At the time Kenneth “Quee” Prentice announced his plans to build a bowling center at the north end of in El Cerrito 1960, the pastime was reaching the peak of its popularity.
“Huge Local Boom In Last Five Years,” was the headline in August of 1961, in a column that called Alameda and Contra Costa counties “The country’s bowling hot bed!’
The article noted that 13 of the 29 bowling centers in Alameda County in the previous five years, while Contra Costa had added 12 “pin palaces.”
So it was hardly a surprise when Prentice, the operator of two Richmond alleys who was popularly known as Quee, said he was going to build a larger modern center in Richmond — and finance the project by selling shares in the $1.75 million venture.
Leagues were springing up, bowling balls were being engraved, team bowling shirts were being embroidered.
There were 17,000 men and more than 10,000 women registered in the two largest bowling associations in Alameda County. West Contra Costa had a men’s association with more than 2,000 members and the Richmond Women’s Association more than 1,200.
“The Golden Gate Lanes bowling alley, planned for erection at San Pablo Ave. and Hill St., will be financed through a time-payment stock plan,” the Tribune reported in April 1960, adding that “investors will be able to purchase stock in amounts as low as $300 with payments spread over 12 months.”
Prentice, an avid bowler himself, was already the owner of Uptown Bowl and the operator of Richmond Bowl.
It took more than two years and a lot of stock before the project was ready to open. Construction started in June 1962 and as late as a month before the opening “Invest in bowling” ads in local newspapers were trying to sell shares in Recreational Enterprises, Inc., the venture set to open for the fall league season.
The big day came on Sept. 8, 1962 and ads the day before touted the 32-lane alley that had parking for 250 cars, dining at Rod’s Hickory Pit built into the facility, cocktails and dancing in the Marina Room and a “completely equipped” children’s play room.
The center, at least at the time of its grand opening, planned to be “open 24 hours … 7 days a week.”
News articles noted that the center would have folding bleachers for seating during tournaments (Golden Gate Lanes hosted many in the 1960s) and a closed-circuit camera system aimed at key lanes.
“To Quee Prentice his richly appointed new bowling center is the realization of a dream he has had for 20 years,” the Tribune wrote. “It was that long ago that he acquired his first little fourlaner in a dingy basement in Lodi, his home town.”
The new enterprise was quickly popular and attracted national tournaments as early as 1964, a year earlier the Prentice had predicted.
But tragedy struck the facility in May of 1967, when Roddy Cotton, an avid bowler, partner in the venture and proprietor of Rod’s Hickory Pit, was shot and killed during a holdup by two men as Cotton was getting into his car in the parking lot.
Cotton was a popular restaurant operator who had opened his first Hickory Pit on 23rd Street in Richmond in the 1930s.
Soon after the killing, a sign was put up in front of a parking space in front of Rod’s Hickory Pit reserving it for Cotton’s widow, Margaret. The sign was placed by El Cerrito police officers out of respect to Cotton and his family.