The Holiday Bowl, an institution on Crenshaw Boulevard and a unique outpost of cultural exchange for 42 years in metropolitan Los Angeles, has been sold and is closing its doors on Sunday, though a community group is vowing to fight for its preservation.
The sprawling bowling alley and coffee shop, in the heart of the corridor at 3730 Crenshaw, has been a touchstone for passing motorists, bowling enthusiasts and diner night owls for decades. Its faded but distinctly kitschy orange-and-white facade and sloping roof is an example of a California-inspired ’50s architectural style called Googie — a fact that concerned citizens and preservationists are hoping will persuade local or state authorities to declare Holiday a historical landmark and prevent it from being razed by the new owners, at least temporarily. Crenshaw native Jacqueline Sowell is among those working to save Holiday from the wrecking ball by circulating petitions and appealing to the city‘s Cultural Heritage Commission, which declares landmarks locally. ”This place has survived two riots — there’s never been so much as a broken window here, because that‘s how much it means to people,“ says Sowell, who also worked as a waitress in the coffee shop for the last five years. ”Never been a scratch. That’s pretty much all you need to know.“
Holiday has indeed withstood two bouts of civil unrest — in ‘92, customers stood outside and turned away would-be looters — and several more earthquakes, but what really makes the place special is its soul. It’s a bona fide community center that has grown and sustained many a friendship between local black and Japanese residents who, for many years after World War II, constituted the Crenshaw area‘s largest minority populations. The Japanese largely moved out of the area decades ago, but in a tradition that defies L.A. migration logic they continued to come back regularly to visit old friends, to bowl, or to partake of an eclectic menu that features everything from chashu to noodles to grits and Louisiana hot links. Many friendships extend back to World War II, when blacks watched their Japanese neighbors get sent off to internment camps. The Holiday opened in 1958 and provided a feel-good place that ameliorated the bad memories somewhat. ”This building is important architecturally, but even more so culturally,“ says John English of the L.A. Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation group that is working with residents to save Holiday. ”It’s one of the most important, dynamic and vital resources in the community. We wouldn‘t be having this fight if we didn’t feel people wanted to keep it.“
Property owners maintain that the Holiday Bowl has simply outlived its usefulness and at this point would cost more to refurbish than what it is worth. Marshall Siskin of Crenshaw Park, the landowning partnership, says that the place hasn‘t turned a profit in the last 15 years, especially in the last five, after Holiday’s original business owners — who were Japanese — sold the business. Subsequent owners have not been able to change its fortunes. ”The whole center is a worn-out facility, and there isn‘t any way to get enough money to rehab it to the degree where it would be habitable and profitable,“ says Siskin. The property has been sold and is in escrow, though Siskin won’t say who the new owners are, or what their plans for the Holiday might be. Ironically, Siskin admits to being sympathetic to the Holiday cause; his family acquired the land in the ‘30s, and he grew up bowling there. But, he says, ”The whole picture of bowling is not what it used to be.“
Crenshaw’s whole picture is certainly not what it used to be; Holiday is merely one in a succession of failed businesses along the boulevard which dramatically evidence a commercial decline that has been a couple of generations in the making. Many auto dealerships on Crenshaw have been shuttered in the last decade, including a Honda dealership adjacent to Holiday that closed last year. That lot is also owned by Crenshaw Park. Sowell says her group is hoping to tap local investors or get an entity to step forward and purchase Holiday and the car lot — they estimated a cost of $3.5 million for the land and another $1 million for renovations. Sowell is optimistic about reopening as early as August, if not as Holiday then as a business that the Crenshaw community sorely lacks, such as a full-service copy center. ”We don‘t want another swap meet or strip mall,“ she says. Armed with petitions and placards, Sowell and about 40 others staged a rally in front of Holiday on Tuesday, and are planning another one for 11 a.m. Saturday.
Last week, Holiday customers appeared quietly unaware of the impending closure. Bowling lanes rumbled with activity, and coffee-shop patrons of various ages and colors spread newspapers next to their breakfasts or settled in to watch the basketball playoffs on television. But two patrons, Ed Nakamoto and A.J. Delahoussaye, sat at the counter talking with some agitation about the loss. The two met here 36 years ago, when Nakamoto was working in Holiday’s parking lot, and have been meeting ever since. ”It‘s a close-knit place for blacks and Asians,“ says Nakamoto, a burly former actor. ”The two cultures started bowling here together at a time when there were no leagues for Asians. It has real integration. There’s a guy who comes here from Compton because one of the Japanese waitresses here is his friend. There‘s another guy who grew up here, moved to Vegas but still comes here with his kids.“
Delahoussaye, a New Orleans native, says one tragedy among many is that Crenshaw will lose one of the very few local hangouts left. ”This was the only place around where you can get a good meal, not fast food,“ he says. ”Where are we going to go now?“