We Remember 1962: When Bowling Came to Pine River Plaza

One of the first photographs of the completed 300 Bowl on the northwest corner of Pine River Plaza. It was late August 1962.

Above: Opening night, September 4, 1962. Everyone in the 300 Bowl stood for the National Anthem, then a bowler on each lane launched their ball down their respective alley – all at the same time.

Margarette Mettert from Alma cuts the ribbon at Gratiot Lanes on September 24, 1962. Mettert was the secretary of the Central Michigan Women’s Bowling Association. The event marked the beginning of 16-team “Assorted Sixteen” league.

One very happy bowler. Mercer Cook of Alma throws the first 300 Game at Gratiot Lanes on a Saturday afternoon in 1963. Owner Ken Luneack awarded Cook with $100 and 100 free games at Gratiot Lanes.

It was known as the great bowling alley race.

In the spring of 1962, two new bowling alleys were among the first places to be built at the intersection of Alger Road and M-46. This new location, a product of the changes that brought the new US-27 Highway to Gratiot County, first held the 300 Bowl.

The 300 Bowl broke ground on April 26, 1962, and planned to have its alley up and operational by late July. Paul Cameron, the owner of the 300, said the new alley had 34 lanes and would be located on the northwest corner of the intersection.

Strahan Construction Company built the building, measuring 140×160 feet on 7 acres, with five features: a meeting room, tap room, snack bar, pro shop, and playroom for children. This bowling alley also featured Brunswick pinsetters and products. The cost for the 300 would be $600,000, and the lanes turned out to be the longest ever produced by Unit Structures, Incorporated of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. The lanes were so long that a special permit had to be obtained from the Highway Division to deliver them to Alma.

It took 8,000 nails to put each lane together, and each lane bed consisted of 3,200 linear feet of select Pine and Maple, fit tongue and groove, and nailed on each end. The individual lanes sat on a 2×4, 2×10 framework. Each end also had Maple to handle the ball’s impact and the pins. Pine wood with open grain made up the lanes’ middle and held each ball’s spin. Brunswick crews put together all of the lumber.

On September 1, 1962, the 300 Bowl opened. Manager Don Hall and well know bowlers Larry Graham and Rex Nelson also were present. A little over a week later, the action officially started when Alma Products and Alma Businessmen League opened league play. On that night at 7:00 pm, everyone in the alley stopped and stood for the National Anthem. A row of 24 men then threw their balls down their alley to initiate the 300 Bowl.

The public officially used the 300 on October 19, 1962. The alley opened at 10:00 am and remained open until the last person left that night.

However, another bowling alley soon opened across the intersection in the Pine River Plaza on the southeast side. Kenneth R. Luneack announced in April 1962 that he planned to open a 16-lane bowling alley,  Gratiot Lanes, which he did on September 13, 1962. Luneack also owned Riviera Lanes on Michigan Avenue in St. Louis.

At Gratiot Lanes, Luneack promoted using AMF lanes, equipment, and sales. He was also the first to offer the AMF Spare maker in his alley. When Gratiot Lanes opened on September 13, 1962, it offered the public three days of open bowling. About two weeks later, Gratiot Lanes officially opened, and Margarette Mettert, secretary of Central Michigan Women’s Bowling Association, cut the ribbon. The “Assorted 16” women’s league was the first league to use the alley.

Gratiot Lanes entered the news in January 1963, when Mercer Cook threw the first 300 game. On that day, everyone in the alley stopped to watch Cook as he moved frame by frame toward finishing his game on his way to a perfect 300. As a result, owner Kenneth Luneack awarded Cook $100 and 100 free games. Cook’s feat was said to be only the second recorded 300 game bowled on an area alley at that time!

As time passed, Alma’s 300 Bowl and Gratiot Lanes were home to many young and old bowlers who participated in league play or just went out for recreation at the alleys.

Copyright 2023 James M Goodspeed

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