Couple saves historic duckpin bowling center from demolition

Norman and Cindy May stand in front of the Diamond Bowling Lanes at 224 Virginia Avenue, Cumberland. The couple have leased to purchase, the property and will continue to operate the duckpin bowling center. They have done renovations inside and out.

CUMBERLAND — A local couple, Norman and Cindy May, have taken over operations of the Diamond Bowling Lanes on Virginia Avenue, saving it from the wrecking ball.

Located at 224 Virginia Ave., the bowling alley has been a destination for duckpin bowlers in the Cumberland area for nearly 100 years.

“It was going to get torn down and a parking lot put in,” said Norman May.

According to North American Bowling News, there are only four rubberband duckpin bowling centers remaining in the United States. Those include two in Pittsburgh, one in Johnstown, Pa., and Diamond Bowling Lanes in Cumberland.

“We used to have four on Virginia Avenue alone, now there are four left in the country,” said Norman May.

Duckpin bowling alleys dotted the city, with some also in surrounding towns like Lonaconing, during the peak years of the game’s popularity between the 1950s and the 1970s.

With the recent demolition of The Bowler, a 10-pin alley in LaVale, to make way for a new Sheetz convenience store, Diamond, Sherwood Lanes in Frosburg and White Oaks in Cumberland (also 10-pin alleys) are the only bowling centers remaining in Allegany County.

Diamond Bowling Lanes was put up for sale last year with Century 21. The Mays, a husband and wife team from Flintstone, had hoped to purchase the facility and keep it as a duckpin bowling alley.

“The more I got fooling with the place, the more I got interested in it. The fact is it is old and there is not any of them around. It’s just unique,” said Norman.

After closing a saw mill business they operated for nine years, The Mays decided they wanted to own and operate a new business.

They attempted to purchase the Diamond Bowling Lanes only to find out it had been purchased by the Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission, located at 125 Virginia Ave.

“We had been looking at the building off and on for two years,” said Courtney Thomas, the HRDC’s executive director.

Thomas said HRDC purchased the building with the intention of razing it to install a parking lot, part of the HRDC’s revitalization program. The building was constructed between 1915 and 1917.

“I went to the HRDC and told them that I wanted it. I wanted to keep it a bowling alley. They agreed to lease it to me,” said Norman.

“I think their idea has tremendous opportunity for community benefit. We are very supportive of the (Mays’) idea and we want it to work,” said Thomas.

The HRDC agreed to lease the building to the Mays for $1 a year with contingencies in place for various upgrades and improvements to the property. At the end of the five-year period, the Mays would be eligible, if all contingencies are met, to purchase the building at the same price the HRDC bought it for.

Norman said he and Cindy have been working nonstop since they leased it. The biggest challenge was the removal of the years of garbage and debris that had accumulated in the basement.

The Diamond Bowling Lanes is a two-story bowling facility with six lanes on each floor. The second floor looks as it did in the 1950s.

The center still uses pin boys to remove knocked down pins and send the balls back.

Duckpin scores the same as 10-pin, the only difference is the balls are about the size of a softball and do not have finger holes.

League play had been the mainstay for Diamond Lanes under its previous owner, Dick Knipple. The Knights of Columbus, Christopher Photo Lab, City Service League, Miller High Life, the Mixed League and others continue to play.

The leagues bowled from September to May. The Mays hope to add to the business by opening the lanes to year-round public bowling and soliciting for private parties and events.

“The leagues stop in summer. It was kept closed in the summer for 20 years and you could not bowl. We are open to the public now, that is the biggest thing,” said Norman.

The Diamond is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. For more information, call the Mays at 301-478-5529 or, after 4 p.m., the alley at 301-777-2500.

Greg Larry is a reporter at Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 301-876-5329, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter.

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