By Don Bradley
Somebody coming back to the old neighborhood around Ward Parkway Shopping Center may not recognize much.
The mall’s been transformed, nearby buildings gone, others added. New this, new that.
And then smack dab in all the new is the red-brick link to the old: Ward Parkway Lanes. The bowling center just south of the mall dates back to Eisenhower. The Chiefs hadn’t even come to town. Pre-Beatles.
And on a recent Thursday the place was rockin’ with a large group called the Senior Travel League who come from all over the metro area.
“It’s not like this every day,” owner Kevin Barnes said. “We’re not all the way back, but we’re getting there.”
Covid hurt bowling centers around the country. Some didn’t make it back from shutdowns. Ward Parkway Lanes did. Absolutism is risky in journalism but Barnes and others believe Ward Parkway Lanes at 1523 W. 89th St., is the only bowling center still standing within Kansas City city limits.
It hasn’t been easy. Barnes is just now getting back to full staff.
“We’re still needing help, but we’re getting 1,100 league bowlers in here every week,” he said.
The Senior Travel League shows up every seven weeks. They go elsewhere to the other six. They are an older group which means they come for more than bowling.
“I used to be pretty competitive, but I pretty much come for the social part now,” Lynn Katzman said loud enough to be heard above the crashing pins. “And I remember this guy from the old days.”
That would be Barnes, who grew up in Roeland Park and graduated high school in 1974. When he was young, he worked part-time at a bowling center just to pay for his bowling.
Then it became a full-time career with King Louie. He liked the work but after a buyout he soured on the corporate world.
“The job got to be less and less about bowling,” Barnes said. “So I started looking for the door.”
In 1992, he and some partners bought Ward Parkway Lanes. Right off the start, he gave six months notice to the Chinese restaurant that occupied the center’s bar area.
Nothing against Chinese cuisine, it just didn’t fit his image of a bowling alley. Plus, he needed the food and drink revenue himself.
Barnes found old records that showed the center began league play in 1960. That would mean the place had a loyal following. It also meant it needed some sprucing up and modernization.
He updated from the old wax pencils to automatic scoring. He added synthetic lanes. Over time, he redid the snack bar and parking lot. Business grew. The city’s smoking ban cut into the momentum for a while but the center made it past that and Barnes is happy the change occurred.
Today, the center hosts children’s birthday parties. And group parties, reunions and fundraisers. Every Thursday, bowling is free from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for anyone over 55.
The bar, Mug Shots, draws a crowd.
Barnes, who long ago bought out the other partners, knows he’s got one of the last links to the old Ward Parkway neighborhood. His grandparents lived in the area and he remembers what the place looked like.
“It doesn’t look like that anymore,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think about us being the last of the old days, but we’re still here and I’m proud of that. I’m proud we’re giving people what they want.
“You come in here on a Wednesday, half the people you see are here every Wednesday.”