Kamm's Korner Recreation
by Gary Swilik
The West Park Historical Society now has in their collection a glass ashtray from “Kamm's Korner Recreation, a popular bowling alley and billiard parlor which came to a fiery end. This rare advertising piece was donated to the society by Dr. Michael E. Gallagher of West Park Dental Clinic.
In 1937, local bowling celebrity William “Billy” Hess opened Kamm's Korner Recreation at the corner of Rocky River Drive and Albers Avenue. Housed in a one-story, L-shaped brick building just south of Lorain, it originally included eight lanes, several billiard tables, and a soda fountain. Business was good and it soon expanded to sixteen lanes. For the times, it was a very impressive recreation hall.
For nearly two decades family and company bowling leagues met there for fun and sport. That all came to an end on the evening of December 2nd, 1955, when the business was destroyed in a multi-alarm blaze. The fire broke out in a small room behind the alleys used by pinsetters and burst out in a flash when it reached an adjoining storeroom where highly lacquered bowling pins and several gallons of shellac were stored.
Firemen got the first alarm at 5:08 and eventually thirteen companies joined the battle: ten pumper trucks, three hook-and-ladder outfits, a communications truck and rescue squad. All this just as rush hour traffic reached its peak at the busy Kamm's Corner intersection. For three hours traffic was backed up on Lorain, Puritas, and Rocky River Drive.
“I was just seven years old when I saw Kamm's Corner Recreation burn down” remembers Marshall Moore of North Royalton. “I watched it with my dad. It was the first fire I ever saw in person. The day after the fire my father drove me up to see the ruins. We saw many half burnt bowling pins in among the embers.”
“I was about seven the night Kamm's Recreation burned down,” says Bill Shipman of Euclid. “We lived on West 159th across from Newton D. Baker School. The flames lit up the evening sky. This was before Interstate 71 when Lorain was a main truck route. The fire forced a noisy parade of tractor trailers and buses to detour down Lucille Avenue. I sat on my bunk bed and took in the spectacle for hours. It made a big impression on me.”
No one died in the fire although an 18-year-old man went to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. Kamm's Korner Recreation, however, was destroyed with damages exceeding $200,000. Only the blackened walls of the building remained standing. Today a two-story office building and Salem Dental Laboratory occupy the site.
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21 February 2016