Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 010518 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Bowling On Monroe
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
Nothing in this circa-1945 photo suggests what the location
looks like now.
Pictured is the east side of Monroe Street north of
Main, today entirely occupied by the imposing – even alienating
-- façade of the U.S . Courthouse & Federal Building.
Decades ago, the block had ordinary small businesses like the
ones seen here.
That sign on the front of the building is a give-away. The large
bowling-pin-shaped sign, which says (you guessed it) “bowling”
marks the location of the Royal Palm Bowling Center.
It was located just a bit north of the Main Street corner.
On the north side of the bowling center in a tiny storefront is
Coolidge Sign Service. One can only speculate whether Coolidge
made that distinctive sign for its neighbor.
The building that housed the concrete-block bowling alley had a history dating to the
19-teens, when it was built as a garage.
It was shaped like a fat “L”, with frontage on Main (then called Oak Street) as well
as on Monroe. The Fort Myers Garage occupied the Monroe side well into the 1920s.
Also located in the large building in the 19-teens was a wholesale grocery, grain and
feed store. That was a particularly convenient location, for the railroad ran down Mon-
roe and the freight depot was across the street.
In addition, the store was connected to a restaurant and a grocery that opened onto
At the northeast corner was a square corner lot carved by the L-shape. Over the
years, a restaurant and then a gas station were located there.
The presence of bowling lanes downtown reflects the sport’s increasing popularity in
the 20th century. In fact, in 1947, President Harry S. Truman officially opened the first
bowling alley in the White House.
By mid-20th century, commercial bowling lanes were sprouting up across the coun-
In Fort Myers, bowling alleys, or bowling greens, go all the way back to U.S . Army
Fort Myers, the second fort to be built on the site.
The state-of-the-art fort, which lay in the footprint of today’s Historic River District,
was constructed in the 1850s during the Third (and last) Seminole War and had a large
Another early bowling alley in town was the one in the Elks clubhouse on the river,
built in 1925 on First Street between Evans and Avalon.
By the 1950s and 1960s, however, modern sleek family-centered bowling alleys
with automated pin-setters and ball returns were prevalent.
But the bowling center on Monroe was nothing fancy.
It was an eight-lane alley with human pinsetters.
As a boy, the late Pete Bowen sometimes set pins and returned the bowling balls
along the tracks. He, his brother Mike and their friends would drop by the center to see
if their work was needed in the afternoon or evening. They worked for tips.
There was a certain risk to the work that wouldn’t pass today’s labor laws. Bowen
recalled that occasionally a bowler complained about the boys’ pin placement by rolling
a ball at the setter.
Bowen excused the “complaints,” which he said were done in fun, not malicious-
ness. “But it was at our expense,” he said.
The bowling building later became part of the printing complex of the The News-
Walk down to Monroe Street and imagine a small bowling alley and sign shop where
federal court cases are now tried. Then visit the following research centers to learn
about downtown diversions in times gone by.
The Southwest Florida Historical Society is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization
open Wednesday and Saturday between 9 a.m . and noon and Wednesday 4 to 7 p.m .
It is located at 10091 McGregor Boulevard on the campus of the Lee County Alli-
ance for the Arts. Call 939-4044 or visit www.swflhistoricalsociety.org for more infor-
The Lee County Black History Society is located at 1936 Henderson Avenue, adja-
cent to the Williams Academy Museum at Roberto Clemente Park.
Hours for the all-volunteer, non-profit organization are Wednesday through Friday
from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday by appointment only.
For more information, call 332-8778 or visit www.leecountyblackhistorysociety.org.
Sources: The Archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society and www.history.
THE RIVER - JANUARY 5, 2018
Today, the U.S. Courthouse & Federal Building occupies the spot - indeed, the entire block
photo by Gerri Reaves
Circa 1945, the eight-lane Royal Palm Bowling Center was located on Monroe, just north of
the Main Street corner
photo courtesy IMAG History & Science Center
The River Weekly News will correct factual errors or
matters of emphasis and interpretation that appear in news stories.
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
J. Brendan Ryan, CLU,
Ann Ziehl, Manager
Gerri Reaves, PhD
Independently Owned And Operated
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