57-year-old bowling alley throws its last strike
Randee Jackson doesn’t remember exactly when she first put on a pair of bowling shoes at 20th Century Lanes. Late 1970s? Early 1980s?
All she knows is that the bowling center became ingrained in her life.
Sitting in the lounge Friday, Jackson recalled starting in one league. She wound up in three leagues. Jackson and a group of Boiseans would bowl and drink beer. Then they’d head to the Stagecoach Inn in Garden City afterward for bar prawns, halibut chunks and salad.
“I met a lot of great people here,” said Jackson, 64. “It’s just really sad that it’s leaving. But it’s a lot of great memories.”
After 57 years at 4712 W. State St., 20th Century Lanes said goodbye Friday. Children, teens, adults and seniors with canes packed the 24-lane bowling center. Everyone bowled for free from noon to midnight. Tables were filled with giveaway goodies: 20th Century Lanes flying discs, yo-yos, coffee cups.
As the sound of crashing pins filled the space for the final time, friends, patrons and employees — past and present — took group photos and relived the past.
“I almost couldn’t come,” Gwynne Lethcoe said, wiping away tears. “This is my home. This is my family.”
Lethcoe coached the junior league program for 25 years.
“I learned to bowl when I was 3 — so 42 years ago,” she said. “My dad, myself and my son all bowled our first 300s here.
“For the past 25 years, I’ve spent every Saturday here. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Saturdays now.”
20th Century Lanes could not afford to stay in business, owner Mona Lindeen said. Not at the building owner’s rental price. Not with bowling’s popularity slipping nationwide.
“It’s just not what it used to be,” Lindeen said.
Teachers at nearby Collister Elementary School still walked excited kindergarten and first-grade students to 20th Century Lanes for field trips. Couples still shared date-night cocktails and gutter balls. Seniors still visited for free lessons. Families still bowled.
But league bowling has plummeted nationwide, Lindeen said.
“Most of our bowlers are people who just come in for recreational bowling,” she said. “We used to have two leagues a night. And daytime leagues. And Sunday leagues. And now we have 11 leagues in total. We used to have at least 25.”
General manager Lucas Hohnstein, Lindeen’s grandson, isn’t sure what his next step will be. His wife, Acacia — he met her at the bowling alley — is starting a home day-care business.
Hohnstein, 26, has drawn a paycheck from the bowling center since he was 13. His dad was the bowling center’s mechanic; Randy Hohnstein died two years ago.
“It definitely is pretty much all I’ve ever known,” Lucas Hohnstein said.
Oh, but there was a five-year detour, Lindeen points out proudly. Hohnstein attended the University of Pikeville in Kentucky on a bowling scholarship. He also coached bowling at another Kentucky school for a year. Still, he returned to work at 20th Century during summers.
As a fourth-generation 20th Century Lanes kid, Hohnstein essentially became a bowler at birth.
“My husband got a bowling pin set and bowling ball and set it up in the kitchen,” Lindeen remembered. “He had Lucas rolling the ball from one end of the kitchen to the other to knock the pins down. He was just a little squirt.”
20th Century Lanes not only changed the lives of the family who owned it. It altered the destinies of Boiseans who frequented it and worked there.
“I met my husband here,” said JoLyn Holladay, 60, who worked at the bowling center for 17 years starting around 1985. “This is what employees and family have always called Love Lanes. Lots of employees and family have met their spouses here.”
Established in 1937, 20th Century Lanes began in the second-floor Downtown Boise space many Idahoans know as the Rose Room. Eventually it moved to 606 Idaho St. That’s when Lindeen’s father, Emerson Maxson, started working at the bowling alley. In the mid-1950s, Maxson bought it with a partner, Lindeen said.
In 1960, Maxson moved the bowling center to State Street. Things were too crowded in Downtown Boise.
“We had the Bohemian Brewery across the street from us,” Lindeen said, “and parking was getting more difficult.”
20th Century Lanes is Maxson’s legacy, she says. “He’s the one that started it and got all of his little family working in it,” she said. “... But it’s truly been a family operation.”
Lindeen is grateful for the years she got to watch her daughters and son bowl in junior leagues or work at the desk, in the cafe and at the bar.
Closing has left her with mixed feelings, though.
“I said I’m never every going to bowl again,” Lindeen said. “I’m through. I’m going to sell the place. I’m going to throw my bowling balls away.
“But then people on these other teams that I bowled with asked me if I would come bowl with them. I know I’m going to go bowl once with them. But I’m not going to do it every week.”
Lindeen will knock down pins at Westy’s Garden Lanes in Garden City, she said. A similarly old-school bowling alley, Westy’s is honoring all of 20th Century’s “kids bowl free” coupons this summer.
The huge ball-and-pin sculpture in front of 20th Century Lanes will be donated to the Idaho State Historical Museum. It will find a new home in Julia Davis Park.
And the lounge at 20th Century Lanes will keep pouring cocktails while the bowling equipment is removed and sold. “It will stay open until Lucas gets everything out of there,” Lindeen said. After that, she’ll sell the liquor license.
So if you missed out Friday, you can still sneak into the bar for another six weeks or so. To pay your respects to a disappearing era and Boise icon. To raise a toast to the multiple generations of bowlers who ran 20th Century Lanes.
Sipping a glass of beer at the bar Friday, Jackson described the type of business that’s become extinct in the 21st century.
“They never treated any of us like customers,” she said. “We were family. If you left your checkbook home, they’d take your word that you would be good for it the next week.
“Their food’s always been really good, too,” she said, nibbling a tater tot. “Really good.”