Just about every president of the United States has had a connection to the sporting life. Theodore Roosevelt liked to shoot animals. (It was a sport back then.) Lincoln was a wrestler. Eisenhower, Clinton, and Obama spent a lot of time on the golf course. All of the chief executives have professed to love baseball, and they all throw out ceremonial pitches. George W. Bush was once even part owner of a Major League Baseball team. And when Gerald Ford was in college, he was one of the best football players in the nation.
But not every president can say he was a bowler.
Now I’m biased, so be warned. I love bowling, and I’m pretty damn good at it, too. But I have to say that it is one of the most fun, if underrated sports out there. So when I come across a president who admits to being a bowler, I have to share.
It was just over 69 years ago that President Harry S. Truman opened the first White House bowling alley. The “S” did not stand for “strike.” Truman himself was not much of a bowler, but White House employees were allowed to form a league in 1950. A seemingly mismatched group of household staff, secretaries, switchboard operators, even Secret Service agents used the two lanes in the West Wing to hone their skills and compete in tournaments all over the country.
Dwight Eisenhower, Truman’s successor, closed down the lanes in 1955 to make way for a mimeograph room. (That’s old-tech speak for copier room). But the golf addict was not a complete hard case. He allowed a new pair of lanes to be opened in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House.
That was pretty much it for the bowling alley until Richard and Pat Nixon came to Pennsylvania Avenue. They were both avid bowlers, and in 1969, shortly after taking office, President Nixon had one lane built in an underground workspace beneath the White House driveway. Paid for by supporters and out of his own pocket, the Nixon bowling alley provided hours of enjoyment.
In recent years, the White House bowling alley has fallen into disrepair. After the 2015 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, actor Matt Walsh said it was “like a crappy suburban bowling alley.” There briefly was a plan to renovate the lanes in 2014, but that plan was nixed in favor of spending billions of dollars on other unspecified projects.
The fate of the White House bowling alley now rests in the hand of our next president. May they make the right choice.