Immaculate Conception School home to city’s oldest bowling alley

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Immaculate Conception School home to city's oldest bowling alley

Members of the Immaculate Conception Holy Name Men's Club gathered for their Monday night bowling league on Jan. 29, 2024. The I.C. bowling alley, which is located in the school, still employs human pinsetters and runs mostly manual. In 2020, the alley became the oldest continuously operated bowling alley in the city of Chicago after Southport Lanes closed its doors due to the COVID pandemic. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The alley was recently painted the school colors for the 100th anniversary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Michael Harriss puts on his bowling shoes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Clark Jonathas prepares to take his turn. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Andy Osborn releases his ball down the lane. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin and Chris Doud look down the lanes in order to manually set the pins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic
Kevin and Chris Doud set pins and send the balls back. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin Kusinski discusses the game with Pete Zalinski and Clark Jonathas. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Shoes available for rent. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin Diver eyes the pins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Balls available for rent. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mike McDermott releases the ball at the line. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin Kusinski takes his turn. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners created murals to celebrate the alley's 100th anniversary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Don Frugoli is in full swing as he approaches the line. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Plaques display the names of team winners from past years. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Tom Kupka laughs as he prepares to take his turn while Michael Harriss watches. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

The basement of Immaculate Conception School, 7211 W. Talcott Ave., is home to a 100-year-old bowling alley that is the oldest continuously operated alley in the city of Chicago. It earned that distinction when Southport Lanes closed in 2021.

Built in 1924 as entertainment for seminarians and priests living at the Passionist seminary and monastery formerly located on the parish campus, the alley has four lanes operated by an antique, motorized Brunswick system that requires pins to be set by hand.

Kevin Kusinski currently manages the alley as a ministry of the parish’s Holy Name Society Men’s Club. Kusinski grew up across the street from the school and follows in the footsteps of his father, Ed Kusinski, who manned the bar for many years as a part-time job to help support his large family, and later managed the alley as a volunteer.

During its heyday, there were leagues five nights a week. Now, there is just one league of the Holy Name Society Men’s Club on Monday nights from fall to spring.

Kevin Kusinski remembers setting pins with his seven brothers.

“We’d come down here every Sunday to clean it so it would be all clean for the following week’s leagues,” he said.

They were paid, but not much, he said, laughing.

“And if you wanted a bag of chips or a pop, my dad took it out of your pay,” he said.

Young people still earn money collecting the balls and resetting the pins. It takes a deft hand to send the balls through the return because too much force causes the balls to fly off the track, members said.

“It’s physical work. It’s laborious down there,” Kusinski said.

The pin setters jump down into U-shaped wells to pick up the balls, put them on the returns, grab and reset the pins on the machine and jump back up so their feet don’t get hit by incoming balls.

Any advice for pin setters? “Get in and get out and pick up your feet because it hurts [when the balls hit them],” member Pete Zalinski said.

Parishioners and school families can rent the alley on weekends for $175.  The cost to the general public is $225.

“You can only bowl for three hours though, because the machines are very old and they will seize up and stop working after three hours,” Kusinski said. “They’ve got a thermal switch inside that cuts off when they overheat.”

People rent the alley for events like birthdays, baptisms and retirement parties. While the club has balls and shoes for rent, people often don’t bowl at all, Kusinski said. They just like the space. 

Proceeds from the parties and league are donated to the school and church.

Many churches had bowling alleys at one time, said Ed Kusinski, and both he and Kevin have picked up parts and furniture from around the city, including  antique benches along with a large bar.

When the parts for the alleys break, a Holy Name member repairs them for free.

In honor of the 100th anniversary,  parishioners repainted the walls in the school colors of blue and white and added murals painted by parishioners. Kevin Kusinski added vintage bowling ball bags they had in storage as decoration. One of those bags belonged to his mother, who is deceased.

The society’s four, four-member teams bowl three games a night for $15. A lot of comradery and joking takes place during the games. Along with their bowling shoes and balls, members bring bags of chips or pretzels to share with other members. The soda and beer from the bar is included in their membership.

Jim Lesniak started bowling with the Holy Name Society Men’s Club 48 years ago, but had to quit two years ago because of a shoulder injury. He is the society’s secretary and treasurer and still comes every week and records  the handwritten scores electronically. His nephew Peter Zalinski also bowls in the league.

“I’ve been doing it so long,” Lesniak said, which is why he keeps coming even though he no longer bowls. “I’ve known all these people for quite a long time.”

It is a special place, he noted.

“It’s also a place where you come and you bowl and you talk,” Lesniak said. “It’s been an experience.”

Like Kevin Kusinski, Zalinski and his siblings volunteered as pin setters growing up and later joined his father, Dave, in the bowling league.

“There’s so many stories wrapped up in here,” Zalinski said. “Even before I pin-set I used to go to Boy Scouts and it was held in the cafeteria. I’d come and knock on the door after and they would let me in and I would sit right next to my dad at the bar.”

When his father finished his game he would take him home, he recalled.

Zalinski started coming to bowl after he graduated from college in 1997. His father died about three months later. For the last 26 years, he has worn his father’s bowling shoes.

“After Dad died I sat in his chair and it was my chair,” he said.

In the early years, Zalinski said he came because he became friends with his father’s friends and could hang out with his uncle.

“Then you stay for the guys,” he said. “A lot of these guys are born out of this grammar school, right? Their kids went here and now they don’t go here and they stay.”

While the alley might not meet regulation standards, that is OK for Zalinski.

“I tell my friends, ‘It’s probably not the right width. It’s probably not the right length, but it’s perfect.’”

To learn more about the bowling alley, follow “I.C. Bowling Alley” on Facebook.


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