Bowling is a sport almost as old as newspapers in San Luis Obispo. The county's first newspaper, the San Luis Obispo Pioneer, carried advertising for Sauer & Little's Eureka Bowling Saloon in May 1869.
The engraving was so wide it had to be tipped on its side to fit in the classified advertising columns.
A pin boy waits at the end next to the pins and a gravity ramp that returned the ball.
Today, the only alley left in town is at Cal Poly. Paso Robles and Pismo Beach also have alleys. Creekside Lanes in Atascadero closed in October 2004.
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In San Luis Obispo, a proposed 13-lane bowling alley/concert venue/bar/restaurant at 1144 Chorro St. is going before the City Council in September.
That bowling alley developer is rolling against the trend.
A May 10, 2015, story by Frank Witsil of the Detroit Free Press said the postwar boom in bowling alleys nationwide peaked in the mid-1960s. A 2011 study by White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group in Kansas City said there were about 12,000 alleys in the United States.
Even the White House had a two-lane alley installed in 1947.
Bloomberg Businessweek's Patrick Clark reported on July 10, 2014, that bowling center numbers had declined 25 percent from 1998 — from just under 5,500 centers to 4,061. The same story has a chart showing California is the state with the third-fewest bowling centers per 100,000 residents. (Only Nevada and Hawaii have fewer.) Cold-weather states roll the most, with South Dakota at the top of the list.
On May 16, 1998, Telegram-Tribune reporter Matt Lazier marked the frame on the last scorecard for Laurel Bowl.
Last BallAfter 37 years, final pin falls at Laurel Bowl
The mood Friday hovered somewhere between nostalgic and sad as the final strikes, spares and gutters were thrown at Laurel Bowl.
The bowling alley closed its doors after 37 years of operation with a marathon "lights out" tournament.
More than 90 bowlers came for the final night. Many of the patrons were regulars who wore tags indicating the year they began frequenting the establishment.
Some tags, such as the one worn by Karen Sorenson of San Luis Obispo, dated clear back to the alley's opening.
"My daughter and I will be here late tonight to throw one of the last balls at Laurel Lanes, " Sorenson said. "This has been like home for a long time."
The closure of Laurel Bowl leaves San Luis Obispo with only 10 bowling lanes on the Cal Poly campus. For many Laurel Bowl regulars, this will mean taking their pastime out of the city.
"My daughter is a junior bowler, and she will most likely end up going to Santa Maria to bowl, " Sorenson said.
"I have tried to address the City Council about this, to tell them that people will once again be taking their money out of San Luis Obispo."
Terri Wright of San Luis Obispo agreed, but said Friday night would not be spent thinking about where to bowl in the future.
"Tonight, we're just going to bowl and drink and cry, " Wright said. "Then, we'll stay until 1 a.m. and race to see who can throw the last ball."
Laurel Bowl manager David Mena said most of the bowlers shared the desire to look back on good times from 37 years of bowling.
"It seems like there is a lot of reminiscing and memories here tonight, " said Mena, an 11-year employee of the bowling alley.
"Some of the leagues have dissipated already, but for many of these people, this is the only place they have to gather. I think a lot of these people may not see each other again after tonight, " he said.
The sale of the bowling alley was announced in November. Stockholders sold the building after trying for six years to find a buyer who would continue the bowling business. Pete Colombo, general manager of the bowling alley and owner of Colombo's Back Door, the attached bar and restaurant, said the city's 1990 anti-smoking ordinance drove bowlers away and ruined the business.
Patrick Smith, owner of Avila Beach Realty and Smith and Co. real estate investment and development, bought the building. Smith plans to turn Laurel Bowl into a care center for Alzheimer's patients.
Colombo's Back Door was also scheduled to close its doors Friday, but Colombo decided to keep it open for one more night because of a glut of reservations.
"We didn't want to turn anyone away, " Colombo said. "We have about 150 reservations for Saturday."
Colombo said the restaurant also had 150 reservations Friday.
"We want this restaurant to go somewhere else in town, " said Peggy Bernard, a regular diner, as she waited for her meal Friday.
"We just need a small restaurant where they can stay open because Colombo's serves the best food, " she said.
Colombo said he is actively searching for another location for the restaurant, but has yet to find a suitable place.
"We want to find the right place for it, and we are looking," he said.