The Barn in the Sky

Funny how memories work… we don’t remember what we had for dinner three days, ago – but we remember stupid details about our childhood almost to the T.

Growing up, we shopped between two local-ish malls (three if you count the ghosts of Lakehurst): Hawthorn because it had Sears in a time when that was still relevant, and Gurnee Mills for whatever. I don’t remember what we ever went to the latter for (other than that time 7 or 8 year-old me got to meet radio legend, Dick Biondi, at Computer City) — come to think of it, I don’t remember much at all about that place other than kid-me disliked being dragged there over Hawthorn. The sentiment has never really changed, to be honest.

The Barn in the Sky
There was, however, one childhood thing I liked about the Mills: all of us pausing momentarily in the middle of the “discount wing” (usually at the ass-end from where we parked), staring up at this floating red barn emitting loud drilling and clanking noises… waiting for the doors to swing open for “the old man and his flying machine” to take his next ‘flight’ down to what used to be a Sears Outlet and back. It was one of several zany (early-90s) animatronic features the mall had back in the day… and for those who grew up at that time, easily the most fondly-remembered.

Those 90s-kitschy things which gave the mall sorely-needed character were eventually unplugged or disappeared one-by-one as they aged and the mall later fell into new ownership… sadly, the barn is now among those. Probably 12 years after the old man took his last flight, this summer the mall announced plans for a major renovation (finally)… with the floating barn and the track overhead being the apparent first victims of the project. As of a few weekends ago it was being dismantled; today there’s not a trace to be found.

I don’t know what compelled me to flick the barn back around January, but I’m now glad I did.

Polaroid SX-70 Alpha 1
Impossible Color SX-70

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Before “Brunswick Zone”…

In 1956, the Brunswick Automatic pinsetter made its debut at the height of the 1950s bowling craze, where the number of centers in America nearly doubled. By 1963, the bubble burst and many centers were defaulting on their pinsetter payments. Rather than take on the massive task of repossessing the several-thousand pinsetters, the Brunswick Corporation itself merely took ownership of delinquent centers – overseeing and standardizing operations.

By the 1970s the company was building its own centers from the ground-up, and seeming to follow General Cinema’s strategy: was building many in the immediate vicinity of new shopping centers and mall developments. The corporate-owned centers – many of which were considered state of the art – were branded as Brunswick Recreation Centers; usually featuring billiard halls, meeting rooms, and a few other amenities to compliment the lanes.

BRC Bowler

The crown-capped BRC Bowler logo began appearing around this time (an alternate variant had long been seen on their bowling equipment), and for decades was the focal point for center-level branding until the 1990s shift from leagues (which were in decline) toward promoting birthday parties and glow-in-the-dark Cosmic Bowling; where nearly all of the centers were then rebranded as the kid-friendlier Brunswick Zone. The Brunswick Corporation exited the bowling industry completely in 2014, and with BowlmorAMF taking over the Brunswick centers, any remaining trace of this logo’s days is likely numbered.


The following are a series of 8×10 prints I found in a leather-bound booklet during my mostly-nights as a pinsetter mechanic at Brunswick Zone Deer Park. All of these centers shown were built in near-identical fashion and aesthetics toward the late-80s/early-90s. Deer Park was opened in 1991 and I’m fairly certain these images were used as promotional material.

Brunswick Triad Lanes
Triad Lanes in Greensboro, NC; now a private center.

Brunswick Cross Keys Lanes
Cross Keys Lanes in Turnersville, NJ; now Brunswick Zone Turnersville. Deer Park was a clone of this place (with the attached Regional Office) except Turnersville ran A2 pinsetters and Deer Park was built with then-modern GS-92’s.

Brunswick Watauga LanesWatauga Lanes in Watauga, TX; now Brunswick Zone Watauga.

Brunswick Bramalea Lanes
Bramalea Lanes in Brampton, ON, Canada. The exterior signs still read this (complete with Bowler logos) however the interior sports a 90s remodel, and the exterior was just recently splashed with AMF’s fugly red/white paint scheme — a precursor to the inevitable name change.

BRC - Concourse
Concourse area for an unknown center, however pretty much identical to Deer Park’s. We were even still using those wood chairs in the bar until just last winter.

Brunswick Watauga Lanes - Snack Bar
Bowler’s area and snack bar at Watauga Lanes.

BRC - Pro Shop
Pro shop; at one point these were operated by center staff. Far as I know, they’re now all leased spaces.

BRC - Billiard Room
Billiard room. Deer Park’s became an arcade.

BRC - Arcade
Arcade games at most-likely Bramalea, guessing from the sign mentioning Canadian loonies.

BRC - NurseryNursery… not something I expected to find at a bowling center, but hey at least for some that solved the kid problem on bowling night. I’m told these went away by the turn of the millennium.