Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes Fire, 1980
The Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes opened in 1940. The bowling alley’s owner, Leslie LeVeque (of LeVeque Tower fame), asked Michael O’Leary and Sanders Frye to invent an automatic pinsetter so that he no longer had to rely on employees to reset the pins after a player bowled. Locals hailed this pinsetting machine as the first of its kind, though there have been claims that an automatic pinsetter was actually invented in the 1920s. Either way, automatic pinsetters did not become popular until the 1950s, four years after the original was installed at the Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes. The bowling alley burned down on October 27, 1980 after a fire started in the basement where the motors of the pinsetting machines were kept.
Backstory and Context
When Olentangy Park closed in 1937, Leslie LeVeque bought the property and turned it into the Olentangy Village Apartments. He added a bowling alley as a source of entertainment for the area. The thirty-two-lane bowling alley opened in 1940, complete with a snack bar, billiards room, and pistol and archery range. The business became a hit with locals, both those who liked to bowl and those who simply came to socialize.
Around 1944, LeVeque was having trouble hiring “pin boys,” employees who would reset pins after a player bowled. So, LeVeque tasked engineer Michael O’Leary of Springfield and Sanders Frye of Columbus to invent an automatic pinsetter, which would solve his problem and speed up the game for bowlers. O’Leary hired six Ohio State University students to help him create the device. After LeVeque’s death in a plane crash in 1946, the patent for the automatic pinsetter was sold to the American Machine and Foundry Company. It was also in 1946 that the new machine was installed at the Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes.
Thirty-four years later, a fire destroyed the bowling alley. Flames raged for hours after being spotted by a police helicopter at 2:22 a.m. It is believed that the fire began in the basement, where the automatic pinsetter motors were located. After causing $1.5 million in damage, the Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes were not rebuilt. The site is currently a grocery store’s parking lot.
Olentangy Village Bowling Center. Polar Bear Alumni Association. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://northhighpolarbears.org/olentangy.html. Information and photo source.