Just knocked out a new Bowling Mini Journal. Each one of our handmade upcycled pocket notebooks is a bit different, and that’s a good thing! This one has plenty retro bowling alley pix ready to inspire at the turn of a page.
AMF – From Bowling Balls to Bicycles?
Spent part of the weekend tuning up an old yellow bicycle given to me over a decade ago. It was a thrift score, a 5-speed Roadmaster cruiser named Nimble.
It was as cute as a button. When I first got it, I strapped a camera mount on it and used it as my photo excursion touring vehicle.
Turns out, it wasn’t so nimble. Over time, I couldn’t ignore the clumsy proportions of the frame and the oversized seat which made for an awkward uncomfortable ride. So it ended up taking a back seat to more user friendly cruisers on hand. Alas, the Nimble sat neglected out on the roof I used to call home, braving the Southern California elements.
Last weekend, I decided to get the little feller into working order again. It looked pretty sad– dusty and rusty with two flat tires. While cleaning her up, I noticed the familiar AMF branding on the bicycle frame. AMF? Of bowling alley fame?
Yep! Brooklyn based American Machine and Foundry dabbled in a bit of everything. AMF got its start in 1900 by making equipment for the tobacco industry. By the 1940’s, it had diversified into all sorts of automatic manufacturing gear– from mechanical bread packagers to necktie stitchers to pretzel twisting machines.
It seems either a head scratcher or a logical progression that in the 40’s AMF would introduce the first automatic bowling pin setting machine. (Remember, humans used to do that job.) The so called Pinspotter was a hit! Because of it, AMF both helped create and profited from a countrywide “bowling boom”. This is why AMF would come to be synonymous with bowling. Lanes, balls, pins, and bowling alley operations would follow.
In the 50’s AMF got into the bicycle racket. (Later, they also got into the tennis racket racket, but that’s another story.) The AMF Wheel Goods Division produced Roadmaster bicycles in a super automated factory in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks to the baby boom, they sold a lot of bicycles and soon moved operations to a bigger new factory in Illinois.
It’s there that AMF Wheel Goods started going downhill fast along with the quality of their bicycle line. It’s said that some bicycle shops even declined repairing Roadmasters, cause there’s no polishing a turd I guess.
The Roadmaster Nimble I have dates back to the 1970s and that’s just about when things started to go wheely bad over at AMF Wheel Goods. So it seems like I have a lemon on my hands. But that’s okay. Like a Cutter, I’ll pedal through the rough patches and make lemonade.
It was a good Sunday when Dad packed us up in the station wagon for a trip to the local bowling alley. The space aged geometric letters stretching into the sky were a sign of good times ahead.
Trading in the old sneakers for a pair of groovy colored funny smelling shoes was treat enough. Then there was picking out the perfect ball and the nick name for the score sheet. Yeah, scoring was done with pencil, paper, and brain back then.
Then it was time to sit back and chill out on the cool chairs til it was your chance to bowl.
It wasn’t rock and bowl, or black light bowl, it was just plain bowling and it was plain fun. I remember there being lots of alleys back then and the lanes were usually packed.
For the last few decades, old bowling alleys have been slowly disappearing from the Southern California landscape. Lately, I read news of the likely closure of Burbank’s Pickwick Bowl.
Will it be the next to join the bowling alley graveyard? The Covina Bowl had its last stand earlier this year and the Friendly Hills Bowl was hit by the bulldozer before that.
They are in the good growing company of the iconic bowling centers that have gone before them. The Hollywood Star Lanes, Picwood Bowl, Panorama Bowl, La Mirada Bowl and many more classic mid mod architectural gems have been crushed for the vast and valuable real estate they occupy.
All we have left is the memories of spares, strikes, and turkeys bowled within them.
If you’re lucky enough to have a vintage bowling alley in your neighborhood, best go for a bowl before it becomes extinct.
This was my bowling alley. A few blocks east on Pico, at Westwood and Pico, The Picwood Bowl. I could walk there and I did. Endless entertainment because it was open 24 hours. Damn! Three levels of steps & chairs down to the main floor where the balls were tossed. A sunken cocktail lounge with trophies and forgotten odes to alcohol behind display glass. Always felt a bit weird sitting on a bar stool in that sunken bar – tall on the chair but short to the rest of the world up on level ground bowling.
But one day the lanes were stripped of their wood and the building flattened for one gigantic ugly hell of a shopping mall. Some post modern monstrosity. Designed by an architect raised on junk food & profit margins. Yes, the family who owned the lanes sold out. I hope the hell they made a lot of money because they made a lot of folks pretty damn unhappy when the sold out.
Across the street the Apple Pan still flips out burgers and pies, some of the best in Los Angeles.