I should preface this by saying that during my own tenure as a Fair Lanes youth league duckpin bowler in the early 1980s, the few awards I won looked like this:
And I wasn’t that bad a bowler. In fact, I had a handful of these little patches—awarded for various league achievements. But looking at them today, they’re pretty lackluster as far as patch designs go, aren’t they? In fact, the most ornate of the ones I earned are probably these, which aren’t much better.
These were the products of the new Fair Lanes of the early 80s—the recently re-branded version of the venerable bowling alley franchise, which sought to distance itself from the stereotypical bowling alley riffraff of the 60s and 70s.
A new logo (a stylized hand releasing a bowling ball) was paired with a new bold italic typeface, creating a more modern look and feel. However, Laurel’s bowling alley (which opened in 1961) kept its original sign along Route 1 for some time afterward, before the new logo was finally applied.
And that was a good thing, because the original sign was about as classic as it got. It included Fair Lanes’ original logo, which was brilliantly simplistic—the name spelled out across ten frames of a perfect bowling scorecard. And the logo’s integration with the sign was equally genius—communicating who, what, and where simultaneously: “Bowl at Fair Lanes Laurel”
The sign was so well designed, it actually became as iconic as the logo itself. It was used throughout the 60s and 70s on some of the most prestigious league award patches a bowler could earn. And comparing them to the more understated versions of later years, you can really get a sense of just how strong the brand identity was.
The Fair Lanes sign evoked excitement in a Las Vegas way—big, bold, and bright. The vintage patches I’ve found that incorporated it into the design capture that spirit in an array of color combinations that, frankly, make you want to stop whatever you’re doing and just go bowling right now.
The League President and League Secretary patches of the time featured the sign in a more subdued, straightforward manner:
Many of the more minor patches didn’t use the literal sign, but still featured the original Fair Lanes logo prominently.
Some manipulated the logo to fit the shape of the patch:
Others branched off from the logo entirely, creating their own unique look:
These “I Beat My Coach” patches are interesting—depicting a humanoid bowling ball standing victoriously over a vanquished, dead pin. Who says bowling isn’t a violent sport?
The leagues that I played in also never used the classic bowling shirts that you think of—we had these boring, short sleeved polos, where the most colorful feature was the small screenprinted logo itself.
You could put as many of those little stars on it as would fit, but it still didn’t have the awesomeness that any one of those vintage patches would have wielded.
That gives me an idea. Maybe I should have these all sewn onto a vintage button down bowling shirt, and then wear it into the nearest bowling alley and just watch people’s heads explode.
Laurel’s bowling alley is still there, still open for business under AMF management. The duckpins are long gone, however; as is that familiar aroma of lane wax that used to hit you as soon as you entered the door. We can thank the advent of synthetic lanes for that travesty; but I can still see no reason why bowling patch designs should have ever been tamed.