From long-lost keepsakes to hidden rooms, surprise discoveries are not so uncommon when fixing up commercial structures. But what Susan Hansen found in this old building was so unique that it would add real value to her property. And more than that, it was just plain awesome.
Dating back to the early 20th century, the two-story building is located in Ballston Spa, New York. Susan and her husband, Dr. James Hansen, had already converted the ground floor into a dental surgery. However, the couple seriously underused the upper floor. “The upstairs was always just for storage, empty,” Susan told The Daily Gazette.
But that soon changed. Seeing its potential as a modern apartment unit, the Hansens decided to renovate the upstairs with the help of Paul Marotta, their contractor. And so began the task of not only drawing architectural plans, but also of converting the upper floor into a habitable space.
It was then that Susan made the discovery. Upon tearing out the old carpets, she noticed ten metal disks fixed into the hardwood floor. Strangely, they were arranged in an unusual triangle formation. What purpose did they serve?
The history of the edifice didn’t, at first, offer any clues. Before becoming the premises for Spa Dental, the building was a law office and a Boy Scouts base. Fortunately, however, clues were forthcoming when the mechanisms beneath the disks were examined.
Operated with an iron foot pedal, the disks were in fact part of a mechanical pinsetter. This meant that the upper floor of the Hansens’ property used to be a bowling alley.
However, the candlepin bowling played there wasn’t quite the same as contemporary tenpin bowling. Indeed, the pins were thinner and harder to hit, while the balls were smaller and lighter. Further, the game used three balls per frame instead of two.
So who exactly built the bowling alley? Well, it turned out that small-scale versions like this were actually quite common in the early 1900s. Indeed, several are known to have operated on the same street in Ballston Spa.
Owned by colorful local entrepreneur Herbert B. Massey, the bowling alley operated from 1910. According to advertising at the time, it featured “Choice Brands of Imported Wines, Liquors and Cigars” and was a bowling alley for “Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Massey Café and Bowling was built on the site of the three-story, wood-built Herbert House Hotel, which burned down in 1901. Intriguingly, however, it seems that hospitality was not the only business Mr. Massey was involved in. Gambling houses, too, were a staple of his income.
Indeed, the resort of Saratoga Springs, just six miles from Ballston Spa, has a long history of gambling and horse racing. However, a 1902 government clampdown on gambling houses meant that Herbert Massey suddenly needed to diversify his business portfolio. Hence, then, the construction of the bowling alley.
Massey’s new enterprise consisted of a tavern on the ground floor and a three-lane bowling alley on the first floor. And no doubt it was a fun place, back in the day, to knock back some beers and play some lanes.
In fact, according to historical sources, Massey Café and Bowling seems to have played a vibrant role in the community. According to the Hansens, who shared their findings on hbmbuilding.com, “It was a common gathering place for politicians, bridal parties and business meetings.”
And Massey, a somewhat controversial figure, seems to have regularly featured in local news stories. For one thing, officials revoked his liquor license after they caught him selling booze on a Sunday. He also apparently allowed illegal gambling on his premises.
“He’s such a character,” Susan told The Daily Gazette. “He was kind of on the edge of being illegal, but at the same time from what I’ve read he bordered on being a neat freak.”
All good things, however, must come to end. Yes, Massey died in 1917, and the tavern and bowling alley closed down during the ’30s. And at some point somebody carpeted over the lanes and forgot about them.
That is, until Susan Hansen came along. So, because such an exciting discovery couldn’t be overlooked, she decided to leave one of the pinsetters in place and have the hardwood floor restored. And today, the finished apartment offers potential buyers the chance to a play a lane in the kitchen.
The rest of the apartment has also been immaculately and elegantly restored, with original mosaic tiles and tin ceilings among its features. It is now, according to the Hansens, “an unusual space of quiet beauty that echoes days of long ago.”
Intriguingly, the Hansens stumbled across one final treasure. In fact, hidden in the floorboards was a baseball card from 1910 depicting controversial Chicago White Sox pitcher Edward Cicotte.
Still, the Hansens’ decision to renovate the upper floor of their property paid dividends. Not only did they discover a unique feature that added value to their building, but they were also taken on a fascinating historical journey. A toast, then, to Mr. Herbert Massey and his magnificent bowling enterprise.