Clover Lanes

Clover Lanes

The legacy of Clover Lanes: next In the Merchants of Monroe serIes in the Historic Brighton web site

By Raymond Tierney III

A trip down Monroe Avenue near the Rt. 490 interchange today is met with a large empty lot on the north side. Of course Mario’s Restaurant graced the western part of the lot and had a rich history, but nothing like the recently demolished Clover Lanes that occupied the majority of the site. When built in 1957, it was the largest bowling center in Monroe County and subsequently produced extraordinary Merchants of Monroe, Fred and Dan Morgenstern.

The 1950s and 1960s were, to many, the golden age of bowling in Rochester. Partners Issie Morgenstern and Armand Goldstein bought the proposed Clover Lanes site for $92,000 and originally planned a 32 lane facility. They added an additional 18 lanes while the construction was ongoing, making it the largest facility with 50 “continuous” lanes until it was razed in 2019. Incidentally, that expanse of lanes led to an innovative approach to service and maintenance. An electric cart was used to shuttle parts and manpower behind the lanes. At the time of its opening in 1957, it was the largest bowling facility between Buffalo and New York City.

Something else was happening as Clover Lanesopened and began to flourish.􏰏􏰐􏰁􏰃􏰉 Fred Morgenstern, who had signed on as a mechanic and quickly advanced to General Manager approached his brother Issie wanting an interest in the endeavor. His original investment of 5% would grow to complete ownership in the future and he would lead Clover Lanes to elite bowling status in Rochester and Monroe County.

According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (D&C) on 20 August 1961 there were 1186 lanes throughout Rochester. In addition to Clover Lanes, you could bowl at 86 different facilities from Olympic Bowl’s 64 lanes down to smaller venues like St. Boniface Men’s Club where yours truly was a pinsetter. Interest was exploding but so was the competitive marketplace. League bowling was a cash cow, but one that only gave milk for 9 months. The summertime was a bowling operator’s challenge as the leagues ended and open bowling took a back seat to outdoor sports and entertainment. What do you do about a 50 lane bowling facility in June, July and August? It seems that Fred Morgenstern had an answer.

As the D&C illustrated in a 1964 advertisement, Clover Lanes was a dance venue during the summer months. One of the most recognizable bands of the day, Wilmer Alexander Jr. and the Dukes played there often. As Dan Morgenstern recalls, “My brother and I would run the cigar boxes of bills back to my mother, Dora, in the office." That cover charge was just a dollar but it helped pack the plywood resurfaced lanes and pay the bills during the off season. Other area lanes were similarly transformed but Clover Lanes stood out as a destination spot during the mid to late sixties. The Dukes even “opened” for nationally known Tommy James and the Shondells. In addition, Clover Lanes hosted an “American Bandstand” type show aired locally on WROC Channel 8. These summer dances introduced bands such as the Showstoppers, Invictas, Sky Coasters and the Quirks. The Sky Coasters can still be found performing at the Town of Brighton’s 4th of July celebration every year.

The 1960s found the elite area bowlers and notable teams such as Jenny Five and Harding Supply rolling at Clover Lanes. Some of the most sought after tournaments were held at Clover Lanes.

In 1968, Fred Morgenstern brought a Professional Bowlers Association event to Rochester. That event drew 19 of the top 20 tour money winners. Tim Harahan was victorious over a future Hall of Farmer, Don Johnson, 136-216 in the final match. Rochester was featuring some of the world’s best bowlers at a time when it is noteworthy to remember that the golf’s 1968 US Open, won by Lee Trevino, was played just a mile away at Oak Hill Country Club earlier in the summer.

Speaking of the best bowlers in the world, Millie Ignizio Martorella was certainly the best woman bowler in Rochester history and was considered by many as the best woman kegler of her time. In the late 1960s and 1970s,


􏰀􏰁 􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰃􏰆􏰇􏰈􏰆 􏰉􏰊􏰈􏰅 􏰈􏰋 􏰌􏰍􏰈􏰎􏰃􏰆 􏰏􏰐􏰁􏰃􏰉 􏰅􏰐􏰑􏰃􏰁 􏰒􏰇􏰆􏰒􏰐 􏰓􏰔􏰕􏰖􏰗 􏰈􏰁􏰍􏰘 􏰐 􏰋􏰃􏰙 􏰘􏰃􏰐􏰆􏰉 􏰐􏰋􏰅􏰃􏰆 􏰅􏰊􏰃 􏰚􏰆􏰐􏰁􏰛 􏰈􏰜􏰃􏰁

Millie (who regularly bowled at Clover Lanes) won four “Queens” tournaments (the only women’s major title at the time) and was the only woman bowler to roll a perfect 300 game in professional play. “Marvelous Millie” was inducted into the Woman Bowlers Hall of Fame in 1975

The challenge to create revenue came with such experiments as a 9AM league for women. Fred’s wife, Dora, managed an on-site day care for the kids while the moms bowled. Another underserved market was kids. At Clover Lanes, young bowlers were greeted with lane enhancements that kept the ball on the alley and always resulted in pin count. This was accomplished by filling the "gutters" with inflatable air bags. Clover Lanes even experimented with carpet rolls as the bags were subject to puncture and very labor intensive. These rolls were the disposable spools that were left after installation of “wall to wall” carpeting that was very popular in the 1960s. By the 1980s Dan Morgenstern initiated a “TinyTot” bowling league for bowlers 3-5 years of age. It was his way of building the market of tomorrow. As the '70s and '80s unfolded, bowling halls needed to broaden their market.

Fred’s son became managing partner in 1994 and improved the guest experience. Dan followed his father’s lead and prohibited smoking inside the entire premises. This was done before legislation was enacted by the Monroe County Legislature. Back in 1976 his father had taken an early lead in limiting second hand smoke by restricting smoking to areas removed from the bowling experience. Dan was also a leader in changing pricing schedules and league bowling times, thereby freeing up popular times for open bowling. He did away with shoe rentals and even introduced constant background music. These improved experiences paved the way for Clover Lanes successor, Radio Social. Clover Lanes closure was not the result of internal economics but of an external offer for the property that as Dan put it “got his attention”. That offer ironically paves the way for a future Merchant of Monroe. Stay tuned!

􏰈􏰙􏰁In my interview with Dan Morgenstern he was very clear that Radio Social, while a worthy successor to Clover Lanes, is a product of much more than the Clover Lanes legacy. He was very effusive in his appreciation of the contributions that his Clover Lanes employees had in designing the innovative venue that now resides in the former Stromberg Carlson plant. “Eatertainment” - a guest experience that involves food and/or beverage, before, after and during other activities seems like a natural succession of the Morgenstern’s entrepreneurial talents. An empty lot on Brighton’s border awaiting its next chapter has kindled great memories of its past and expectations for its future.

page2image39376512 1961 tournament photo 
1961 bowling tournament photograph featuring Fred Morganstern at center holding a bowling ball, and at far left, Rochester comedian phenom Foster Brooks

Interior photographs from 1960 showing the midcentury style and material - some of the most elegant parts were lost to later renovations.􏰩􏰁􏰅􏰃􏰆􏰇􏰈􏰆 􏰜􏰊􏰈􏰅􏰈􏰚􏰆􏰐􏰜􏰊􏰉 􏰋􏰆􏰈􏰡 􏰓􏰔􏰕􏰖 􏰉􏰊 􏰅􏰊􏰃 􏰡􏰇􏰛􏰒􏰃􏰁􏰅􏰟􏰆􏰘 􏰉􏰅􏰘􏰍􏰃 􏰐􏰁􏰛 􏰡􏰐􏰅􏰃􏰆􏰇􏰐􏰍􏰉 􏰧 􏰉􏰈􏰡􏰃 􏰈􏰋 􏰅􏰊􏰃 􏰡􏰈􏰉􏰅 􏰃􏰍􏰃􏰚􏰐􏰁􏰅 􏰜􏰐􏰆􏰅􏰉 􏰙􏰃􏰆􏰃 􏰍􏰈􏰉􏰅 􏰅􏰈 􏰍􏰐􏰅􏰃􏰆 􏰆􏰃􏰁􏰈􏰎􏰐􏰅􏰇􏰈􏰁