I really loved the tale Eric Fermon told earlier this week about growing up during the 1970s in the Bernal Heights Projects on Ellsworth Street. But did you happen to catch this line he tucked in there?
Learning how to bowl at Mission Bowl while participating in a Saturday morning youth bowling league and looking forward to eating the best french fries on the planet there, and knowing that with just the right amount of ketchup they were extra-extra special.
That caught my eye. Bowling? At Mission Bowl? WHAAAAAATT!!!???
I’m a history geek, but I’d never heard of Mission Bowl. So what was it? And more importantly, where was it???
The brilliant Vicky Walker of the Bernal History Project provided the answer: Mission Bowl — or Sports Center Bowl, as it was formally called — used to occupy the lot at 3333 Mission that is now home to the large residential complex and Big Lots store, kitty-corner across the street from our Taoist Safeway.
But before we get to that, let’s back up a few decades to recall what that site looked like before Mission Bowl — and the reason why I was confused about its existence. My understanding had been that the present-day site of the Big Lots etc. used to be a streetcar repair facility operated by the Market Street Railway Company. And indeed, for the first half of the 20th century, that’s exactly what it was. Here’s how the “car barn” looked in 1921:
And here’s another view looking north up Mission Street in 1928. (Notice how the tracks have a switch that heads into the building on the right):
I knew about the Mission Car House, so I thought I understood the history of that site. But apparently, there was a gap in my timeline. Sometime between the time when the Car House was torn down and the Big Lots was constructed, the site had been home to the postwar Sports Center Bowling facility, aka Mission Bowl, which is shown in the image at the top of this post.
I found this little remembrance about Sports Center Bowl on Facebook:
This bowling alley was the epitome of 50’s and 60’s ambience. Dimly lit and smoky. A simpler times vibe with Dan O’Glove as your host. He was a great promoter of the sport of bowling. His Sports Center Bowl attracted the elite adult bowlers in not only San Francisco, but of the bay area and even southern California. His 32 lane house was a staple of AMF theme houses. Located at 29th and Mission streets in San Francisco. Home to The Washington Birthday Tournament. Such Pro and elite bowlers as Terry and Mike Leong ran the Pro Shop. Woman’s pro bowler Vesma Grinfelds was a regular when not on tour. Notable juniors and future adult stars to have frequent the lanes were Wayne Chester and Joe Goldstein. A 1 to 4 board shot was the norm and pot games were always flowing. The counter served up delicious American food fair right out of the 50’s and 60’s and the pinball machines were always full of adults and kids jockeying to play!
That “American food fair” [sic] presumably included the french fries Eric Fermon remembers so fondly. It also offered ample parking on the roof, via Coleridge Street:
So there you have it. Sadly, Mission Bowl is gone without a trace, and with it, Bernal Heights lost its bowling alley. But on the bright side, bowling is set for a revival in the Mission District, with new lanes planned for the Mission Bowling Club, which hopes to open in February on 17th Street near South Van Ness.
HISTORICAL PHOTOS: via the awesome San Francisco Public Library Historical Photograph Collection