By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — The calls are coming from as far away as Brooklyn.
When you’ve built indoor bocce courts as impressive as the four inside the brand-new Methuen Sons of Italy Lodge 902 on Merrimack Street, you’re bound to generate plenty of buzz, says lodge president Armand Buonanno.
“The real focus of the building when we designed it was the bocce courts,” said Buonanno. “It’s a 10,000 square foot building and 60 percent of it is dedicated to bocce.”
Bocce has roots dating back to the Roman Empire. The object of the game is for individuals or teams to roll large balls or bocces toward a smaller target ball, known as a pallino. The side with their bocces closest to the pallino earns points.
But these aren’t just any bocce courts. Buonanno said the closest comparable indoor courts are located in Cleveland. They were constructed with the help of two Italian craftsmen and feature a fast-playing surface made of rubber and sand.
The $80,000 courts are the centerpiece of a $2.5 million relocation project that started in 2010, when Lodge 902 sold its long-time home at 155 Marston St. in Lawrence. That building has since been demolished and is now home to Commonwealth Chevrolet.
The lodge’s new home at 459 Merrimack St. (routes 110/113) is located next to Simone Farm near the Haverhill line. The lodge received an occupancy permit from the city last week and Buonanno said he hopes to acquire a liquor license by the end of the month.
An open house is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28, at 9:30 a.m.
The bocce balls started rolling at the new lodge Monday night when 16 teams kicked off a 15-week season. Bocce will be played there six days a week, including a kids’ league on Saturdays.
The atmosphere at present is social rather than competitive. But Buonanno said he’s already received calls from bocce teams based in Brooklyn looking to play at the facility.
The lodge eventually hopes to gain affiliation with the United States Bocce Federation and host statewide or regional tournaments, he said.
“We can certainly provide that next level of bocce competition if there is interest in Massachusetts or New England,” said Buonanno.
House rules at Lodge 902 are looser than some other stricter interpretations.
“The rules of bocce aren’t set in stone,” said Buonanno. “You get two Italians together and they’ll always find a way to change it.”
There were two courts at the old Marston Street location made of stone dust. With the new rubber-sand surface, Buonanno said the bocces move fast and players are less able to rely on luck or chance.
“Skill will prevail,” said Buonanno. “The advantage is you can get a truer game out of it. There’s less a chance of a ball going where you didn’t intend it.”
About 100 new Lodge 902 members will be sworn in at a monthly meeting Feb. 27, bringing their ranks to around 350. Buonanno attributes the rise in interest to the new facility. He said the lodge still hopes to attract about 100 additional members.
All individuals of Italian Heritage are welcome to join the Sons of Italy as regular members, but anyone can join as a social member.
Buonanno said the new facility is helping to turn the Sons of Italy into a “family-oriented social center” with good food, drink and activities for all ages.
“It’s not your grandfather’s card-playing club anymore,” said Buonanno.
Sons of Italy Lodge 902 Founded: 1919 in Lawrence New home: 459 Merrimack St., Methuen Open house: Thursday, Feb. 28, 9:30 a.m. Contact: 978-688-2258, email@example.com, sonsofitalymethuen.com