Kenny Martin/Daily Journal
People bowling in the Augie’s Hi-Lo league Tuesday night at Bel Mateo Bowl.
Built in 1957 by the San Mateo Investment Company, Bel Mateo Bowl is one of the few bowling alleys up and running in the area. Located at 4330 Olympic Ave. in San Mateo, Bel Mateo Bowl has 24 lanes and has league play six days a week.
Bel Mateo Bowl has survived while others have not is because it caters to the social aspect of the sport just as much as, if not more than, the competitive groups.
The alley is also historic because it was the home center of Professional Bowler’s Association legend Billy Hardwick, who competed on tour in the 1960s and 1970s and is considered one of the all-time greats of the sport. Hardwick died Nov. 16 at the age of 72.
“I don’t know how to capture Hardwick in a sentence,” said Ray Mahaffay, a league bowler at Bel Mateo Bowl since 1980. “There was no one greater on the Peninsula, and there never will be.”
Craig Gabriel, general manager of Bel Mateo Bowl for the previous five years, said the alley is home to 900 league bowlers and 300 senior bowlers, but the center is more known for hosting bowling parties and being a hangout spot than a serious bowling establishment.
“League bowlers don’t talk about what was shot, but rather they are more interested in how their friends are doing,” Gabriel said. “The alley feels more like a home to people. We’re located in a safe area, so it’s a good place to drop your kids off for an afternoon.”
Mahaffay said he’s always meeting people at Bel Mateo, even people who normally wouldn’t be there, but the friendships are what keep him coming back week after week.
“There are people who I barely know but I look forward to seeing them every week,” Mahaffay said.
Along with being Hardwick’s home center, Bel Mateo Bowl is notable for having a couple get married in the center.
Bob and Jackie Loveridge were married at Bel Mateo Bowl 37 years ago, and Jackie still remembers it.
“My husband bowled here [Bel Mateo] four nights a week, so it was like a second home for him,” Loveridge said. “We were married on lanes 11 and 12, the alley was closed down, there was a white carpet, and 350 people signed the book. At first I wasn’t too sure about getting married here, but I’m glad we did.”
Mike Leong recently took over as owner of Bel Mateo Bowl, replacing Rex Golobic. Previously, Leong was vice president of the bowling management group, which owned three bowling alleys at one point, but they are now down to only Bel Mateo Bowl. Palo Alto Bowl closed in 2011 and Serra Bowl closed shortly after in 2012. Leong said in the 1950s and 1960s, many bowling alleys were built because the sport was hugely popular, and the leases were generally 50 years. Now that the leases are up, land prices are too expensive for a bowling alley to sustain itself, especially as purely a competitive bowling establishment.
Going forward, Leong said he’s planning on spending $500,000 to upgrade equipment and install HD masking units above the lanes.
“About the only thing that’s changed at Bel Mateo since 1980 is they replaced the wood lanes with synthetic ones,” Mahaffey said. “The camaraderie hasn’t changed. Bowling is still a circle of friends.”