Church congregation plans to remodel bowling alley to use as its new home

June 14, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Gaylord Gibson fondly remembers Sunday nights when he and others in the church bowling league went to Bowl America Dundalk and prayed for strikes or to be spared the lone tenpin.

That was two years ago, before the neighborhood bowling alley closed down and the church league died.

Memories of those bowling excursions came back to Mr. Gibson this week. His congregation is buying the old bowling alley and turning it into a church.

"We jokingly said, 'Well, let's leave a couple of lanes in,' " he said.

The Rev. William Jones, who is the pastor of the Inverness Presbyterian Church, and most of the 400 members of the church's congregation see the 30-year-old, 40-lane bowling alley as the answer to their prayers. The 36,000-square-foot building, located on 2.8 acres of land, has twice as much space as they now have. And they bought the building for a relatively good price -- $529,000.

Their old church at 49 Inverness Ave. limits the congregation. Parking is almost nonexistent. Some members park at Patapsco High School, then walk several blocks.

Plus, the sanctuary is on the second floor. Older congregation members, as well as the handicapped, cannot negotiate the spiral staircase. Funeral services can't be held there, either.

Those problems won't exist at the new building. There's enough room for a 1,000-seat sanctuary, offices, Sunday-school rooms, a day-care center and a gymnasium, said Mr. Jones, who is not put off by the bowling alley's current appearance.

All 40 wooden lanes remain, as well as the distinctive plastic bowling seats and the counter. The snack bar is there too, along with its 1950s chrome swivel bar stools. The slots that once held dozens of sweaty bowling shoes are empty.

A sign reads: "Notice: After 6 p.m. the Bowling Center is for Adults."

"Our goal is to be in here by Easter of 1994," said Mr. Jones. "You get a good architect in here, they can do wonders."

He knows what human hands, blessed by God, can do with an old bowling alley. He's seen evidence of it, just a few minutes away at the old Cedonia Lanes at 5225 Hamilton Ave.

There, the Rev. Bennett Donnell, his wife, the church's associate pastor, Jean Donnell, and their New Solid Rock Church congregation, have turned an old 40-lane bowling alley into a working church.

"To see what those folks have done is unreal," marveled Mr. Jones.

"When they walked through here, they saw what you can do with a bowling alley," said Mrs. Donnell, whose congregation of about 400 attends regular church service in an area that used to contain lanes 30 through 40.

"In some places, you don't even know it was a bowling alley," she said. "Basically, you have 32,000 square feet and you just carve it up the way you want."

Market changes and lack of business is forcing more and more bowling alleys to close their doors, making them available for other uses. According to the American Bowling Congress, 4,000 bowling alleys have closed in the last 30 years.

Les Goldberg, president of the Bowl America chain of 24 bowling alleys, said the Dundalk alley closed because business went down. To keep the lanes open, the company would have had to spend a lot of money upgrading the center, he said.

When the New Solid Rock Church first moved into Cedonia Lanes, the place still looked like a bowling alley -- inside and outside. People occasionally showed up to bowl. Mrs. Donnell said she would tell some of those wandering souls, "We're bowling for Jesus now."

Though renovations are not complete, the New Solid Rock Church has built offices, a day-care room, a Sunday-school room and a 400-seat sanctuary. They're planning to build a 1,000-seat sanctuary, add a weight room and put a children's playground outside.

"This is still a place for fellowship," said Mrs. Donnell. "This is still a place to get rid of your stress. It's just not a bowling alley anymore."

The Inverness Presbyterian Church hopes to be just as successful as the New Solid Rock Church in its bowling alley conversion project. The building committee is searching for an architect.

And there are some tough decisions to make, such as what to do with the massive bowling pin, bowling ball and X that decorates the building's front.

Mr. Jones jokes about keeping the huge sign. "Maybe we'll put 'Holy Rollers' up there," he said.

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