Frank Sherwood opened the Norwood Sport Center on October 3, 1940. Modeled after the “Belgian Building” featured in the 1939 World’s Fair, it cost $50,000 to build, a sizable sum at the end of the Great Depression. According to their website the Norwood Sport Center was the first building built as a candlepin bowling alley rather than being converted from some other use.
Upstairs the Norwood Sport Center included 16 bowling lanes, a restaurant and pinball machines. The main entrance was located downstairs, where the game room featured billiards, ping-pong, archery and more.
Charlie Kuietauskas grew up in South Norwood and came to work at the Norwood Sport Center as a pin boy in 1941, the year before he graduated from Norwood High School. Before the automatic pin setter was invented in Massachusetts in 1947, Charlie would get 5 cents a string to quickly reset the maple pins by hand.
Charlie planned to join the Army after graduation but was rejected due to a medical problem with his ear. He did his part for the war effort by working in a defense related job in a local tannery while still working part time at the Sport Center.
When the war ended, Charlie returned to the Sport Center full time. Bowling had grown in popularity with blue collar workers after the war, leading to the formation of local teams across the country. Bowling began airing on local television on Channel 5, and ratings were often higher than the Bruins, Celtics or Red Sox. Channel 5 broadcasted bowling for 38 years.
According to HighBeam Business research, the number of bowling alleys in America nearly doubled from 6,600 in 1955 to 11,000 by 1963. Over that same period, the number of people bowling in leagues increased from less than three million to seven million.
Around this time, “action bowling,” which the New York Times described as “a high-stakes form of gambling in which bowlers faced off for thousands of dollars” was particularly popular in New York City. ““You’d go at 1 in the morning, and there were 50 lanes and the place was packed,” one exponent of the sport, hall of famer Ernie Schlegel told the Times. “The action was huge back then, like poker is today.”
John Mutch was the second owner of the Norwood Sport Center. Mutch was in the masonry and contracting business and was a former State Representative and Norwood Selectman. Charlie Kuietauskas became the assistant manager, then manager and eventually the partner of John Mutch in the Norwood Sport Center. When John Mutch died in 1952 Charlie became the sole owner. the owner.
At that time Norwood boasted 16 bowling teams from the Polaroid Corporation and 32 from the Norwood Knights of Columbus, and the Norwood Elks held an annual bowling tournament.
When other bowling alleys resorted to tricks like applying silicone under the lanes or using bumpers for children to make it easy for bowlers, driving up scores, the Norwood Sport center resisted. The level of difficulty bowling a string in Norwood, a good Norwood bowler generally did very well when competing in bowling alleys that used these tricks.
Bowling was still popular in 1970, when avid bowler and then President Richard Nixon had a bowling alley installed beneath the White House. (The west wing of the White House got its first bowling alleys in 1947, but they were relocated in 1955 to make way for a mimeograph room.) The bowling alley installed during the Nixon administration remains in place to this day.
Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, bowling declined in popularity. By 1998 the number of bowling alleys had dropped to 5400 and by 2014, less than 3400 alleys remained. During this time Charlie Kuietauskas retired as the manager of the Norwood Sport Center and passed those duties to his daughter Ann McGuire.
Today, 79 years after it was opened, the Norwood Sport Center remains a part of the fabric of town. The lanes remain much the same as they were all those decades ago, and an array of bowling leagues still compete there. It has also become a popular location for families to hold birthday parties for Norwood’s children, introducing new generations to this wonderful local treasure.