Sugar Bowl, photographed by Dave Anderson from his project “The East” (New Orleans East).
A couple of years ago I began working on a New Orleans project that, in my research, required traveling to many New Orleans neighborhoods to survey the impact on Hurricane Katrina. One afternoon I drove down “Chef Highway” into “The East.” To those unfamiliar with the city, that meant taking Chef Menteur Highway out of the Gentilly neighborhood, across the Industrial Canal, and into an area known as New Orleans East, a middle class neighborhood known for its black and Vietnamese populations and for having flooded very badly. Almost immediately I spotted the Sugar Bowl, a bowling alley along Chef Highway. It looked abandoned.
I’m an avid bowler. My older brothers would go bowling when I was a kid and I always tagged along. When I was in middle school I joined a Saturday morning youth bowling league at Holiday Lanes, an alley in Lansing, Michigan. It was about a mile-and-a-half from my home in nearby East Lansing. My parents were busy and rarely gave me a ride so I’d walk or ride my bike depending on the weather. Soon I bought my own ball and not being able to afford a locker rental at the alley I’d have to walk to and from the league with my ten pound red ball. I never had very strong arms so that took some work. It was an especially miserable walk in wintertime with snow on the ground and passing cars & trucks constantly splashing cold wet slush on me. All the same, I loved bowling. Still do.
Naturally the sight of a ruined bowling alley spoke to me, so I parked and started poking around. It was eerie inside. The place had been mostly gutted. The lanes had been cut out and most of the alley infrastructure had disappeared. There was a huge pile of pins in what likely was once the office. The front desk was still there and the lockers were still in place, though many had been emptied and dozens of ruined bowling shoes lay scattered about. The ceiling had failed. Holes had been covered in blue tarp, though some light still floated in.
Almost immediately I spotted this scene. These wondrously colorful balls sat mysteriously in the middle of the alley while the shredded remains of the lanes sat silently off to the left. Light drifted in from above the alley while the cavernous ceiling had mostly fallen into pitch blackness. An amateurish wall mural in the distance unintentionally echoed the scene before me. It was both pristinely beautiful and tragic.
I liked that this photograph makes a nod not only to my own nostalgic past, but to pre & post Katrina New Orleans as well as to the idea of partial rebuilding and an uncertain future. It is not an image of complete abandonment. People had been there. Work had been done. So that was hopeful. But there was still much to be done and no indication that renewal was imminent. There’s a story but it’s not finished yet.