Sitting on treasure

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As construction crews were sifting through the bricks, old wood and dust inside Roweton’s Home Center Warehouse on North Springfield Avenue, they found a series of historic items from the building’s past lives. 

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An armrest, believed to have come from the Ritz Theater, leans on a row of seats, believed to have come from Bolivar Bowl. Both businesses previously occupied the Roweton’s Home Center Warehouse on North Springfield Avenue, according to Polk County Genealogical Society archives. 

A scorebook, containing records from a bowling alley, along with an armrest from an antique theater, were unearthed from the basement. A row of bowling alley chairs were also found in the building.

First Baptist Church of Bolivar bought the building, which was just north of the main store, in December, church administrator Tom Stanford said Monday, Aug. 5. 

After renovations, the church plans to use the space as a multipurpose room, he said.

“It’s been a garment factory and a theater and a bowling alley,” Stanford said. “Most of the time, it will be an open use room, but we’re going to see about adding some dividers.”

The record book wasn’t still in the building Monday, Stanford said, but the theater armrest, bearing intricate designs, still sat on the main floor. 

The bowling alley chairs still remain, and Stanford said the church actually has plans to make use of them.

“It may not be in this building, but we’ll clean them up and use them somewhere,” he said.

Looking back

According to Polk County Genealogical Society archives, the building was purchased from Payne’s Garage by the Polk County Commercial Club after it was approached in 1919 by the Oberman Manufacturing Co. The company made pants and had a government contract to produce military uniforms. 

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A page from the the historical photo book, “Polk County Classics,” shows interior and exterior shots of the building from its days as a pants factory. 

A 1922 photo in the historical photo book, “Polk County Classics,” shows bright windows shining in on a bustling workplace full of employees and sewing equipment. 

Later in its life, the building would house the Ritz Theater, according to an article in a 1934 issue of the Bolivar Herald. The theater, which was managed by Jerry and Edith Drake, celebrated its fifth anniversary that year. Drake later opened the Drake Theater, which became the Esquire, and is now also owned by First Baptist Church. 

Later on, the Ritz Theater building would reopen as Bolivar Bowl, a six-lane bowling alley under the management of Ralph Gordon, who operated it until his 1968 retirement, according to his obituary in a 1972 newspaper. The bowling alley later became Roweton’s warehouse. 

Looking forward

Stanford said the church has a multitude of plans for the space. First, though, the building needs work. A row of windows on the south side were bricked over during the building’s past. Stanford said the church doesn’t have plans to open them back up, however, other changes are in store. 

Crews pulled off the roof and are in the process of replacing it. They’ve added new beams across a portion of the back and added concrete to at least one wall. 

“We didn’t do much with it over the winter while it was cold,” he said, “but we’re putting on a whole new roof on it and we’re starting on the rest of it soon.”

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