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.
Digging through old negatives the other day, I came across a batch of scratchy, poorly preserved color negatives of Kelbo’s Restaurant. In the early 1980’s I moved into a bungalow behind Kelbo’s in West Los Angeles. At that time, Kelbo’s was one of the last great post war tiki-style Polynesian restaurants left in Los Angeles or perhaps the world. I recall seeing another Kelbo’s on Fairfax, across from Farmer’s Market, but that joint was demolished a few days later, before I could snap a shot of it.
I had a sense that Kelbo’s wasn’t long for this world. There were never many folks inside drinking or eating whereas the S.F. Saloon, LA’s first fern bar just a block away, was always hopping.
Through the haze of time and booze, this is what I recall of the inside of Kelbo’s: thatched booths wrapped in bambo with a dramatic back lite plastic cocktail menu at the far end displaying Kelbo’s signature tiki-inspired rum drinks in wondrous colors of green, purple, fiery red & blue; tropical fish tanks on the backside of the bar; bartenders dressed like modern day Trader Joe’s employees; greasy sugary ribs that people loved; a round dance floor in the back with spinning disco ball and a circle on the ceiling resembling the edge of a half coconut.
Luckily I snapped some shots of the outside, otherwise I would have never recalled the odd murals were painted on the doors & stucco. A few years later, Kelbo’s was sold, stripped of its soul and turned into Fantasy Island, a strip club which is how the building continues to function today. I imagine the strippers dancing beneath that coconut shell, working on the same floor once inhabited by spry seniors cutting a rug. I’m certain the fish tanks & glowing menus are long buried deep in a landfill.
These murals were on the parking lot side of the building. They are painted in a film negative black & white look that some have found oddly racist looking.
A few of the doors, one a black & white negative of the other.
Who were the artists who created the murals? Not sure about the guys from Genius Inc but Carolyn Dulay is a graphic artist proud of her work at Kelbo’s.
Notice the integration of the restaurant’s electric panel into the tropical look.
The last stop on this tour is the junk shack in the back. Nothing of value inside folks so keep it moving!
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.