Departing Discount Tire this morning, Hank Vanderhave paused to watch as workmen disassembled the ninety-foot-tall tenpin that has been a cherished landmark in his South Salt Lake neighborhood for as far back as he can remember.
“I vas here ven it vent up,” mused the Dutch-born immigrant. “And now it is coming down.”
The gigantic tenpin was installed in 1958 by the Young Electric Sign Company, the same company that gave us the mechanical men Vegas Vic and Wendover Will. Commissioned by the Pioneer Club in 1951, Vegas Vic has since become an icon of Las Vegas. In like fashion Wendover Will, who once graced the parking lot of the StateLine Casino, now symbolizes the growing gambling mecca of West Wendover, Nevada. And so it came to pass that a ninety-foot-tall bowling pin became emblematic of South Salt Lake City.
The oversized tenpin previously marked the entrance to Ritz Classic Bowl, which featured an amazing 54 lanes, plus a coffee shop and billiards hall. Mr. Vanderhave told me he occasionally bowled there—in order to accommodate his wife—but that he preferred shooting pool. That is, until the tables and the general atmosphere deteriorated.
Ritz Classic Bowl has since been demolished to make way for a housing development; however, the giant tenpin will stay. Yesco, formerly known as Young Electric, plans to reinstall a replica in order to placate locals who didn’t want it to go away.
Myself, I have mixed feelings. To me, the giant tenpin conjures a time in my life that I’d just as soon forget. Back in the summer of 1966 I lived in the area—specifically, in a basement room underneath the Cadillac Motel. I was working at a job I hated and for which I had no aptitude whatsoever in hopes of earning enough money to attend graduate school in the fall. After a hard day spent peddling useless crap to housewives, I’d mosey over to Porky’s Diner, which stood next door to the Colonial Mortuary. I’d order the mourner’s special: Chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Afterward, I’d cross State Street to the Ritz, where I’d sit mesmerized by the clatter of falling pins and the synchronized movements of 54 automated AMC pin setters while inhaling a heady brew of cigarette smoke commingled with beer fumes and rental shoe deodorant spray.
Finally, I’d wander back to my humble digs at the Cadillac, passing along the way Manny’s Tavern, where I would have ducked in for a beer, but for the fact I didn’t drink in those days.
Today the built environment of my old neighborhood has changed. Gone are Porky’s and the Colonial Mortuary—replaced by a check-cashing operation. Where once stood the Cadillac Motel is a Supersonic Car Wash. Meantime, Manny’s has moved a few blocks north, leaving behind a vacant lot and a lonely sign advertising “coffee sandwiches chili.” The food pyramid of truckers and traveling salesmen.
Come the fall of ’66, I decided to quit my job at the Jewel Tea Company. I believe it was the same day I was dumped by my girlfriend, whose father just happened to be my boss. Susan told me she was planning to get back together with her previous boyfriend Tony, who had just purchased some shiny new magnesium wheels for his muscle car. Instead of shooting myself in the head, I decided to say goodbye South Salt Lake City. I rented a room on University Street, next to Reservoir Park where I’d heard a rumor that some sort of social movement was afoot. A movement that had nothing to do with muscle cars, mag wheels and bowling alleys.
– Courtesy of the artist, Paul Heath