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Architecture & Design

Bowlarama! An Exhibit About Midcentury California Bowling Architecture

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Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 4:34 AM
click to enlarge Holiday Bowl, Los Angeles - © JACK LAXER
  • © Jack Laxer
  • Holiday Bowl, Los Angeles
Bowling is an age-old sport that dates back to ancient Egyptian civilization, but in the United States, it wasn't until 1895 when the rules of the game were drawn up in New York City, and ten years later, the International Bowling Board was formed. In Southern California, the postwar-era economic boom, growing middle class and widening suburban sprawl of the 1950s created a need among the increasing number of nuclear families to engage in simple, fun, cost-effective entertainment and bowling was the most popular leisure activity to meet those demands.

Bowling-alley architecture quickly became an outward expression of the spirit of optimism inside these new family-friendly midcentury pleasure palaces and now, the buildings are the subject of an exhibition at A+D Architecture and Design Museum: "Bowlarama: California Bowling Architecture 1954-1964." We asked exhibition curator Chris Nichols, a longtime Los Angeles preservationist, why California was such a hotspot for the futuristic, whimsical design that transformed simple bowling alleys into iconic architectural marvels.

click to enlarge Covina Bowl - COURTESY INTERNATIONAL BOWLING MUSEUM AND HALL OF FAME
  • Courtesy International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame
  • Covina Bowl
As a Hollywood Heritage board member and erstwhile chairman of the Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee, Nichols knows his architecture. His vast personal collection of '50s-era material on Los Angeles design (including bowling alleys) provided a solid starting point for Bowlarama! Nichols also hit up nearly every local institution that could help, including USC, UCLA and the Los Angeles Public Library. But the show isn't just filled with postcards, photos and drawings.

"All the big three-dimensional pieces [are] from friends's collections," Nichols explains. "We pulled them from loft walls and excavated them from garages. One particularly outlandish creature was lifted out of Charles Phoenix's kitchen."

click to enlarge Covina Bowl Pyramid Room - COURTESY ADRIENE BIONDO
  • Courtesy Adriene Biondo
  • Covina Bowl Pyramid Room
Nichols came up with the idea for a bowling exhibition after leading a bus tour about San Gabriel Valley architecture for the Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee (ModCom). One of his guests was then-96-year-old retired architect Gordon Powers, whose firm Powers, Daly and DeRosa designed dozens of California bowling alleys, including the Covina Bowl.

Like many other bowling alleys of the 1950s, Covina Bowl was a one-stop recreation facility with a dining area and cocktail lounge, along with a barber shop, beauty parlor and even free childcare.

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