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Bowling for Dollars

Posted 10/25/2000

Bowling for DollarsLast month we reported that Federal Hill's 61-year-old Southway Bowling Center was facing its 10th frame (Mobtown Beat, 9/27). The building is being sold. The bilevel duckpin-bowling center is slated to become swanky loft apartments for young professionals--the sort of cash-flush folks who've steadily been transforming once-sleepy South Baltimore into a Formstone-free realm of bistros, wine bars, and four-figure rents. But the ducks are not going down without a fight.The building can't be saved, but, some say, maybe the center's lanes, balls, pins, and equipment can. However, this effort will take quite a bit of money--$50,000 at least. A group of dedicated duckpinners calling themselves the Spare Southway Committee are, uh, pinning their hopes on Spare Southway: The Great Baltimore Bowl-Off. Scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 10 through 12, the goal of this maple-wood marathon is to raise money to fund removal of the Southway's bowling equipment for possible installation elsewhere in the neighborhood.

"I sort of went crazy when I heard the lanes were closing," says committee member Susan Tobin, a photographer with the Walters Art Museum who's been scattering the ducks at Southway for 15 years. "I started making phone calls and talking with people about possible ways to save the lanes."

For 10 years, Tobin helped organized the Culture Bowl at the Southway, an annual duckpin tournament involving the city's museums, galleries, and cultural institutions (everything from the National Aquarium to the Baltimore Zoo). The Bowl-Off will build on this concept, but will be open to all groups and individuals that have an interest in Baltimore's homegrown game. Teams of up to five bowlers can take to the maple for four-hour time slots at a cost of $250 (individuals can bowl for $20 a game). Local artists are being asked to create custom trophies to be awarded throughout weekend.

The lanes, which were scheduled to fall silent Oct. 14, are being kept open for the event through the cooperation of the Fedders Corp. (which currently owns the building) and the Federal Hill Loft Apartments LLC (which is in the process of buying it). The Southway's lanes and pinsetters will be donated to the bowling boosters, providing they can pay to have the equipment removed. Tobin says temporary storage for the equipment has already been found, and there are leads on places where the the lanes could be re-installed. (The idea is to keep duckpins in South Baltimore, if at all possible.) But finding a way to open the "Southway II" is a future battle. The current goal is just to secure the equipment. Groups that have already expressed interest rolling for the cause include the Walters, Donna's Coffee Bars, the Senator Theatre, Coleman Nelson & Sons Ltd. jewelers, the Maryland Historical Society, and local preservationist group Baltimore Heritage.

"Duckpin bowling is 100 years old," Tobin says. "We should be celebrating it, not shutting it down."

Tobin's partner in duckpin preservation is Gilda Johnson, a fourth-generation South Baltimore native who helps run her family's maritime supply house. She's championed the changes the new blood has brought to her erstwhile blue-collar neighborhood over the years, but feels the "careless and indifferent" closing of the Southway is "the straw that broke the camel's back."

"This a beloved family institution, and its closing could tear our community apart," she says. "I'm in favor of all the new restaurants, but they shouldn't be all we have to offer here."

Johnson has hand-delivered what she calls her save-the-Southway "plea package" to a number of folks in town who've been known to champion Charm City causes, including Orioles owner Peter Angelos, developer Bill Struever, and Abell Foundation President Bob Embry. (None of these heavy-hitters has offered any help as of press time.)

Well, if the big guys can't help, perhaps we can. The Nose knows a thing or two about duckpinning. Maybe our colleagues at the The Sun, Baltimore magazine, and the local TV and radio stations would care to take on a City Paper team for the cause. There has been talk of having a maple-wood meeting of local media outlets during the bowl-a-thon. We'll keep you posted. For more information about the Spare the Southway Bowl-Off, call (410) 752-6671.

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