The Gold Spot: Phoenix's Underground Bowling Alley

May 25, 2015

Urban historians may be disappointed to find out that many of Phoenix's mid-century restaurants, banks, and coffee shops have long ago been razed in the name of progress. However, there are a number of Phoenix bowling alleys which still stand today that serve as reminders of the past.

The most famous of these is the AMC Bethany Lanes at 19th Ave and Bethany Home Road. Opened in the 1960s as 300 Bowl, this building is still open and retains its signature Googie-style upswept-triangle roof.

In North Phoenix, the Northgate Bowl (now Let It Roll Bowl) at 12th St. and Dunlap Ave. has interesting brickwork and angled columns that are pure 1960s delight.

Today, I want to write about a bowling alley that wasn't so lucky. It was called The Gold Spot and it was located in downtown Phoenix. The interesting thing about the Gold Spot Bowling Alley is that it was completely underground!

I first read about the Gold Spot in the Phoenix New Times, and I was interested to find out more. With my camera in hand, I headed downtown to do some exploring.

The Gold Spot opened in 1935 at 621 N. Central Ave, on the southeast corner of Central Ave and Pierce St., right across from the Westward Ho building. It was located in the basement of the Nielsen Radio and Sporting Goods Building. The bowling alley closed in 1950 and the building was demolished in 1991.

The sidewalk near Central and Pierce contains these interesting glass squares, which provided natural light into the bowling alley. They are called vault lights and they are the last known remaining vault lights in Phoenix.

In 2011, a City of Phoenix Historic Streetscape bond fund raised money to restore these vault lights, which are now lit from underneath with LED lights. They also erected a plaque at the corner of Central and Pierce which tells about the history of the Gold Spot.

According to the plaque, the Gold Spot bowling alley did not have mechanical pin-setting machines. Instead, they employed "pin boys" who would set up the pins after they were knocked down. They were also responsible for rolling the ball back to the player for the next frame.

A 2011 article in the Phoenix New Times magazine drew attention to the all-but-forgotten place, and comments from readers speculated about whether the bowling alley still existed. Some claimed that it did, while others insisted that the Gold Spot had been filled in during the construction of the Metro Light Rail.

Having investigated the area, I did not find any evidence of an underground bowling alley still being accessible today. However, I did see some cool tunnels across the street, located in the sidewalk on the East side of the Westward Ho building.

Although the Gold Spot is long gone, the legend of this unique Phoenix entertainment spot lives on!

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