Lindsay Peyton
West Seattle Bowl owner Mike Gubsch said is keeping the late Jack Fasso’s vision alive. Fasso established the bowling alley in 1948 and Gubsch purchased it in 1993. Both men were recently inducted into the Greater Seattle U. S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.

West Seattle Bowl – last pin standing

One of only a handful of bowling alleys in the city, they keep the traditions alive

By Lindsay Peyton

West Seattle is home to the last bastion of traditional bowling within city limits.

For lovers of the game, the constant crash of pins emanating from West Seattle Bowl is a comforting soundtrack, a heartbeat confirming that their favorite sport is alive and well.

There aren’t many places left to go for tournaments, to join a league or simply pick up a game.

“The supply is low, and there’s a high demand,” West Seattle Bowl owner Mike Gubsch said. “We need more lanes, if anything.”

As a result, his spot is always busy. There’s a junior and senior program, and the groundwork is being laid for middle school and high school programs to start in the fall. The bowling alley is also a popular spot for events, parties and corporate team-building functions.

Most importantly, for Gubsch, the goal is to keep the long-standing business running. “We want to keep it going,” he said. “We don’t want bowling to go away.”

Gubsch also wants to keep the vision alive of the original owner, the late Jack Fasso. Both men were recently inducted into the Greater Seattle U. S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.

Fasso opened the first West Seattle Bowl, which had six lanes, in 1937 at 4535 California Ave SW. The location now houses West 5, and the pub uses an old bowling score table as its hostess stand as a nod to its past incarnation.

Fasso closed that location in 1948 and opened the second West Seattle Bowl at 4505 39th Ave SW in 1948.

Gubsch has been proprietor and co-owner of West Seattle Bowl since 1993. He also owned Robin Hood Lanes from 1980 until 2013.

Gubsch said he never met Fasso but was able to get to know his family. “I knew his legacy,” Gubsch said.

Scott Handley recommended Fasso for the Hall of Fame. An avid bowler turned historian, he has been studying the story of bowling in Seattle for the past eight years.

“Bowling used to be bigger than you can imagine,” Handley said. “Now there are fewer bowling alleys, and there are fewer bowlers. But for those of us who do bowl, it’s still a great game.”

Handley has watched firsthand as bowling alleys have shuttered in Seattle. Out of his three-page excel sheet listing all the area’s alleys that existed, he has marked the ones still open, which are in neighboring communities including Tukwila, Snoqualmie, Everett, Kenmore, Kirkland, Bellevue, Lynnwood, and Burien.

He noted that Seattle residents have the option to bowl at the Garage, a bar with 18 lanes, but participants have to be over 21. There are also a few lanes at the HUB for students at the University of Washington.

Hints of former bowling alleys are still visible in the city. For example, pieces of the lane floor from Empire Bowling Alley are now part of the ballroom floor at the Filipino Community of Seattle.

The former Hillcrest Bowl in Renton turned into a Grocery Outlet, and the shop’s decor includes features from its previous life.

Handley knows about all of these vestiges of bowling in the city and surrounding areas – and has a collection of old articles from the bowling alley and other memorabilia from West Seattle Bowl, including a copy of the invitation to the opening celebration.

For Handley, West Seattle Bowl is special. “It’s a gem, and I hope it runs forever,” he said. “It’s also a direct connection to when bowling was a really big deal in West Seattle.”

The closing of the other bowling alleys has been an emotional experience for him. “Every bowling alley, to an extent is a community,” he said.

Handley admits that running a business that requires so much room is difficult in city limits.

“Bowling couldn’t provide the rent that something else could,” he said. “Sometimes the land got too expensive. Sometimes the owner couldn’t justify the cost or wanted to retire and there was no successor.”

In West Seattle, Ed Fasso said his father would be glad that Gubsch was willing to take the reigns.

“Dad would be a little shocked about the concept of selling water in a bottle or at the price of bowling now, but overall dad would be pleased with what Mike has done,” Ed said. “Mike has been great for the center, and he’s been good for bowling. He must be doing something right, because he’s the only one left.”

He was surprised the day Handley called to tell him about the Hall of Fame nomination for his father.

“He called out of the blue, and I had know idea who he was,” Ed said. “He felt my father should be in the Hall of Fame, and my brothers, sister and I thought he should have been a long time ago. We were honored, we were humbled and we were very proud.”

Ed and his siblings – Gary, Bob and Bernie – watched from the sidelines as their father helped build the bowling business in the city.

Jack opened the Auburn Bowling Academy and owned Ballard Bowling Recreation and Seattle Bowling Recreation. He also established the first White Center Bowl and Skylane Bowl and was a founding partner in Olympic Bowl.

He was co-founder Western Bowling Inc., which owned and operated West Seattle Bowl, University Bowl, Magnolia Bowl and Green Lake Bowl. He remained active in the industry until his death in 1968.

Ed said his father was an innovator – the first to have a bar in the bowling alley and the second in the state to add an automatic pinsetter to the lanes.

Ed added that Jack bowled two or three times a week and was loved by his employees and respected by his peers.

“Dad didn’t look at the people who owned Roxbury or Magic Lanes as competitors,” Ed said. “He looked at them as peers. His feeling was that if Magic was strong, Roxbury was strong, Imperial was strong, then West Seattle would be strong.”

Gubsch shares Jack’s enthusiasm for the sport. He started playing as a child, bowled in a junior league and remained a loyal bowler in high school and college.

He grew up close to the bowling alley in his neighborhood, started exchanging small chores for free games and eventually got a job at the counter. He enjoyed helping the management come up with ideas to draw a decent crowd to the establishment – from creating leagues to planning tournaments.

“We were just trying to keep the place full,” he said.

In 1993, he purchased West Seattle Bowl with his business partner Andy Carl.

“The building had deferred maintenance we had to attend to, and we worked a lot,” Gubsch recalled. “We got new lanes, new scoring and brought in a new restaurant. It was a labor of love. We loved the industry.”

He explained that after purchasing the business, the owner of the Chinese restaurant, who rented the space from the bowling alley, closed shop.

“So we had to get into the restaurant business, and we had no idea about it,” Gubsch said. “We gutted it to the studs and rebuilt the whole restaurant.”

In 2010, he added High Strike Grille, which serves up burgers, fish and chips and salads with homemade dressings. From Thursday through Sunday, the restaurant offers breakfast.

In the future, Gubsch hopes to replace the machines, which are original.

“We have the oldest pin-setters west of the Mississippi,” he said. “The problem is finding parts. They don’t make them anymore.”

Gubsch said the cost of the upkeep has driven competitors out of the business, as well as the rising price of real estate.

But for Gubsch, bowling has been a perfect career. He has no plans to give it up anytime soon.

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