Memory Lanes - Page 2

Lost to time—the stunning architecture and endless fun of mid-century California's classic bowling palaces
Memory Lanes
This watercolor rendering illustrating architect Martin Stern, Jr.'s iconic design began a 60-year progression for the Googie-styled Mission Hills Bowl in Mission Hills. On the drawing board it was Sepulveda Bowl. Then, in 1957, it opened as Citrus Bowl; and, in 1974, reopened as Mission Hills Bowl.

"I've actually met two guys, now in their 80s, who worked as pin boys at Highland Park Bowl [in Highland Park]," recalls owner Bobby Green of the 1933 Group. "They were probably 14 or 15 years old when they worked there," he said, wondering about child labor laws.

Since pin boys were often paid in tips, "bowlers would throw coins down the gutters all the way back to the pinsetters," adds Green. "You had to watch out [if you were a pin boy], because guys were often drunk, and you had to be on your toes."

Automation replaced manual pinsetters with an elaborate mechanized system—"physics and optics and complex circuitry at its Atomic Age perfection," explains author Timothy Brian McKee, in an online story detailing how the Ohio-based American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) launched the golden age of bowling, beginning in 1953.

Memory Lanes
After Mission Hills Bowl closed for good in 2015, supporters lobbied successfully for historic status, and Ross stores agreed to adaptive reuse of the site (above from 2017).

AMF's Automatic Pinspotter, invented in 1946, was patented in 1952, paving the way for a revolution in the bowling industry that attracted major investors. To publicize their new invention, AMF introduced a robot mascot named 'Mr. Pinspotter,' which urged families to bowl the new, automated way.

Before long, the newfangled invention would displace the old-fashioned pin boy, and the sport would skyrocket to a level never seen before.

Soon, high-style bowling centers appeared with deluxe accommodations, presenting the sport in a refreshing, new light. Seizing an opportunity to attract women customers, these bowling venues sprang up in supermarket shopping centers, with retailers there distributing flyers announcing free bowling instruction.

Memory Lanes
Friendly Hills Bowl in Whittier, from 1958.

In 1958, bowling equipment giant Brunswick encouraged women to 'bowl to stay slim,' and a new 'Lady Brunswick' line of lightweight balls was launched in colorful pinks and blues.

The grand opening of a California mid-century bowling center was an occasion not to be missed, with carbon-arc promotional searchlights routinely crisscrossing evening skies. With seemingly endless surface parking, suburban bowlers and non-bowlers would turn out in droves to explore these family-friendly bowling palaces that promised days and nights of fun, all under one roof.

In the agricultural community of Covina, in Southern California, 'Modern Construction Miracle' was what the San Gabriel Valley Tribune's headline called the spectacular Covina Bowl at its completion in December 1955.

Memory Lanes
Stunning Country Club Lanes (1959-'60), in Sacramento, is still open and serving up perfect '300' games.

Two month's later, at the grand opening, awestruck guests discovered much more than just bowling as they passed the exotic Egyptian pyramid at the entrance that led to an elegant restaurant, coffee shop, banquet hall, along with a barber shop, beauty salon, and a supervised children's playroom.

"This was a terrific way to have a night out," says Nichols. "Nurseries were a big draw for young parents. Some centers would let you keep the kids in the nursery for hours, and you might duck into the bar to see a show."

Masters of Googie architecture Armet & Davis, Martin Stern, Jr., and Leach, Cleveland & Associates made their mark on the California bowling world, but designing bowling alleys wasn't every architect's cup of tea.

  Memory Lanes
Premiere Lanes of Santa Fe Springs stood tall with its fabulous Space Age signage long after the bowling center was leveled. Today, the sign is being restored in a different location.

"I did speak to [structural engineer] Richard Bradshaw," comments Nichols, "who said it was beneath [the dignity of] any of the other architects he'd heard of."

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