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Hillsboro Street’s ManMur Bowling Center: the Geographic Center of North Carolina (?)

I am sure that by now everyone in Raleigh is aware of the Hillsboro St. reconstruction project currently underway along NC State University’s primary business thoroughfare, all the way from Oberlin Rd. out to Brooks Ave.  For the past year, cars and pedestrians alike have navigated broken pavement and a clutter of orange and white traffic cones, barrels and barricades, all the while dodging giant earthmoving equipment.  However, most people probably are not aware that until the late 1920s that stretch of street was primarily a residential district. In 1939 Hillsboro’s first major commercial building — the ManMur Bowling Center — was erected in the 2500 block.

The ManMur Bowling Center in 1940, when it was new. Notice how sparsely built up the block was then. (Photo courtesy the NC Office of  Archives and History, State Archives.)

Designed in a vernacular interpretation of the then fashionable ‘art moderne’ style and faced with polished glass panels, it was built on the vacant block formerly occupied by the main building of the state fairgrounds. Hillsboro St. lore holds that the name ‘ManMur’ was derived from the supposed fact the structure sat on the geographic spot exactly midway between Manteo and Murphy — the eastern and western extremities of North Carolina. The principal tenant of the large one-story brick building — we would call it a strip shopping center today — was the bowling alley, and was flanked by four store fronts and a restaurant. Among the first tenants were the ManMur Shoe Shop and ManMur Barber Shop. The State Beauty Shop and the ManMur Soda Shop soon joined the assemblage of businesses.

Another view of the ManMur Bowling Center in 1940. Notice the barber pole standing in front of the ManMur Barber Shop. The Town House Restaurant is on the right. (Photo courtesy the NC Office of  Archives and History, State Archives.)

ManMur became a familiar Hillsboro St. landmark for twenty years. Then, on March 4, 1959, a devastating fire destroyed the Bowling Center. The N&O reported at the time that the fire was “first discovered … by an unidentified little boy who said he smelled smoke…” The manager told the reporter “‘ [I] looked under the seat next to the wall and it looked like someone had thrown a cigarette under the seat. I got a bucket of water and poured it under the seat and when I straightened up, fire was coming through the walls.’” The 200 or so people inside “got out of the building quickly, [and] within minutes after the alarm was turned in, the blaze [had] spread” to the adjoining businesses. Nearby residents hosed down their roofs “as a precaution against flying firebrands being carried by the wind. …The fast-spreading” conflagration threatened the entire block, as the fire department “battled the blaze, cheered on by thousands of State College students, for two hours before bringing it under control.” The building was a total loss, with damages estimated from “several hundred thousand dollars to over a million.”

Western Lanes bowling alley (recently renamed ‘The Alley’) was built in 1960 on the site of the ManMur Bowling Center. I find it somewhat ironic that, as the 1939 building was designed in the art moderne style fashionable then, its replacement is a vernacular interpretation of the modernist style popular during its own era.

Within a year of the fire, a new bowling alley, renamed “Western Lanes,” was rebuilt on the same site.  Also in 1960, the ManMur Shopping Center reopened down the street in a new building near the corner of Hillsboro and Gardner streets — the ManMur Shoe Shop and ManMur Barber Shop relocated to the new site, and remain there to this day.

ManMur Shopping Center was built in 1960.

Now, I don’t know whether the original ManMur Bowling Center was really the actual geographic mid-point between the eastern and western extremities of North Carolina, or not; but one thing I do know for certain is that ManMur is now a couple blocks closer to Murphy.

The ManMur Shoe Shop

The ManMur Barber Shop

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