Where Have All The Bowling Centers Gone?

by Dave Williams

Over the last few years I’ve written about many of the bowling centers that have closed in recent years, primarily because of real estate values, but also due to the COVID confusion that we have all endured since 2019. A couple of my favorite articles involved L & L Castle Lanes in San Francisco and Westlake Bowl in Daly City, which were both a big part of my early bowling days during junior league competition.

Next came Rocket Bowl, Friendly Hills Lanes, Saratoga Lanes and Futurama Bowl, that were at one time owned and operated by either AMF Bowling Centers or American Recreation Centers (ARC), during my time in a marketing capacity for those organizations. There are many more bowling centers featured with memorialized t-shirt designs on the m00nshot.com website, including bowling locations that were operated by professional baseball players that we featured in a recent article.

Civic Lanes

As I reviewed the remaining locations to see what might make an interesting article, I could not help but notice a plethora of bowling centers in California. Including the articles in which we’ve already featured some of those locations, there are a total of 42 closed bowling centers from California. Illinois is a distant second with nine, followed by Ohio (8), New York (5), and New Jersey with four.

Bowling just can’t justify the square footage required when compared to Costco, Target and others, that take roughly the same amount of space as a 40 lane bowling center, but generate much more revenue. I remember during my days at AMF, the powers that be hired a Facilities Design Engineer, Nick Wallace, who predicted that by 2050 most new bowling centers would be in basements or multiple use buildings with more than one story. It hasn’t happened yet, but you can begin to see the multi-use buildings popping up with retail on the ground floor and apartments above.

To help me with their insights into some of the remaining closed bowling centers from the m00nshot.com website, I have called upon some stalwarts of the bowling industry. Their input should make for enjoyable reading! The first person that I reached out to is Bud Horn of Las Vegas. Bud grew up in Santa Monica and remembered fondly the five bowling centers that used to operate there. The last one to go was Bowlmor Santa Monica, just a few years ago.

“As a league bowler at Santa Monica Bowl, I remember meeting many famous people,” said Bud, who later went on to set USBC records that may never be broken at their annual national tournaments. “There was Jerry Lewis and his wife Patty; Esther Williams, the famous swimmer and movie star; and Ben Blue, who owned the Ben Blue’s Nightclub just down the street.”

“I also went to school in my younger days in Santa Monica with James Mitchum. He was the spitting image of his famous father Robert Mitchum,” said Mr. Horn. “There was also Bobby Driscoll, who starred in many Disney films, and perhaps the most famous of all was Doug McClure, who went on to star in television westerns.”

The other bowling centers in Santa Monica that have closed are Llo-Da-Mar Lanes (owned by film star Harold Lloyd, along with professional bowlers Ned Day and Hank Marino), Samoa Lanes and Broadway Bowl. For those of you old enough to remember, Bowlmor Santa Monica originally opened as Civic Lanes, before changing the name to AMF Bay Shore Lanes and finally Bowlmor Santa Monica.

Samoa Lanes

Another frequent contributor to my bowling articles, Tom Knapp of Minnesota, offered some other memories of an incredible time in bowling history with his thoughtful references to a few more bowling establishments in the greater Los Angeles marketplace. Before moving to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Tom worked at both Bob’s Pro Shops and Western Columbia in the 1970’s, while holding down a “real job” with 3M Company.

“I did a lot of bowling in the San Gabriel Valley,” said Tom. “Park Bowl in Baldwin Park (owned by the aforementioned Bud Horn) had to be my favorite. Not only did I work in the pro shop, but I also bowled at least one league on a fair and challenging condition that kept players grounded. If you could average 200 on those all maple lanes, you could average 200 almost anywhere. Thanks for the education Bud!”

“Landmark Bowl and Garey Center Bowl in Pomona were also favorites,” said Knapp. “Lon Marshall, who later became the PBA lane maintenance guru was the head mechanic and lane man for both centers. Finally, Santa Anita Lanes and Bowling Square in Arcadia were also favorites. Bowling Square recently closed but back in the 1970’s it hosted PBA tournaments, and was the first in the area to install automatic scoring. I would have bowled anyone on lanes 37 & 38 back then!”

Another amusing story came from Dean Lopez, editor of the California Bowling News: “In 1980, at Landmark Bowl in Pomona, I shot my highest game (at the time) of 290 in league play. I was so excited that on my way home I was going 90 mph on the freeway celebrating… all smiles with the windows down. Then a CHP on a motorcycle rolled up next to me and said, ‘Hey, slow down or I’ll throw your a$$ in jail.’ I am still so thankful he let me off with a warning. Now, THAT was a good day!”

Dean went on to say that the 290 remained his highest game until he rolled his first 300 in 2003, at Del Rio Lanes. “I even made the cover of the California Bowling News,” states Lopez. “I still have copies of that issue.”

What about you?  Do you have a story to tell us about your favorite bowling center that is now gone, but not forgotten? We talked here about the 42 bowling centers that have been memorialized by m00nshot.com, but there are many, many more that have closed in California, and elsewhere, primarily due to real estate values. Let us know your story and we will see if we can do another “Where Have All The Bowling Centers Gone?” feature. Thankfully, the Lord has provided us with the capacity to remember all of those great memories!

Incidentally, and for the readers in Texas and Arizona that have not experienced this situation, I could find only a couple of bowling center closures in Texas due to land values… and NONE in Arizona! It also reflects the fact that Texas and Arizona are the areas where people are moving…


Civic Lanes and Samoa Lanes T-Shirt Art by m00nshot.com