Gardens to Gables

Strikes and Spares No More: The Historic Vernon Lanes and Club in Louisville, Kentucky

My bowling skills are near non-existent. At a nephew’s birthday party a few years ago, I demonstrated a spectacular lack of grace by falling face first onto the slippery bowling lane. Despite my public humiliation (my nephews found it incredibly amusing), I have a great appreciation for both bowling alleys and a very ancient sport. Many bowling alleys across the United States are great examples of roadside architecture and the expansion of leisure time during the mid-twentieth century. But bowling alleys predate their mid-20th century revival by many decades, and I am sad to learn of the planned closing of one of the oldest I know – Vernon Lanes and the Vernon Club in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky.

The facade of the Italianate style Vernon Club on Story Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky.

The facade of the Italianate style Vernon Club on Story Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky.

Halloween will mark the closing of the doors at the storied club, housed in a late-19th century building on Story Avenue that began life as the Delmont Club. Founded in the 1890s, the club promoted “sociability and recreation in leisure hours.”[1] The Delmont Club, first located at 1618 Story Avenue, a brick Italianate side-passage dwelling, later moved to new quarters at 1575 Story Avenue, and was active until 1898. The structure at 1575 Story Avenue later served as the headquarters for the Outreach efforts (the Vernon Club) of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. St. Joseph’s, located at 1406 East Washington Street in Butchertown, began services in 1866 to serve the large German population in the neighborhood.

The spires of St. Joseph Church are a familiar landmark in Butchertown.

The spires of St. Joseph Church are a familiar landmark in Butchertown.

The Vernon Club was intended to function as a “civic center for the men and women of the (St. Joseph’s) Parish and their friends of the East End.”[2] In 1918, the St. Joseph Parish purchased the old Delmont Club building at 1575 Story Avenue for $5,200. The parcel at the time of the purchase was described as a “brick building of ten spacious rooms and a frame building with four bowling alleys and a large hall above same. The front building is furnished with billiard, pool tables, desks, book cases, hand carved oak chairs, etc.”[3]

A detail of the facade of 1575 Story Avenue.

A detail of the facade of 1575 Story Avenue – these photos are a few years old.

The main building is a two-and-one-half story, three bay wide masonry structure, originally constructed as a side-passage single family dwelling. The one-over-one double-hung wood windows have stone sills and pedimented hood molds with a scroll work motif. A belt course runs between the windows at the lintels on the first and second floors; it is embellished with roundels and a starburst pattern. A two-story brick ell extends to the rear of the original dwelling.

Section of the 1905 Sanborn Map of Louisville showing the Delmont Club at 1573 Story Avenue.

Section of the 1905 Sanborn Map of Louisville showing the Delmont Club at 1573 Story Avenue.

On the 1905 Sanborn, the first bowling alley addition had been constructed, and extended to the north of the original side-passage dwelling. Two stories high, the frame structure had a bowling alley on the first floor and gymnasium on the second. This addition was replaced in 1944 with a one-story concrete block structure, with bowling lanes on the ground level and a “spacious hall, dining room, kitchens and club rooms” in the basement.” [4]

A side view, showing the bowling alley addition at the rear of the 19th century building.

A side view, showing the bowling alley addition at the rear of the 19th century building.

An article in Insider Louisville reported that the “country’s oldest active bowling alley will close its doors for good on Nov. 1. The new owner will not be reopening the alleys. Join us for one last 8-week bowling season before the oldest bowling alley in the country is gutted.” The end of era in Butchertown – but hopefully  the new owners will respect the building’s history and the new use will be an asset to the neighborhood (and selfishly, I hope the pig stays).

Landmarks in their own right...the sign and pig in front of the Vernon Club.

Landmarks in their own right…the sign and pig in front of the Vernon Club.

 

[1] Reverend Father Diomede Pohlkamp, A History of the East End of Louisville, KY, including the Point, Butchertown, and the Vernon Club (Louisville: Rogers Church Goods Co, 1946), 25.

[2] Ibid, 27.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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