Across the United States there are over twelve thousand bowling alleys in operation. Of these twelve thousand, the Bowling Proprietors Association of America recognizes only twelve registered alleys which still use manual pin setters to reset their lanes, one of which is located in Cleveland, Ohio. Maple Lanes Bowling Alley and Tavern gives bowlers an experience unparalleled to those found in modern bowling facilities. Real maple wood lanes, manually operated pin setting machines and ball returns, and scorecards that still require one to put pen to paper harken back to an era unaccustomed to instant gratification.
In 1964, sisters Ann Abranovich and Josephine Reeves were both working mothers looking for a way to maintain their income and spend more time with their growing families. At the time, 6918 St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland had housed Maple Lanes Bowling Alley and Tavern since 1940 and was sporting a ‘for sale’ sign in its front window. The pair thought acquiring and operating the business could provide them with the lifestyle they hoped for and decided to mutually purchase the site.
Josephine lived on East 61st Street only a few blocks from the bowling alley and once the sale was finalized Ann moved herself and her family into the apartment upstairs. Since then, the family has been operating Maple Lanes and maintaining all the original features they inherited with the building in 1964.
As a right of passage, all members in the Abranovich family begin their careers as pin setters and ball returners. An art all its own, resetting the pins takes nearly as much skill as bowling a perfect three hundred game. Prior to the technological advances in bowling alley equipment that people are likely familiar with today, a pin setter was once considered the equivalent of a caddy in golfing. Much like a good caddy-golfer pair, bowlers and pin setters worked quietly, and patiently, in sync with one another through ten frames of play.
Because the alleys are real, aged wood, current co-owner of Maple Lanes, Barb Rogers recalls that her father often used to say that bowling at Maple Lanes required challenging the lanes, not other bowlers. Modern, laminate floors provide today’s bowlers with smooth, even surfaces. Maple Lanes, on the other hand, have alleys which possess divots and waves in the wood that require a bowler to understand how to maneuver the ball on the lane to knock down the pins. After over seven decades of play, no player is known to have scored the ever-elusive three hundred game on an alley at Maple Lanes.
In addition to the unique experience the bowling alley provides, the front tavern has an allure all its own. Seductively posed above the bar is the likeness of a woman that has been watching over Maple Lanes patrons for over half a century. Painted in 1954, the image is that of Lili St. Cyr, an erotic actress and burlesque dancer of the early twentieth century. Known for her high class, innovative performances, Lili St. Cyr was a pioneer in the striptease business.
In an effort to cultivate an individualized persona, St. Cyr would often devise unique stage tricks to thrill her audiences, one of her most famous being ‘the Flying G.’ During the act, St. Cyr would perform a burlesque dance under slowly dimming lights. Just before the room fell completely dark, St. Cyr’s g-string would be pulled away by a man offstage with a fishing pole, giving the illusion that the article of clothing vanished. The story holds that a regular patron of Maple Lanes saw Lili St. Cyr at her show in Las Vegas and became so enamored with the dancer that he painted the mural at Maple Lanes strictly from memory His compensation was a six pack of beer, although the brew is unknown. Just above St. Cyr’s legs in the painting reads the English proverb, “A woman is an angel at ten, a saint at fifteen, a devil at forty, and a witch at fourscore.”
From the enchanting image of Lili St. Cyr, to the solid, maple wood lanes, the leagues that bowl at Maple Lanes and the patrons who visit the bar live in the same reality as several generations before them. Much like many of the original businesses which have remained in the neighborhood, Maple Lanes Bowling Alley and Tavern provides an experience for patrons steeped in authenticity. The family’s dedication to the preservation of the facility makes Maple Lanes not only a treasure to the city of Cleveland, but as one of only twelve bowling alleys with manual pin setters, a treasure to bowling enthusiasts across the country.