“When the bowling alley opened, there was a lot of excitement around town,” he recalled. “There was something new in the way of recreation in Tracy, and it seemed like everyone wanted to be part of it.”
Gentry, 81-year-old retired assistant Tracy postmaster, will be one of eight “originals” who will be honored today during the West Valley Bowl’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Those being honored were members of the first bowling teams organized in early 1960 and are still active today at the same bowling alley. They include Gentry, Joe Anastasio, Mike Anastasio, Mike Corsaro Jr., Bud Halford, Ron Robeson and Elda Curtin.
All will receive special awards at noon during the anniversary celebration that will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the bowling facility at Grant Line Road and East Street, reported Herb Hunter, the bowl’s general manager.
“We are also going to honor the Zachariah family, which has owned the bowl since 2004 and has invested in improvements to keep bowling alive in Tracy,” he said.
Gentry recalls that once the bowl opened its doors in November 1959 and bowling leagues were formed in January 1960, people who had never touched a bowling ball before became instant members of teams.
“None of us knew a thing about bowling, but we realized nearly everyone else was in the same boat, and we were willing to learn,” he said. “There were plenty of sponsors, and everyone had a bowling shirt.”
After a decade of bowling, Gentry left the sport. But when his son, Galen, became an active bowler, he returned to the lanes.
“Galen got me interested in bowling again,” Gentry said. “He became a high-average bowler in Stockton and is in the Stockton Bowling Hall of Fame.”
Today, Larry Gentry and his wife, Wanda, bowl every Tuesday morning in a senior mixed league.
“I still carry a 170 average, which isn’t too bad for a guy my age,” he said. “We enjoy the exercise and mingling with the other bowlers.”
Susie Paul Rupe, whose mother, Jane Cotton Paul, was among the original employees at the Tracy Bowl, said the bowling alley was the center of her family’s life when she was growing up.
“My mom worked at the bowl (she staffed the desk and organized leagues), and my dad was a bowler. I would go there after school and weekends,” she said. “I knew many of the bowlers — it was like home.”
Jane Paul’s father, “Pop” Cotton, ran the first Tracy Bowl, six lanes with manual pin spotters, on West 11th Street in the 1940s and early 1950s.
While working at the new facility, Paul wrote a bowling news column for the Tracy Press, “Down the Lane with Jane.” Her daughter, Susie, followed in her footsteps, and now a granddaughter, Beth Sanders, reports bowling news.
Over the years, as the range of leisure-time activities has broadened, bowling has had less of an impact on the total population than it did when the Tracy Bowl celebrated its grand opening in February 1960.
“There are many more options for people nowadays, so bowling hasn’t been as popular,” said Hunter, the bowl’s manager. “But there are still people who enjoy bowling’s recreational and social aspects.”
The Tracy Bowl was founded in 1959 by a group of Stockton investors who were riding the wave of growing bowling popularity sparked by the invention of automatic pin-spotting machines.
Armor Steel and Gene Williamson were original co-general managers for the 20-lane bowling alley that also included a Chinese restaurant (where the El Micro Mexican restaurant is now) and also the more upscale Cascade Room restaurant and bar.
Through the years, an additional 12 lanes were added, scoring was moved from pencil and paper to TV monitors, the lanes were surfaced with a plastic shield, and the name was changed to West Valley Bowl. And, too, there have been a number of changes in ownership and management, including the tenure of Al Cross from Manteca.
“After managing the bar for Al several years, I became general manager in 1985,” said Hunter, who earlier had retired after a career with Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. “We were holding our own, but the facility needed to be brought up to date.”
When the family of Dr. Chemanoor Zacharia bought the bowl in 2004, they made important investments to remodel the building and improve facilities, Hunter said.
“We have an attractive, up-to-date bowling center that provides a good atmosphere for family recreation,” Hunter said.
Recently, the bar in what originally was the Cascade Room has been remodeled to become a sports bar with large-screen television sets.
“League play, although not as popular as it once was, is still an important part of our operation,” Hunter said. “We have 10 leagues, including junior leagues and mixed adult leagues.”
Many serious bowlers nowadays have several bowling balls they use according to the surface of individual alleys, he said. Balls, which could cost around $20 to $30 decades ago, can now run between $150 and $250, depending on their composition.
The bowl’s manager said participation has to be constantly promoted and that special daytime bowling rates for “Monday Madness” and “Wacky Wednesday” help fill the alleys.
Key West Valley Bowl employees working with Hunter include William Moreno, junior bowling director; Jeff Powell, head mechanic; Marcie Bandy, desk supervisor; Danielle Orndorff, office and promotions manager; Vanessa Orndorff, head porter and desk assistant; and Kristi Vergez, lounge supervisor.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at email@example.com.