The Watertown Bowl And Its Many Clubs Over The Years (1959 – 1996)
In late July of 1958, news would break that Watertown, N.Y. would soon be home to the Watertown Bowl, a $350,000 bowling center to be constructed just outside the city on what is now Route 11 which was referred to as the Watertown-Syracuse highway in that era. The 32-lane establishment would be accompanied by a children’s amusement park, Kiddie Land, both to be constructed by Joseph J. Schuler, Sr., of Rochester.
Schuler, head of a bowling corporation with operations in 18 locations throughout the state, would purchase the land from J. J. Capone. The Watertown Bowl as he planned it was to include two 16-lane tracts with a snack bar and cocktail lounge between the two tracts and locker rooms in the basement. The Watertown Daily Times would give additional details in their July 26th article–
The dining room will be a full scale operation with table service and the serving of regular meals. The snack bar will be operated on a sandwich basis. The cocktail lounge will also be a full scale operation with bar and table service.
There will also be a nursery in connection with the bowling establishment, where parents can leave their children under direction of trained supervisors, while they are engaging in bowling.
Mr. Schuler noted construction would begin in the next week, to week-and-half on the parcel next to the Starlight Theater with expectations that the Watertown Bowl would be open by November. Unfortunately, that would not be the case as the opening would be delayed until December, then April of the following year and again until finally opening on May 6, 1959 – and even then, only 16 of the 32 lanes would be ready for use.
A week later, the State Police would order alterations to the building in order to meet state codes for public assembly. Apparently the approaches leading into the building were lower than the regular floor and didn’t allow for clearance. The building would remain open during the additional work, but the lounge, snack bar and dining room would be closed.
Starting in March of 1968, the 34th Annual New York State Woman’s Bowling Championship Tournament would be held at the Watertown Bowl for the next 12 consecutive weekends. Mayor Theodore Rand would get the ball rolling, literally, by bowling a strike to commemorate the start of the highly anticipated tournament, the first of its kind in the area where an estimated 4,000 teams were expected to compete from across the state, bringing as many as 25,000 people to the area. A record number of doubles and singles were also expected to compete.
In 1966, the Watertown Bowl would introduce the “Pendulum Room” which became home to Discotheque, a fad that swept through the area in the mid 1960’s. Places like the New Parrot and Hotel Woodruff would have nightly dancing and Go-Go rooms with girls who often danced in cages. Even local dance academies would offer classes on Discotheque.
Twilight 22 in the 70’s
Friday, June 30th, 1978 would see the Watertown Bowl enter the “Twilight 22” zone of the disco era. The Watertown Daily Times would report of the new dance club–
A sensational bombardment of lights, mirrors, black and silver graphic wallpaper, and a lighted, mirror-walled dance floor await the Twilight 22 patron.
The 2,600 lights beneath the dance floor, the 400 lights in the ceiling starbursts and the 300 lights under the bar are computer- controlled by the same console which masters the sound system.
Unfortunately, there would be no need to break out the bell-bottom jeans as Twilight 22 would have a dress code, at least initially. That being said, even if you didn’t have a dance partner you could dance the Bus Stop or the Roseland Shuffle to your heart’s content all by yourself.
As a harbinger of issues to come in the 1980’s, Twilight 22 would introduce Saturday dance lessons to teens. This was another trend that was made popular at the time, but was becoming a gray area necessitating the State Liquor Authority (SLA) sending reminders that teens under the age of 16 needed to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, at least 18 years of age, in a place where alcohol was served.
By 1979, Twilight 22 began introducing Senior High Nights and Teen Time on Sundays where only soda would be served. About a year later, in May of 1980, it appears the club would close without anything printed in the news.
The Max in the 80’s
Along with Charles Fedora’s confession to the Gale Street Murders, May 29 of 1986 would see the Watertown Bowl advertising “The Max,” a non-alcoholic video dance club where teens could hang out, dance and socialize, to debut the following day.
It was a time where Salmon Run Mall had yet opened and Fort Drum was undergoing expansion, leaving underaged soldiers and area teens with nowhere to hang out – except Burger King on State Street which would see crowds estimated of 300 gathering… and not to watch the Burger King himself in a breakdance battle with Ronald McDonald, either.
The Max was a well-intentioned establishment picking up where Twilight 22 had left off several years prior, but it wouldn’t take long before incidents began piling up in the columns of the Watertown Daily Times. It started with the arrests of two individuals for disorderly conduct, one from Fort Drum, that would eventually plague the club and have parents of teens and teens alike sending in the letters to the editor section on an almost daily basis with Fort Drum soldiers caught in the middle.
The battle between parents and teens would continue well into 1988. The Watertown Daily Times, obviously sensing a hot-topic of controversy, would publish an article in their Sunday, April 10th Lifestyles & Leisure front page–
Hot, Sweaty, Loud: It’s Haven For Teens
Welcome to The Max, that nightclub co-existing with a bowling alley, that den of iniquity and corrupter of youth, that booze-free haven and cultural oasis of youth, that blue-canopied dance palace of the MTV generation on Outer Washington Street where adults fear to, or never even think to, tread.
It’s an interesting contrast of eras: the adults of 1988 with teenagers were teenagers themselves back when Go-Go dancers were in cages and the drinking age was actually lower.
John Ott, the 37-year-old owner along with is wife, Jennifer, would try to give the younger people an experience without the peer-pressure that sometimes comes with alcohol. The Times would note the average age was 17 or 18 with people coming from Carthage, Lowville, Pulaski, Sandy Creek, Adams, Ogdensburg and Cape Vincent while some of the letters written to the editor were from Gouverneur.
Two soldiers interviewed for the article, going by the names “Skywalker” and “Rude Boy,” were regulars each weekend and noted it was the only place to go if you want to dance. “All the rest of the places are pretty much live band bars. You’d have to Canada or Syracuse,” Skywalker noted along with some of their favorite dances including The Slide, The Cabbage Patch, The Wop and The Push-it. Alas, no live was shown for The Bus Stop.
And for those who have a hazy memory of April 1988, this smash hit reached number one and may, or may not, have been played at The Max. Kind of looks like an attempt at the Cabbage Patch dance, too.
The Max would continue to be a popular place, but a string of incidents in December may have sealed its fate. By the beginning of January in 1989, The Max was no more. The owners of the Watertown Bowl, now officially the Northland Bowl as of 1987 after being bought by Northland Properties of Oswego, canceled the lease and the last day of operation was New Year’s Eve.
“I don’t like to see people think they have to drink to have fun,” Mr. Ott would tell the Times. He complimented the teens who frequented his club as being the best-behaved group of kids he’d seen in his 15 years of business, but admitted there was the occasional incident or two.
Mr. Ott would later open The Max in Canton, N.Y. under the same premise as a teen nightclub but would eventually give in and make it an establishment that served alcohol. The owners of the Northland Bowl, still referred to as Watertown Bowl by most, would eventually offer a new bar, Barnical Bill’s, in an effort to attract an older crowd with live music shows. It would be short-lived.
In late August of 1990, the owners of Northland Bowl, Northern Properties, would lock the doors to the facility without warning after failing to pay a $7,700 Niagara Mohawk bill. Shortly afterward, the owner of Northern Properties passed away creating a fiasco that left 700 bowlers scrambling to find new lanes and many of whom had equipment locked in the basement. Per the note above, they wouldn’t be able to access it for well over a month.
Northland Bowl was leasing the property and left the mess for the buildings owner, B&B Properties in Rochester, to handle the mess. Making matters worse, prior to passing away, the owner of Northland Properties filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in January, leaving behind what the Times reported as “a legal entanglement that includes 111 creditors clamoring for several hundred thousand dollars in debt,” which included $119,854.42 to B&B Properties.
While the facility would re-open as Ridgeview Lanes in 1992, it, too, would be a short-lived effort. It would close in May of 1996, never to reopen as it would be demolished six months later, depriving a new generation from dancing the Macarena on its floor… ¡Ay!