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June 3, 2020

7/16/2012 1:47:00 PM
Now gone but not forgotten
Opened in 1947, North Vernon’s Skate Bowl was a popular place for skaters, bowlers
This postcard shows the Skate Bowl shortly after it opened in 1947 on South State Street. The figures showing the skater and bowler were outlined in neon lights, as Joyce Shaffer recalls. A drive was then on both sides of the building, before an addition on the south (left) side of the structure was constructed a few years later.—Photo courtesy of Joyce Shaffer
This postcard shows the Skate Bowl shortly after it opened in 1947 on South State Street. The figures showing the skater and bowler were outlined in neon lights, as Joyce Shaffer recalls. A drive was then on both sides of the building, before an addition on the south (left) side of the structure was constructed a few years later.—Photo courtesy of Joyce Shaffer
Joyce Whitcomb Shaffer remembers when the Skate Bowl opened its doors for the very first time. Dorothy Carnes Weber recalls going there shortly after it opened.

The southside North Vernon landmark is gone now, demolition was completed last week - gone, but not forgotten.

On Oct. 25, 1947, the new business on South State Street held its grand opening.

"The place was really packed," Shaffer said. "There were big crowds right away."

Shaffer's late father, Riley Whitcomb, was the Skate Bowl's co-owner and manager with Harold Eder Sr. until selling his half of the business to Eder in the 1960s.

Joyce Shaffer was a regular at the Skate Bowl as a young girl, spending most of her time there at the skating rink.

"It was a lot of fun," she said. "Families would come to enjoy with dad bowling and the kids skating. Everyone was happy."

For two or three years, the Skate Bowl also had an outdoor skating rink.

"It was in the area where the parking lot is, with a special concrete floor, lights and speakers," Shaffer recalled. "There was also a miniature golf course there for a few years."

Music was always played, via a record player, at the indoor skating rink that had a maple floor.

"Dad had invested in a lot of records, but he quickly learned that you can't play those records without having to pay fees," Shaffer said. "So he had to switch to non-famous artists. The music was usually instrumental and with a rhythm you could skate to."

Bud Wools helped teach Weber not only how to skate, but how to skate dance.

"We learned lots of dance steps such as the jitterbug and polka," Weber said. "Bud would oversee the skating rink. He taught us to do this and that. I was in a skating club. It was great fun."

Shaffer remembers the skate dances, too.

"We had special dances once in a while where couples danced except for one guy who would be dancing with a broom," she said. "Whenever the whistle blew, the guy with the broom traded it for a girl."

Back then, Friday night was "Colored Night" when African Americans would come to the Skate Bowl, the only night of the week that they frequented the facility.

"That was never an issue," Shaffer said. "In the late 1940s it was a given. The black people would come by the hundreds from all over Southern Indiana on Friday nights. They had a really good time and there were no problems at all."

When the Friday events started, the customers weren't fond of the music Whitcomb played. So he let them bring their own records to play.

"It was certainly different music than what my father had," she said. "They liked dancing to that music on their skates."

Skate boys were employed to help skaters lace up their shoe skates. One of them was Royce Stiening, Shaffer recalled.

"Skates were rented, but many of the kids had their own skates that they bought from my father," Shaffer said. "Of course, most of the kids didn't have much money, so they'd pay my father 25 cents or so a week. Dad sold an awful lot of skates to young people that way."

One of them could have been Fred ZeBell, whom Shaffer remembers skating there often.

Shaffer never was much of a bowler, unlike her father.

Before the Skate Bowl was constructed, Riley Whitcomb owned a small bowling alley off Fifth Street. It was near where Right Auto Parts is now located in a building no longer standing.

"The building also had a couple of pool tables, snooker tables I think," Shaffer said. "The Ritz Movie Theater was nearby (in the former Moose Lodge across Fifth Street)."

Shaffer thinks her father, who was related to former Gov. Ed Whitcomb, and Louis Eder Sr. came up with the idea for the Skate Bowl.

"Dad and Louie had been friends together forever and bowled together often," she said. "Louie decided he was too old to go in with Dad on the Skate Bowl, so he helped set up his son, Harold, in the business."

The original bowling lanes installed at the Skate Bowl, six as Shaffer remembers, were purchased used in Hagerstown.

"They added more lanes later and expanded the building, but the original lanes were there until the end," she said.

Weber also bowled at the Skate Bowl and was a league competitor for 62 years.

"Pete Clerkin, Opal Miller and Gladys Miller were on my team," she said. "I remember Rosemary Guthrie, Elaine Beach and many other bowlers."

There were no automatic pin setters initially. Instead, pin boys manually removed and set the pins.

"You had to be older to be a pin boy," Shaffer said. "You needed muscle and a little mechanical ability."

Shaffer, the daughter of Lois Thomas Whitcomb, said her father started other businesses in North Vernon.

"My dad was full of ideas and did a lot of stuff in North Vernon," she said. "He started the Shoe Mart downtown. He and Lester 'Red' Byram opened a frozen locker across Fifth Street from Eder's Grocery. That was back when frozen foods were just starting to be popular. People didn't have freezers at home like they do now, so they would rent drawers at the locker."

Where Eder's Grocery was located is now the Hoosier Street Grill. The frozen locker facility share a building with Sherbundy's Grocery, which is now Miller's Building Supplies.

Neither Shaffer nor Weber were saddened to see the Skate Bowl building, in later years known as Eder's Pro Bowl, razed. The new owner, Jerry Ford of Dupont, said he has not decided yet what he will do with the property.

"I wasn't sad to see it torn down," Shaffer said. "It was beyond repair and I'm glad it's gone. What was terrible was seeing the building become dilapidated over recent years."

Weber agreed.

"Something needed to be done with that old building," she said. "I'm sure it would have been too expensive to fix it back up."

The Skate Bowl is gone, but not forgotten. Its memories live on for Shaffer, Weber and many, many others.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Article comment by: Nancy Sparks

I went skating every Saturday afternoon and on Monday evenings while my grandpa, Freddie Baker, bowled. He was part owner of the Shoe Mart. Ioved that time in my life with the Park-N-Eat, Matthews Drug Store, the Helm Restaurant, Danners, the Style Shop and walking downtown. My children never know what a great time that was! I miss South Elm Street and Mayme and Daddy.

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: Kate Eder

My personal memories from the bowling alley are extensive. I am slightly disappointed not a single family member was questioned for this article though.

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Article comment by: Merri Drake

Smells are a funny thing. Just reading this article, I can smell the scent and hear the noises that occurred when opening those doors and entering the building back in the 1960s. Yes, gone, but not forgotten.

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