Thousands Visit Bowling Alley in Obama White House

Logs Show Nixon-Era Bowling Alley Popular Perk for White House Staff, Families

ByABC News
August 31, 2011, 2:40 PM

Sept. 1, 2011— -- As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to tear out the White House bowling alley and install a basketball court if elected. Now, nearly four years later, the basement bowling alley is still there, and getting plenty of use.

More than 4,100 have been granted access to the White House to visit the presidential lanes in the Executive Office Building since Obama took office, according to visitor logs released by the administration and analyzed by ABC News.

In May 2011 alone, the most recent month for which records have been released, 230 bowlers were cleared by the Secret Service to try their hands at strikes and spares. The two-lane alley appears to have been used every day of the month except five.

By comparison, only 60 visitors to the White House since 2009 came to use the presidential basketball court, records show. There were no names listed as visitors headed for the official swimming pool.

"The bowling alley is a recreational facility that has been used since the 1950s by Secret Service, blue collar staff and their families to build camaraderie and make them feel part of the House," said Bill Bushong, a staff historian with the White House Historical Association. "It's essentially tradition."

Among the recent registered bowlers are some familiar names, including the families of White House staffers Cecilia Munoz and Nancy-Ann Deparle and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. Other guests include local Democratic policy analysts, campaign volunteers and staff from foreign embassies.

An October 2009 Washington Times report found some Obama campaign donors were also among those allowed to bowl at the White House, but administration officials at the time dismissed the suggestion of any impropriety.

"Contributing does not guarantee a ticket to the White House, nor does it prohibit the contributor from visiting," said then-deputy White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this report.

Several former staffers from the George W. Bush administration said the 10-pin alleys were regularly used between 2001 and 2008 by guests, staff and their families and friends, describing a fun atmosphere where shoes and balls are provided.

"But they're not very glamorous facilities," said presidential historian Richard Norton Smith. "If you didn't know you were in the White House, you probably wouldn't realize it from the space."

Smith said the president has three bowling facilities available for his use. One two-lane alley installed in the basement of the office building adjacent to the West Wing; a single-lane in the basement beneath the North Portico; and a lane at Camp David.

It's unclear how frequently the First Family uses the bowling alleys, though President Obama memorably spent his 48th birthday using the 10-pin lane at Camp David, where he reportedly bowled a 144 with three strikes and a nine in the last four throws.

On the campaign trail in April 2008, Obama was ribbed for rolling a measly 37 at a Pennsylvania bowling alley.