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Lucky Strikes, Spares, Gutter Balls and Wrecking Balls

Daniel J. Kelley 20 June 2011 6 Comments

They put a parking lot on a piece of land
Where the supermarket used to stand
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local Pally
That’s where the big bands used to come and play
My sister went there on a Saturday

Lyrics from “Come Dancing” (1982) by Ray Davies of the Kinks.

The former Gabby Hartnett bowling alley in Lincolnwood has been demolished. It had been closed for sometime, but I was surprised at how quickly the vacant building was leveled. Before being shuttered, the business had been operated as “Cy’s Lanes” for a few years. Perhaps the final change of name reflected the reality that a new generation of Chicagoans could no longer identify Gabby Hartnett.

When I was growing up, everyone had heard the story of the ballplayer who had retired two decades before most of us were born. At one time, Gabby Hartnett was one of the best known athletes in Chicago. He played catcher for the Chicago Cubs during an era when the team was a dominant National League power franchise. Although the Cubs failed to capture a World Series title during Hartnett’s playing career, the team did manage to win four pennants during a single decade. Hartnett was selected as the Most Valuable Player in 1935 as the Cubs won twenty-one consecutive games, a franchise record, en route to the pennant. In 1938, Hartnett succeeded Charlie Grimm as the manager of the Cubs in midseason and the team staged a rally to overtake the front running Pittsburgh Pirates in late September.

The highlight of the dramatic 1938 pennant race was a critical late season series with Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field. Hartnett gambled and sent the sore armed Dizzy Dean to the mound in a key match up and the former fireball throwing pitcher who could no longer break a pane of glass escaped with a 2-1 win. The Pirates held a half game lead in the standings afterwards.

Gabby Hartnett secured his place in baseball history on the following day. With the shadows descending on Wrigley Field in the bottom of the 9th inning of a tied game, the umpires held a conference. The game was going to be called on account of darkness after the Cubs completed their final turn at bat. There would be no extra innings. A make-up contest would be scheduled as part of a doubleheader on the following day.

Pittsburgh turned to its relief specialist, Mace Brown, to set Chicago down in the final frame. Brown quickly retired Phil Cavaretta and Carl Reynolds. Hartnett was the next batter and he swung and missed at the first offering and fouled a pitch for a second strike. Down 0-2, Hartnett connected with Brown’s next curveball and it carried into the left field bleachers over the head of a stunned Paul Waner. The home run was a low line drive that landed only a row or two in. The Cubs won the game 6-5 and overtook the Pirates for the lead in the pennant race by one half of a game. Fans poured on to the playing field as Hartnett circled the bases, taking care to touch them all, as he was being mobbed.

Chicago pounded the heartbroken visiting team from Pittsburgh by the lopsided score of 10-1 on the next day. Over the course of September, the Cubs compiled a record of 19-3, plus one tied game. Hartnett and his charges had no magic left for the World Series as the powerful New York Yankees swept the Cubs in four straight games.

The Cubs engaged in some house cleaning during the off season, but the new player roster failed to produce and the team’s fortunes began to decline precipitously. Hartnett was dismissed as player/manager after the 1940 season. He played one final season as a substitute for the New York Giants before retiring as an active player after twenty seasons.

Nonetheless, Hartnett was, for a time, one of the most popular sports celebrities in Chicago. After managing in the minor leagues for a few seasons, Hartnett opened a bowling alley in West Rogers Park. His reputation was further enhanced by his selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. The original Gabby Hartnett bowling alley was a second floor walk-up above Crawford’s Department Store on West Devon Avenue, near the intersection of Devon and Maplewood. It was renamed when the business was sold and was operated as Bud Schaibly’s Bowl afterwards.

Hartnett resumed operating a bowling facility a short time later. The new Hartnett bowling alley was located on North Lincoln Avenue in suburban Lincolnwood. Hartnett, himself, had also relocated from Chicago to the suburbs and lived in Park Ridge.

Interestingly, Charles Leo Hartnett, who was a native of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, shared my birthday and he died on this same date in 1972. I met him once, briefly, outside of St. Hilary Church where I had been at Mass with my grandfather one fine Sunday morning in May or June. I wish that I was old enough to appreciate who Hartnett was, but I did not learn his complete story until later on. I always regretted that I did not obtain an autograph from him. Hartnett is buried in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.

My grandfather was a friend of Hartnett’s and their families attended the same Catholic church together. My grandfather used to bowl on a team with Hartnett and Monsignor James P. Kiely, the longest serving pastor of St. Timothy’s parish. Kiely served as pastor for four decades.

When we were children, we used to visit Gabby Hartnett’s frequently. It was a popular place to celebrate birthdays. Although there were two paintings of Hartnett on the wall above the pin setting machines and the bowling pins, one in a batting pose and one with his catcher’s mitt, I cannot say that he was too active in the business. I think that he eventually sold the rights to his name to the other owners. He may have had somewhat a larger role in the sporting goods store which was once connected to the bowling alley. There was supposed to be a pistol range downstairs, but I was, of course, too young to check it out. Hartnett was also recognized by a sign indicating that he was one of the few bowlers to roll a perfect 300 game on the premises.

Lincolnwood, Illinois was formerly known as Tessville. It had a deservedly shady reputation as a tavern infested village where Prohibition laws were routinely ignored and the saloons never closed despite the passage of the Volstead Act. Its proximity to Chicago made it a popular destination for thirsty visitors and it was beyond the jurisdiction of the Chicago Police Department. When the truck farms were subdivided for single family homes, the new residents opted for respectability and ditched the name of Tessville and its association with speakeasies in favor of exploiting the memory of Honest Abe.

Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer.”

image Gabby Hartnett as Proprietor of the Gabby Hartnett Recreation bowling alley.

6 Comments »

  • Neil said:

    Great article, I really enjoyed bowling at Gabby Hartnet’s especially the two lanes that were in the very back that had a feeling of bowling on your own private lanes.

  • Frank DeBarnone said:

    So if forgotting Gabby is bad
    think how Cy feels:

    “The poets tell how Gabby’s fell
    Cy’s livin’ went down a well
    The Tessville’s quiet and Lincolnwood’s cold
    So the story ends we’re told
    Gabby needs your prayers it’s true,
    But save a few for Cy too
    He just did what he had to do”

    Excerpt Modified from “Pancho and Lefty” by Townes Van Zant

    Frank

  • Dave said:

    I lived in W Rogers Pk from the 50s through the early 70s, but was not aware that Hartnett owned the bowling alley above Crawfords department store prior to the opening of the Lincoln Ave facility.The shooting range was unique in the area as the City of Chicago did not permit such usage. Thanks for the history on this great ballplayer.

  • bob hornof said:

    Wonderful article however for the record Gabby never had ownership in Louie Fratini’s bowling alley on Devon Ave.

  • Nan said:

    Thanks for a great article.

    I am trying to locate the whereabouts of a painting of Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin” which was painted by my father, Chicago illustrator Tom Hall (1908 – 1965). The painting appeared as a double page spread in True, the Man’s Magazine. I was told as a child that it hung in Gabby Hartnett’s bowling alley but disappeared from there. Any info would be most welcome. I would like to photograph the painting for a book I am writing about my father’s art work.

  • Lucky Strike Mike said:

    When I worked at Gabby Hartnett’s in the 70s/80s we were always told that Gabby used to work there with the late Mr. Fratini, who would’ve been a grandfather at that time. When I was there it was run by his son Lou (1931-1998) then later it was run by grandson Lou (born 1960) who later sold it to Cy.

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