zone, provided that:
. . . they shall be in a completely enclosed building or completely enclosed portion of building when within fifty (50) feet of any lot in a public R zone, and when located five hundred (500) feet or more from any public school grounds, playgrounds, or public park entrance, amusement enterprises including theaters, pool halls, bowling alleys, dance halls, skating rinks, taverns, restaurants or cafes including entertainment or dancing.
Another exception to the general rule that bowling alleys are first permitted in the third business zone is Howard County, Indiana (1956). There, bowling alleys are permitted in the B-2 Roadside Business zone. Permitted uses in the B-2 zones are "indoor amusement enterprises, including billiard or pool hall, bowling alley, boxing arena, dance hall, games of skill or science, and the like."
In addition to being permitted in the least restricted commercial zone, bowling alleys also are usually permitted in all industrial districts. Industrial zones from which they are excluded are research or light manufacturing zones and industrial parks that are restricted in other ways as well. As all commercial uses are permitted in most industrial zones under the present system of cumulative zoning, there should be no difficulty if a bowling alley proprietor wants to locate in an industrial zone. Bowling alleys do not conflict with industrial uses, except that they may compete with industry for sites.
Possible Zone Locations
A good point of departure for discussion of location problems are the merits and demerits of the planned shopping center as a site for bowling alleys.
A recent Urban Land Institute bulletin20 points out that bowling alleys are money makers. "In a neighborhood center and where there is basement or other secondary use space, bowling alleys can be an important tenant, particularly in middle-income districts."
For purposes of this report, planned shopping centers are classified as "neighborhood centers" if they have a minimum support of 7,000 to 20,000 people and a supermarket as the leading tenant, as "community centers" if they have 20,000 to 100,000 people in support and a variety or "junior" department store as the leading tenant, and as "regional centers" if they have more than 100,000 people in the trade area and department stores as leading tenants.21
The shopping center is considered by some people to be a good location for bowling alleys because the center can accommodate a bowling alley and its problems of traffic, parking, noise, lights, and night activity fairly easily. In addition, the shopping center site meets the desires of those who want to bring the bowling alley to the suburban or middle-income patron.
However, the neighborhood shopping center may be an inappropriate location for bowling alleys, although a community or regional center can be a good choice if certain precautions are observed.
If a bowling alley has one lane for each 2,000 people and a neighborhood center draws from a market of 7,000 to 20,000 people, few neighborhood centers will be large enough to serve a market area as large as that required for a modern l6-lane alley.
The bowling alley will be a strong competitor for parking space usually furnished in a neighborhood center (particularly if the stores stay open some weekday nights and on Saturday) unless a separate parking area is provided for the bowling alley.
Moreover, night-time activity at the alley may prove objectionable to residents who live close to the small neighborhood center. Activity at most neighborhood shopping centers ends around 11 p.m. when the drug store closes. The bowling alley may operate on a 24-hour basis, however.
It is more logical to locate bowling alleys in the community size shopping center. Such a location is better from the standpoint of accessibility. Restaurant and bar patronage in a community center presumably is far greater than in a neighborhood center. And presumably a well designed bowling alley in a community center will attract more business because more people see it while shopping.
In either case the impact of the parking load generated by a bowling alley at periods of peak use should receive special consideration in determining over-all parking requirements for the shopping center.
Objections from residential neighbors of a community center would be less of a problem than in a neighborhood center because the buildings in a community center are usually farther from the boundaries and streets often surround the site. Parking areas serve as noise and light insulators for nearby residents.
From the standpoint of compatibility with other shopping center uses, the bowling alley is, however, unsuitable for a prominent location in the center because it interrupts the flow of shopping traffic along store fronts. Consequently, the bowling alley usually should be located away from the main group of stores. The Community Builders Handbook22 recommends that bowling alleys be allowed only in centers with 50 or more tenants and be allocated to a secondary location.
Although location in the community center has been stressed here, location in a regional center is also appropriate, especially for big bowling alleys.
Not all new bowling alleys can be located in shopping centers, however. What other locations are satisfactory?
Obviously, a bowling alley should not be permitted in any residential zone if it is a commercial operation. However, it is possible that a bowling alley will be built into a structure that has a principal use permitted in a residential area, such as a church community house. In most cases, the operation of bowling alleys by nonprofit organizations does not affect the location of buildings housing such organizations because bowling is only a minor function.
The roadside or string commercial zone is a district to which recreation or amusement enterprises are often relegated. It is frequently an appropriate location for bowling alleys: the parking problem does not arise because usually each business is separately developed in such a zone and has its own off-street parking; traffic, noise, lights, and late hours also are not problems.
Should commercial zones with limited uses designed to service surrounding industrial uses gain popularity, the bowling alley would be an appropriate use in them. The alley would be close to industrial league patrons and would not interfere with the retail activities permitted in such a zone. Furthermore, there would be no conflict in parking space because retail stores in this type of zone are not open evenings. Noise and lights would not be a problem either.
According to the PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE survey, some alleys are still being located both in central business districts and in lesser commercial areas of the unplanned type. For large cities, the central business district zone, unless broken up into smaller, specialized areas by the zoning ordinance, does not appear to be an appropriate location for new bowling alleys. Suitable sites are necessarily outside the major retail area of the CBD.
In the small city, where the central business district is not divided according to special uses, the bowling alley may be permitted in the CBD if parking can be provided. Judging from the survey, the small town bowling alley operator does not lack parking space in the downtown area, even though he relies on curb parking. Since there is usually only one commercial area, there is no reason to force the bowling alley to locate outside city limits.
However, a bowling alley can conflict with residential uses in a small town and therefore should not be located in local shopping areas unless safeguards, such as screening of parking areas and strict control of lighting and signs are required.
Zoning, however, is not the appropriate legal means of controlling hours of operation or the operation of restaurants or bars in conjunction with a bowling alley. If problems of night-time use — traffic, noise, lights -are factors in locating a bowling alley, the planning agency should separate the incompatible use, rather than attempt to control business hours and other characteristics. In many communities, the operation of accessory facilities, such as restaurants and bars, may complicate the problem of deciding on a proper zone location for bowling alleys.
To summarize, appropriate locations, from the planning viewpoint, are integrated community or regional shopping centers, commercial areas serving industrial zones, and roadside commercial areas. Industrial areas are satisfactory if the operator wants to locate there. In some cases, planned neighborhood shopping centers, older commercial areas, and downtown or central business districts are appropriate, providing adjoining uses are protected. Commercial bowling alleys should not be permitted in residential zones.
The national federation of all organizations interested in bowling, including bowlers, manufacturers, and proprietors:
National Bowling Council
1420 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington 5, D.C.
Bowler organizations include:
American Bowling Congress
1572 East Capitol Drive
Milwaukee 11, Wisconsin
Women's International Bowling Congress
694 South High Street
Columbus 6, Ohio
American Junior Bowling Congress
1913 West 103rd Street
Chicago 43, Illinois
National Duck Pin Bowling Congress
1420 New York Avenue
Washington 5, D.C.
Equipment manufacturers and trade organizations:
Billiard and Bowling Institute of America
310 West Randolph Street
Chicago 6, Illinois
Architectural Design Division
AMP Pinspotters Inc.
6500 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago 45, Illinois
Architectural Research Division
The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company
The Brunswick Automatic Pinsetter Corporation
623 South Wabash Avenue
Chicago 5, Illinois
Bowling Proprietors Association of America
185 North Wabash Avenue
Chicago 1, Illinois
Highlights of Answers to Questionnaire*
*Prepared jointly by PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE and Bowling Proprietors Association of America.
2. Where in relation to the city is your bowling establishment located?
Central business district 39%
Outside central business district but inside city 47%
Outside city limits 14%
3. Is your establishment located in a modern, integrated shopping center?
Yes 10 %
4. In what year was the building in which your establishment is located built?
Before 1930 36 %
1931–1940 11 %
1941–1946 10 %
1947–1951 19 %
1952–1957 26 %
5. Was it built specially for your bowling establishment?
Yes 62 %
6. Number of lanes?
33 or more 2%
7. If there is seating for spectators, how many seats are provided (in addition to booths for bowlers)?
None 7 %
1–25 16 %
26–50 34 %
51–100 29 %
101 or more 14 %
8. Do you use pin boys or automatic pinsetters?
Pin boys 32 %
Automatic pinsetters 68 %
9. Number of employees?
1–5 37 %
6–10 23 %
11–20 14 %
21 or more 7 %
Included pin boys or did not report 19 %
10. What services or facilities are provided in connection with your bowling establishment?
Sale of equipment 82 %
Restaurant 29 %
Coffee shop 36 %
Sandwiches and snacks 67 %
Beer 56 %
Cocktails 31 %
Pool or billiards 15 %
Nursery or children's play area 13 %
12. Is your establishment open summers?
Yes 72 %
13. Is it air conditioned?
Yes 73 %
15. Do you provide a parking lot for your patrons?
Yes 68 %
16. If "yes":
Is it used exclusively by your patrons? Yes 75%
How many cars will it hold?
101– 200 22%
301 or more 10%
17. If "no" do your patrons park:
Free by arrangement at a commercial lot 9%
At their own expense at a commercial lot 16%
In a free public parking lot 25%
Anywhere they can find a parking space 84%
18. Do you consider the existing parking facilities adequate for the next 5 years
Yes 45 %
1. M. Jeffrey Holbrook, "How to Appraise a Bowling Alley," The Appraisal Journal, October 1957, p. 545.
2. In bowling literature, the term "alley bed" is often encountered. It refers to the wooden boards upon which one bowls and the approach and pit areas. It is often used as a unit measure of size of establishment.
3. American Bowling Congress Newsletter, March 26, 1958.
4. Bowling Magazine, September 1957, p. 46.
5. The Wall Street Journal, March 22, 1956.
6. Holbrook, p. 547.
7. Interview with chief of Architectural Research Division, Brunswick.
8. The Wall Street Journal, March 22, 1956.
9. "Too Many Bowling Establishments?" The Bowling Proprietor, November 1957, p. 9.
10. Report by Ernst and Ernst, certified public accountants, to the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, and based on a survey conducted by BPAA of its membership.
11. Advertising brochures from AMF Pinspotters, Inc.
12. Holbrook, p. 550.
13. "Too Many Bowling Establishments?"
14. Study of Bowling Lanes per Capita — 140 Leading Metropolitan Areas as of July 31, 1957, Bowling Proprietors Association of America.
15. The two major equipment manufacturers, AMF Pinspotters, Inc., and the Brunswick Automatic Pinsetter Corporation, both provide architectural assistance to prospective bowling alley operators in the form of floor plans and other installation details.
16. Time Saver Standards (New York: F. W. Dodge Corp., 1946) p. 481.
17. Harold Burris-Meyer and Lewis Goodfriend, Acoustics for the Architect (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corp., 1957) p. 32.
18. Building Traffic Safety into Residential Developments, National Committee for Traffic Safety (Chicago: Undated).
19. David R. Levin, Zoning for Parking Facilities, Highway Research Board, Bulletin No. 24 (Washington, D.C.: 1950). David R. Levin, Parking Requirements in Zoning Ordinances, Highway Research Board, Bulletin No. 99 (Washington, D.C.: 1955).
20. J. Ross McKeever, Shopping Centers Restudied, Technical Bulletin No. 30 (Washington, D.C.: 1957) p. 34.
21. McKeever, pp. 9–10.
22. Community Builders Handbook (Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute, 1954) p. 274.