A piece of Riverside history will begin its fade from the village’s fabric today, when Victory Lanes, the old-fashioned bowling alley at 7312 W. Ogden Ave., is sold to a developer who plans on building townhomes at the site.
According to plans on file at Riverside village hall, a company called Regency Development plans on erecting nine three-story townhomes on the property, which has housed the bowling alley since 1939. Before 1939 the building, which was constructed in 1898, was used for woodworking and, according to legend, was even used to build airplanes during World War I.
The architect for the development, John Schiess, said that developers felt they could break ground on the project this summer and be ready for occupancy by early 2007. The development will need a zoning variation to allow the townhomes to face the side of the property instead of the front.
The development faces a hearing before the Riverside Zoning Board of Appeals on April 19.
Schiess said he was confident that variation would be granted based on the number of similar townhome developments on that same stretch of Ogden Avenue. What’s not known at this point is how long the village’s new demolition review ordinance might delay construction.
Since the property is located in an R-3 district, it is subject to the new law. It will be sent to the village’s Preservation Commission for review after developers apply for a demolition permit.
Last weekend, however, visitors to the bowling alley weren’t focused so much on the future as the past.
Walking into the cozy six-lane bowling alley with oiled blonde maple lanes and dark knotty pine paneling on the walls they left the hustle and bustle of Ogden Avenue behind and entered a simpler, less complicated age.
It was like stepping back 50 years ago in time and had the look of a place deep in north woods of Wisconsin. Although automated pin-setting equipment was installed around 1950, every thing else is old fashioned. You kept score manually.
This week it is all being torn apart. The maple alleys and the knotty pine paneling have been sold and the interior is being taken apart by scavengers.
Last Saturday, souvenir hunters and people trying to preserve memories crowded the little bowling alley all weekend buying pins, bowling balls, bowling balls, bowling shirts and just about anything else they could as everything was up for sale.
One visitor Saturday was David Kafka who bowled at Victory Lanes as kid in the 1960s and whose father Frank once worked as a pinsetter there before the automated pin setting machines were installed.
“We used to come here a lot when we were kids,” said Kafka who grew up in Berwyn and now lives in St. Charles. “It hasn’t changed at all. It’s definitely a trip down memory lane.”
Owner Elizabeth Duenas said she decided to sell because of a combination of factors.
“It was primarily economic,” said Duenas who lives in Westmont. “The property taxes have increased to $36,000, and when you add that it has only six lanes the numbers didn’t work.”
Duenas bought Victory Lanes for $600,000 from a group of nine Riverside couples three years ago. That group, organized by Riverside real estate agent Karen Skiba, bought the bowling alley and upstairs space from Al and Lucy Raskevicz in 1998. Since then Victory Lanes has been used primarily for private parties.
Duenas said that as a parent with three children, owning Victory Gardens just became too much of a burden for her requiring her presence on too many nights and weekends.
“From a life style perspective it didn’t work,” said Duenas. “Victory Lanes needed someone who was well established and who did not need income. It needs a philanthropist.”
Duenas appealed her property tax reassessment and, after hiring a lawyer, got her taxes reduced. But this year her taxes went right back up and she got tired of fighting and decided to sell.
Duenas said she hoped to sell Victory Lanes to someone who would keep the unique bowling alley intact.
“I really wanted to sell it to someone who wanted to maintain it as a going business concern,” said Duenas. “That was the primary goal, but it didn’t happen.”
In 1998, when the property was about to be sold to developers, Skiba saved the bowling alley by finding nine families willing to chip in $25,000 apiece to buy and preserve the place.
From 1998 to 2003 this group of families renovated the upstairs, which had been used as living quarters by the previous owners, and turned Victory Lanes into a private party venue. Skiba is disappointed that the gem she worked so hard to save will soon be gone.
“I’m devastated,” Skiba said. “We spent quite a bit of time, pain, and energy to save this place.”
The Raskeviczes owned Victory Lanes from 1972 to 1998 and operated it as a regular bowling alley. Son Al Raskevicz Jr. remembers living above the lanes as a kid and enjoyed being able to go downstairs and bowl almost whenever he wanted.
He learned how to fix the Brunswick automatic pin setting equipment that was installed around 1950. He does that for a living today and frequently came back to Victory Lanes to make repairs after his parents sold to the Riverside group in 1998.
He was there again this week taking apart the pin setting machines to take home and use in his work for spare parts.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Raskevicz. “There aren’t many places like that. But with the way property taxes are, it’s tough to make a go of a small business.”
Everett Conner, another one of the Riverside nine who owned Victory Lanes from 1998 to 2003, was there Saturday helping take apart a seating bench for Bob Thompson, another partner in the group. Thompson was going to keep the bench as a memento.
“People had a good time here for a long, long time,” said Conner. “People had a blast here.”
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.