The lanes shine no longer
Former bowling alley being converted into storage warehouse


Dec. 17, 2015

 Jim Otten works on removing the lanes at the former Lighthouse Lanes bowling alley Wednesday afternoon in West Bend. The building was bought by Otten, the owner of Kettle Moraine Appliances, in November. He is transforming it into a warehouse.
John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF BARTON — The former home of strikes and splits for generations of bowlers will soon be turned into space to house spare mattresses and bedframes.

Jim Otten, owner of Kettle Moraine Appliance & Sleep Center, 7259 Sleepy Hollow Road, West Bend, purchased Lighthouse Lanes, 7294 Sleepy Hollow Drive, the day before Thanksgiving and is in the process of gutting the building to turn it into warehouse space.

“I need the extra space because I just started selling beds and mattresses,” Otten said Wednesday afternoon as he helped move a large piece of wood that was part of a bowling lane. “I also needed extra parking space for our delivery trucks.”

Otten said the defunct bowling establishment, closed for at least a year and a half, seemed a perfect fit considering it is situated directly behind his business. It is about 20,000 square feet with high ceilings in places for ease of stacking spare inventory.

  An old bowling pin hides in the bushes outside.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Still, turning the lanes into useable space is going to be a challenge. The entrance to the building has been gutted, but the bowling area proper remains.

“It was a bit messier when I got it, but at least things are now in organized piles,” Otten said with a laugh as he walked past a stack of bowling shoes sitting next to a large group of bowling balls in nearly every color combination imaginable.

Hidden in a closet area were more bowling balls and behind them were bowling pins in jumbled layers. Even the carpeting, in muted shades of blue, has a bowling motif, featuring pins and balls.

“We’ve found some neat memorabilia that has been donated to the Washington County Historical Society,” Otten said.

For keglers who would like a keepsake, Otten is offering slabs of the lanes and more for sale.

“There are a lot of good memories for people here. Maybe this is where they bowled their perfect game,” Otten said, looking out over the more than a dozen alleys still in place.

  A collection of bowling balls and shoes sit in a hallway.
John Ehlke/Daily News

It’s ironic that the someone who experienced many memories at Lighthouse Lanes, Tom Zernia, of Boss Realty, a son of the building’s former owners, Tom and Sandy Zernia, is the one who sold it to Otten.

“Jim will do a good job of taking care of the building,” Zernia said Wednesday afternoon inside the former bowling area.

Otten said one thing he had to do as the new owner saddened him — demolishing the tall lighthouse that stood at the front of the building.

“It really had to come down as it was not structurally sound and was dangerous,” Otten said. “I went up inside of it and it was unsafe,” Otten said. The feature was an area landmark since the 1940s. “It would have been very expensive to even try to save it.”

The building has a long history, according to articles in a file at the Research Center of the Washington County Historical Society.

Constructed in the late 1930s, the building started out as a tavern and gas station situated on what was then Highway 55, according to a Daily News story dated March 19, 1997.

It was then named “The Midway” because it was halfway between West Bend and Kewaskum, according to a column written by Harvey Krueger for the Daily News from March 2000.

The building’s distinctive lighthouse tower was added in 1942 along with an addition, turning it into Lighthouse Ballroom, which became a popular venue for wedding receptions and dances.

Krueger noted in his column that admission to dances held at the ballroom was 25 cents, with girls admitted at no charge. Polka bands seem to have been the ballroom’s big draw.

In 1949, however, the dance floor gave way to bowling lanes and Lighthouse Ballroom became Lighthouse Lanes.

In 1989, Tom and Sandy Zernia bought Lighthouse Lanes, and their son, Tom, worked in its pro shop, according to a Daily News story from March 1990.

For more information about purchasing wood from the alleys or other bowling lanes artifacts, contact Otten at 262-689-6562 or via email at

Reach reporter Linda McAlpine at