Joseph Brown, 74, duckpin pioneer, owner of West Baltimore bowling alley

March 26, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Joseph Brown, a pioneer in duckpin circles who owned the Lafayette Bowling Center, died Tuesday of cancer at his Walbrook home. He was 74.

His 16-lane West Baltimore bowling alley was once the largest in the city owned by an African-American.

"His place was so busy, there were times when he didn't close until 2 or 3 in the morning," said Phil Moore Jr., a friend and former employee. "The Lafayette was a real gathering place. We had Jim Parker, Lenny Moore, Joe Louis, Mahalia Jackson, James Brown and Archie Moore in there at one time or another."

Remembered as a kind man who remained loyal to friends and employees, Mr. Brown was also an accomplished duckpin bowler. He held a 134 lifetime average and met with friends weekly at Westview Lanes until ill health kept him off the lanes late last year.

In 1952, he purchased Lafayette Bowling Center, at Lafayette Avenue and Bentalou Street. At the time, there was another, larger duckpin center, the Strand on Pennsylvania Avenue, for black bowlers.

Mr. Brown managed his property carefully, and it outlasted his competition. He closed the center in 1993.

"It was a nice neighborhood place," said Maxine Boyd, a duckpin bowler who won the 1966 Evening Sun championship. "He taught me how to bowl and how to keep trying until I won."

In the 1960s, Mr. Brown branched out and purchased adjacent hardware and liquor stores at North and Braddish avenues. He also leased the Edmondson Village bowling lanes in the basement of the shopping center of the same name in the 1970s.

Born in Baltimore, he grew up on Ward Street near Carroll Park. He was a graduate of Frederick Douglass High School.

As a young man, Mr. Brown played golf at the Carroll Park course. In the days of racial segregation, the Southwest Baltimore public park golf course was open to blacks only on certain days of the week.

He decided to bowl duckpins because there was more opportunity in the game for a young black man. He learned the game quickly but still played golf. Throughout, he encouraged young blacks to take up bowling as a team sport.

In 1944, he married Princess L. Berthards, a social worker. She died in 1992.

During World War II, he served as a pharmacist's mate in the Navy and was an X-ray technician in the Pacific.

He was a member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Maryland and supported the Maryland School for the Blind and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

A Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church, 3301 Clifton Ave. in Walbrook, where he was a member.

He is survived by a son, William Brown, and a daughter, Janet Brown, both of Baltimore; two brothers, Elijah Brown of Baltimore and Edward Brown of Columbus, Ga.; a sister, Florence Savage of Baltimore; a friend, Zelma Louise Jennings of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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