Sacramento was once a bowling haven consisting of many more bowling alleys and bowling leagues competing throughout the city than there are today. And although bowling has declined in popularity since this time, a group of local ladies refuses to have these memories fade away.
Gathering last week at the Elephant Bar restaurant, just south of the Arden Fair Mall, the women, some of who began bowling in leagues in the late 1940s, shared some of these memories for the readers of this newspaper.
Members in attendance were Peggy Gamba of the East Sacramento/midtown Sacramento area, Amy Kanemoto of Greenhaven, Louise Martin and Jean (Nakatani) Yego of Land Park, Bev Russell of Carmichael, Merle (Hendrix) Cale, Lillie (Rollerson) Reed and Inky Davis of south Sacramento, Rena Barsanti of Rancho Cordova and Kay Hill of North Highlands.
Scattered about the Sacramento area in earlier years were such bowling alleys as the Alhambra Bowl at 1221 Alhambra Blvd., Alpine Alley at 2326 Florin Road, Capital Bowl at 1415 L St., Sacramento Bowl at 915 6th St., El Camino Bowl at 1194 El Camino Ave., El Rancho Bowl at 900 West Capitol Ave., Land Park Bowl at 5850 Freeport Blvd., North Sacramento Bowl at 1721 Del Paso Blvd., South Bowl at 5005 Stockton Blvd., and Town and Country Bowl at 2032 Fulton Ave.
Nonetheless, one would be hard pressed to mention a single bowling alley that has existed from the late 1940s to present that at least one person in the group could not describe.
For instance, Cale, 94, said that her favorite place to bowl was the Alhambra Bowl, which was located just north of Folsom Boulevard and included a large cocktail lounge.
“Alhambra Bowl was a really big, nice place with 16 lanes and there was a guy sitting up there (above the pins) and the pins were set up manually,” Cale said. “I bowled there from 1945 to 1969 and the owner was a man, named John Bascou. I was our team’s captain and we won the championship as the Barristers (team) in 1958. Three sisters and two sister-in-laws completed the team.”
Gamba, who bowled in Sacramento and other cities from 1948 to 1984, explained that participating in bowling tournaments was only a part of the reason that she enjoyed bowling.
“I bowled in many places in Sacramento such as Alhambra, Capital Bowl, Sacramento Bowl and Town and Country and I had great times going to the nationals, but it was just nice to get together with friends,” Gamba said. “I really looked forward to those (bowling) nights and meeting the ladies and their husbands. And sometimes we would go out to dinner with them afterward. We just had a great time.”
Perfect games, perfect friends
It is evident that the camaraderie shared by many of the bowlers at the time is something that continues today through this monthly group.
Inquiring about these ladies’ best, all-time scores is a good way to find out how serious they took these matches.
“My best was a 697 (in a three-game series) and a 297 in a single game,” said Reed, whose husband Ray also bowled in Sacramento. “I also bowled in 22 national tournaments.”
Other bowlers in the group also bowled single games in the high 290s, with even others bowling in the 280s.
Commenting about her single game high of 286, Yego said, “I could just never get to 300.”
But bowling a perfect 300 game was something that was quite elusive for most bowlers.
One of the group’s members said that a bit of Sacramento history was made when Doreen Lowry became the first female to bowl 300 in a single game at Alhambra Bowl.
Within the group, three members of the Sacramento Women’s Bowling Association’s Hall of Fame – Barsanti, Russell and Hill – sat at the restaurant’s table. A former member of the group, the late Betty Allum, was also named to the same Hall of Fame.
“My finest moment as an individual was (winning) the California Women’s Bowling Association’s Queens Championship Tournament (in 1973),” Barsanti said. “The California Queen was a (double elimination, four-game match) singles event. I was also the California Queen runner-up in 1970. As a team member, four times we took the Classic Division.”
Russell said that although achieving success in bowling was important, she also enjoyed promoting the city of Sacramento through her participation in the sport.
“I traveled to 28 states and representing Sacramento women all over the nation was one of the highlights of my years of bowling,” Russell said.
Bowling for a good time
During these early years of bowling in Sacramento, local female bowlers were oftentimes members of the Women’s International Bowling Congress, while male bowlers often bowled in leagues of the American Bowling Congress.
But joining these organizations was not an option for non-Caucasians prior to the 1950s, explained Yego, whose father, Soichi Nakatani, was born in Japan in 1889 and came to Sacramento in 1907, and whose mother, Mary (Takagi) Nakatani, was born in San Francisco in 1903 and came to Sacramento in 1928.
“My husband was able to bowl in 1948, because he was in the service, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that Asian people could be members in men’s and women’s bowling associations in Sacramento and we couldn’t bowl in tournaments,” said Yego, who was celebrating her 80th birthday with the group.
Reed, who chuckled when the topic arose of being the youngest member of the group at 75 years old, said that black bowlers were held from the association’s league until 1954.
“I didn’t start bowling until 1968, but my husband talked about how tough it was bowling (during these segregated times),” Reed said. “He was eventually president of the Sacramento Bowling Association in the 1980s. He was also on the board of directors and I was on the board of directors, too.”
Commenting about these days of segregation, Russell said, “Nowadays you don’t think of people not being able to do something because of their skin color. We definitely live in better times for that.”
Hill said that newspapers played a large part in the publicity of the local bowling leagues and bowling in Sacramento, in general.
Among the sponsors during this time were: the Crystal Cream and Butter Co., Proctor and Gamble, KXOA radio station, the Palomino Room, De Vons Jewelers, Hamilton Furniture Co., Joe Freitas, Ross Relles, Arden Fair Fashion, Mandella Liquors and Delicatessen, AAA towing, the Victor Trophy Co., Paul’s Men’s Store and Skalisky painting contractors.
Also publicizing local bowling during the 1960s and 1970s was the Sacramento Bowling News, which was headed by its owner and editor, Bobbie Johnson.
Describing Johnson as a “lifesaver,” Reed added, “She used to hold contests for the best bowlers and different things. We really missed that paper when it had to fold.”
Reed, who served as the president of the Ladies (bowling) All Stars of Sacramento, said that television played a lesser role in the publicity of local bowling leagues.
“(Television) wasn’t giving local bowlers much publicity, so I remember petitioning to Channel 10 to get more coverage,” Reed said. “We met with the program director, Cal Bollwinkle, in 1974 and he told us to send him the scores and some information about the bowlers. The station actually showed the scores for a while, but it didn’t last long. We did get a few TV news cameras out for some of the top men and some local women bowlers did get on TV at the El Rancho Bowl in West Sacramento.”
Longing for the lanes
When asked why she believes bowling has lost much of its popularity in Sacramento, Barsanti said, “I think part of it is there are so many more things for people to do (in Sacramento). When we started in the late 1940s or early 1950s, there wasn’t a lot going on (in the city) and World War II had just ended. We were in that (era) when we didn’t have to do a lot of really exciting things to be entertained. We found that recreational sports were a great way out and a great coming together.”
But although these days are long gone and most of the members of the group no longer bowl, there is one thing that the members refuse to give up and that is their fond memories of bowling in a golden age in Sacramento.
E-mail Lance Armstrong at Lance@valcomnews.com.