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Historic Sim’s Bowl Demolished, but Not Forgotten

Looking back at the bowling alley and lounge that had all the modern touches of 1956 when it first opened.

Sim's Bowl & Lounge, last in a string of bowling lanes in downtown Des Plaines stretching back nearly to its founding, was demolished last month after being closed for several years.

While Sim's Bowl has now faded into history, it’s fitting to recall what the building looked like in its heyday and what it meant to the community.

Construction on Sim's Bowl, 1555 Ellinwood Ave., began Oct. 3, 1955. The owners were Bill and Ange Sim, who operated the B&B Lounge at Center and Ellinwood streets.

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Sim's was an early example of the modern bowling center; older bowling alleys usually held only a few lanes, while Sim's held 16. These older alleys relied on manual pinsetters, so their size was somewhat limited. It also limited the hours of operation, since the young pin boys would have to go home by dinnertime.

American Machine & Foundry Company, AMF, introduced a commercial automatic pinsetter in 1952 and Brunswick first offered them in April 1956.

Sim's followed just four months later, making it one of the first automatic Brunswick bowling centers in the region.

The previous building on the site held a few storefronts, one of which was the home to the Des Plaines Journal before 1952.

The construction schedule for Sim’s Bowl was ambitious, aiming to open the lounge by Jan. 1, 1956, the stores the following spring, and the alleys by summer, where the air-conditioned building would be well appreciated.

The new building held three small stores and a cocktail lounge. The grand opening of the alleys took place Aug. 24, 1956.

Many of the construction firms were local names; Ernst Stade of Des Plaines was the general contractor, and his brother Nobel did the concrete. Joseph Szabo did the masonry, and Des Plaines Lumber and Sigwalt Lumber supplied the wood.

Flashtric Neon of Chicago constructed the massive porcelain enamel sign. Construction was reported to cost $300,000.

The acoustical tile ceilings, also a recent modern innovation, significantly dampened the thunderous noise of the bowling alley. The spacious center featured a spectator gallery, wood paneling, recessed fluorescent lighting, and terrazzo floors—all the modern touches for 1956.

Old-timers remembered the alleys as being especially well maintained and popular through the early years. The building made an appearance in a beer commercial in the 1990s, but business declined over the last decade as development pressures increased.

Unfortunately for the owners, these development pressures evaporated in the economic downturn, and the property was foreclosed.

At the beginning of 2010, the City of Des Plaines briefly considered purchasing and demolishing the building (partnering with the short-lived History Channel show "Sliced").

The City Council ultimately voted against this, and a developer, who announced intentions to demolish the building without any clear plans for future use, recently purchased the property. This practice, known as land banking, means the owner only has to pay taxes on the value of the vacant land until it is developed.

The building to the east of Sim's Bowl was once the exchange building for the Des Plaines Telephone Company. The rear portion, which housed the exchange, was later converted into apartments. This building was demolished along with Sim's. 

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Mary Grimes October 13, 2011 at 05:29 PM
I was a high school freshman in the fall, 1956. My friends and I loved to go to Sim's on Saturdays and whenever we had a free day from school. Looks like we were some of the earliest customers at the then new lanes. Good memories.
js October 15, 2011 at 01:03 PM
We also have good memories of times spent at Sim's Bowl. We enjoyed the unknown historical facts about this DP icon.
Viet Vet October 18, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Thank you for telling us the complete story. It is sad to see things like this disappear.
Benjamin w. Burt April 30, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Had wonderful memories of the Sims bowling ally. After it closed at nite they would leave me bowl until around 1 pm. Was real good friends of the original owner and his girls.

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