Twin Oaks Lanes was a West Toledo curiosity, a neighborhood business that never appeared to be bustling with customers, and was as old school as those one-room schoolhouses from decades past.
Like many who routinely drove by the bowling alley, at 2816 W. Sylvania Ave., I was curious how such a place stayed in business and if its innards were as wonderfully frozen in time as I imagined them to be. Turns out my imagination didn’t do the place justice, with its wood-paneled walls, working rotary dial telephone, and orange carpet and matching chairs.
Toledo’s last surviving wooden bowling alley, as I would later learn from the owners, was as old as the “Day of Infamy,” Dec. 7, 1941, and looked to have been updated only a few decades past that.
Todd Rowland tries to pick up a last pin while bowling with the Kenny Mummert Memorial League Monday, April 24, 2017, at Twin Oaks Lanes in North Toledo.
RELATED CONTENT: Cause of Twin Oaks fire still under investigation
It also had long since survived its namesakes. The first of its towering oaks was destroyed in the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak April 11-12, 1965; the other tree crashed into the bowling alley only hours before Sept. 11, 2001. Sadly, it did not survive the fire that engulfed it Saturday afternoon and burned much of it to the ground. What was left standing was razed by the city and encircled with a fence to keep onlookers from getting too close. Fire officials said earlier this week they have not determined the cause of the blaze.
Twin Oaks Lanes was living history, certainly more alive during bowling league nights than the quiet parking lot during the off-season suggested.
Unseen in the back wall behind the bowling pins, for example, were the signatures of long-replaced original pinsetters from as far back as the 1940s. You can see some of those names in a collection of photos by Blade photographer Katie Rausch documenting Twin Oaks Lanes for a Blade Magazine profile I wrote that ran May 7, 2017.
For the piece I interviewed one of the owners, Sharon Kuhnle, who bought Twin Oaks Lanes in 1999 with her husband, Jeff. About a year after the story ran, Jeff's anti-Muslim online comments posted in 2016 and 2017 understandably drew the ire of many in the community, and he later met with leaders of the area’s Muslim community and apologized. It’s important to note that fire officials do not believe those posts are related to the fire.
Unfortunately, for Twin Oaks Lanes, its legacy, at least short term, is part of that. But the loss of such a place shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
As Sharon told me for the 2017 article, “It just feels like home, and that’s one thing we always wanted to make it. When you walk in the door you’re home. I get a lot of guys walking in the door and saying “‘Honey, I’m home.’”
Most of us remember our childhood home(s). Even if we haven’t been back to that home in decades, there’s comfort knowing it’s still around.
That’s Twin Oaks Lanes. It’s the home you grew up in, and maybe haven’t seen in a long time, but you never want it to go away, no matter if you like the new owners and what they’ve done to the place.
The Kuhnles didn’t do much to Twin Oaks. And that was a good thing.
Many signs pointed to the success of the Twin Oaks Lanes, such as a pair of oak trees donated by a regular customer in 2002 that were growing, ever so slowly, in the front of the building.
But my favorite sign was inside, nailed to the wall about a foot above the urinal.
“We aim to please. You aim too, please!”
History may not always be pleasing, but we’ll miss it when it’s gone.
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