Does Riverside Church have a hidden bowling alley?
We got a lot of wonderful comments regarding our article on hidden bowling alleys in New York City. On the Untapped Cities Facebook page, a reader commented that we missed one in Brooklyn but said “Love your site. Is it bad I want to keep this one a secret?” We reassured her that some secrets are meant to be kept. Ellen Ryan from openhousenewyork wrote, “There’s one at the Park Avenue (or Seventh Regiment) Armory as well.” Yet another commenter told us “Riverside Church. I bowled there in college gym class in the late 60s. One of us would have to set the pins. Don’t know their current status.”
Indeed, Riverside Church was built with two underground floors that contained four bowling alleys, a gym, a theater and an auditorium. The inclusion of these amenities reflected a new theology for the Protestant Church. According to the book The History of Riverside Church in New York, this liberal view point ran “contrary to the sensitivities and beliefs of earlier Protestant theology, [and] implied a synthetic relationship between religion and culture.” According to the Columbia Spectator in 1938, students could bowl at Riverside Church on certain afternoons and there was even a Columbia phys-ed class held there. When we called the church today, the operator told us that the bowling alleys were no longer there.
Meanwhile, commenter Jeffrey Diamond asked us “I remember back maybe 25 years ago there was a bowling alley in the basement of this store. The entrance was on the side. But no one remembers this. Can you find out any info?” and sent us a Google Maps link to a building in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
We checked in with the Department of Buildings website on former Certificate of Occupancies of the building at 1723 Avenue U in Brooklyn, now Vision Palace Optical. Turns out, Diamond’s memory was definitely correct. A bowling alley was in the building as far back as 1944, along with billiards and a restaurant on the ground floor:
The 1959 Certificate of Occupancy also had similar usage:
But by the 1987 Certificate of Occupancy, the bowling alley usage was omitted.
(In case there’s confusion, Avenue U intersects with East 18th Street in Brooklyn)
We tried calling the optical but the rather surly owner denied any existence of a bowling alley.