Jimmy Wittenberg fell in love with bowling during business trips to Chicago. An almost lifelong resident of New Orleans, he decided to bring his passion closer to home and opened New Orleans’ first full-size public bowling alley in 1938 in the CBD. It was an immediate success, so he opened a second alley.
Located in a newly constructed second-floor space at the Air-Line Shopping Center at Tulane and S. Carrollton Aves., Mid City Bowling Center opened in October of 1941. The modernized 18-lane alley was another instant hit, booked weeks before opening. Exhibition matches, tournaments, bowling leagues, NORD clinics and summer camps for kids, and free bowling classes helped sustain the craze during the 1940s.
In the 1950s, Wittenberg started trying out new tactics to create more bowlers. Ads proclaimed that bowling could help you sleep better, help workers unwind after work and was a great way to bring the family together. One of his most successful promotions created a popular weekday morning bowling league for housewives. He converted the meeting room to a nursery – complete with cribs, toys, television, and a free babysitter – so moms could bowl “unworried about the welfare of their children.”
A 1958 upgrade brought in state-of-the-art automatic pinsetters. While most were thrilled with the efficiency of the new feature, others bemoaned the loss of pin-boys running down the lanes to reset the pins… and the noise. Four months later, Wittenberg had to install new acoustical ceiling tiles to soften the clamor of the 18 one-ton, 6-foot-tall machines.
In March of 1963, Wittenberg sold Mid City Bowling to the Knights of Columbus. From all appearances, KoC used the bowling alley more as a clubhouse than a public entertainment venue. When it was bought by John Blancher in 1988, it was not a profit-making enterprise. Blancher turned that around soon after when he introduced live music to bowling and created Rock ‘n’ Bowl. A few years after Hurricane Katrina, Rock ‘n’ Bowl moved down the street, and Shamrock, an adult gaming bar, opened in the space. The only bowling in the building these days is two mini-lanes.