September 18, 2020

Studio 6F Breathes New Life into Abandoned Chicago Bowling Alley

During the initial design process, Melott and Blahnik visited many bowling alleys to “immerse themselves in the experience,” per Melott, “noise mechanics” were of big interest. Photography by Sean Henderson.

When Chicago native Luke Blahnik first spotted a “for rent” sign in the window of a shuttered Milwaukee Avenue grocery store nearly five years ago, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. The unassuming, box-shaped building’s second-floor storage space, it turns out, was a long-abandoned bowling alley, originally in operation during the 1950s. Instead of turning away, Blahnik dove right in with the mission to protect and preserve the space, all for the good of its surrounding community.

Melott frequently employs, what he calls, “layers of lighting,” to define spaces. Dimmable LEDs from Stolatis Fabrication are on the ceilings and walls, able to black out certain lanes or adjust the overall ambiance. Photography by Sean Henderson.

To update the interiors, Blahnik enlisted the help of local design firm, Studio 6F, led by Gil Melott, and the principal architect at Range Design & Architecture, Mason Pritchett. Given Blahnik’s passion for the project and determination to do what’s right for the neighborhood, Melott happily signed on. “This is not a hyperbole,” Melott begins, “[Blahnik] really is a dream client.” In fact, Blahnik proposed the name Avondale Bowl to show that the recreational space belongs to the community. Together, Blahnik, Melott and Pritchett  ensured all fabrication materials used throughout were made in Chicago.

The crown logo on the returns and over the pins are from the alley’s original design. Blahnik decided to keep those in the space and have Fishtail Neon Signs custom-make a new logo for Avondale Bowl, displayed here above a preserved block of original bowling seating. Photography by Sean Henderson.

The stairs leading up to the second-floor entrance to the bowling alley and bar area offer visitors the same element of surprise Blahnik experienced when he first climbed them and discovered the eight dormant lanes. Melott used a deep orange hue to envelope the entryway accented by a bright green door—setting the tone for the vibrant palette used throughout the space.

The building and design team decided to preserve the original colors and bricks from the exposed walls of the lanes, a design treat discovered by the Range team. Photography by Sean Henderson.

For Melott, the biggest design challenge centered around finding a balance between kitsch and nostalgia, to create a timeless, rather than trendy, space. “There’s a difference between preserving the past literally and preserving the intentions of the origin,” he says. Hence the green; discovered to be a part of the original design, the team chose to make it the lanes’ feature color. The pinsetters and returns work on the original mechanics, although refurbished for freshness. Additionally, Melott made a “deliberate decision not to add electronic scoring,” to ensure players get involved and engaged with their bowling game and who they’re playing it with.

In both the main alley space and bar area, Melott was tasked with adding more seating. The booths are custom made by local Morgan Li, as is the bar seating by Richardson Seating Photography by Sean Henderson.

The fun continues in the adjacent bar area, which shifts from a bright green color scheme to one of sophisticated reds and oranges for a throwback feel. Melott’s team preserved the bar’s original railing and added a tasteful neon halo ring light above it as a subtle spotlight. The Range team extended the original skylight which adds “more vibrancy of light in the room,” Melott explains, noting that this offers a major change in ambiance, which makes the sultry snakeskin stools stand out, beckoning visitors to take a seat.

Wood panels included in the bar are an homage to vintage bar decor. Photography by Sean Henderson.
Blahnik manning the shoe rental station. Photography by Sean Henderson.

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