Dunes era officially over in Gary
BY ANTHONY NASELLA Post-Tribune correspondent June 26, 2012 11:16PM
Leslie Adkins/Post-Tribune Twelve year old Stepfhanie Johnson is part of the new Dunes Bowl Youth League. The program is reforming after a brief 3 year abscence. Children start bowling at age 5.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:32AM
When Dunes Bowl, the last surviving bowling center in Gary, closed its doors a year ago, there were still hopes among the bowling community that new ownership would emerge with funds to reopen the center.
But any hopes of that happening literally crumbled this past week when demolition of the once-popular center began. Now Dunes is just a bittersweet memory in a town which once featured a dozen thriving bowling centers, from Ambassador Lanes to Tri-City Bowl.
First known as 12/20, Dunes started like any center, looking to gain league interest. At its peak, the leagues on Thursday and Friday night drew the biggest crowds, with bowlers coming from as far as Chicago and even Michigan to compete — especially for the lucrative side-pot games.
“We held at 42 teams strong for many years,” Pat Isabell, Dunes manager for nearly 20 years, said of the Friday league. “That was a high point in my career there. And we had no leagues when we opened in December of 1991,” Isabell said. “I remember building up all of our leagues, and the popularity of our youth leagues was another high point.
“We were one big family; I got to know pretty much everybody that bowled there because I was there almost seven days a week. Our owners, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, were devoted to our patrons and were always looking out for their best interests at all times.”
Dennis Forbes Jr., Lake Shore Bowling Association member and longtime bowler at Dunes, said the center was supposedly purchased by a potential investor for almost $200,000, and there’s speculation that an office complex will now be built on the site.
“Dunes was a good house to bowl in, and it was known to have one of the tougher shots,” Forbes Jr. said. “Ever since Tri-City closed, everybody moved to Dunes, and I had bowled there since high school. The staff did a great job over the years there, and it showed with the popularity of the center.”
According to Anthony Forbes, younger brother of Dennis and another longtime patron, Dunes began a noticeable decline after longtime owner James Johnson sold the center.
“The new owner was making all these promises, and the first thing he did was have a comedy night in the bar,” Forbes said. “He asked me if I was coming, and I said I wasn’t. I asked him what he was doing for the bowlers. And that was the last season I bowled at Dunes.
“Bowlers don’t want comedy nights and poetry jams; they want to bowl. They want good lane conditions and automatic scoring. But it’s sad that we don’t have a bowling center now in Gary because we have plenty of space for one. But when Dunes was good, it was very good.”
Lake Shore Bowling Association Hall of fame member Mark Millsap, who bowled for more than 10 years at Dunes, said he had many memories of bowling at the center and said there was one specific detail in the number of lanes that he has never seen at any other center.
“Dunes was a 43-lane center when it opened up,” Millsap said. “They wanted to advertise that they always had lane availability. It’s a shame to see the center go because it was one of the icons of bowling in this region.”