‘Bowling the way it used to be’


That’s the motto of St. Louis’ Saratoga Lanes, built in 1916 on the second story of a building in suburban Maplewood. Yes, you have to walk upstairs to bowl; there’s a storefront office tenant on the first floor. (Noisy neighbors?)

Once you’re upstairs, you find billiards, a bar and eight lanes that evidently were last remodeled in the mid-1950s. There’s automatic pinsetting and ball return — at least they don’t still employ pinboys — but the ball return is ancient and all scoring must be done by hand, just like the old days. No TV screens, no flashy graphics. Also, the seating is lovably plastic, and they still have ashtrays.

I learned how to keep score from my Dad back in the 1970s, before our town’s lanes implemented electronic scoring. Saratoga’s daytime manager told me that newcomers freak out about the scoring and sometimes stay away for that reason, but he always offers to show people how to do it.

An occasional bowler, I’d been to Saratoga once before and found the place amazing. I returned during my recent visit home. I was the only bowler there that afternoon. My parents watched me bowl three middling games — my scores were 127 to 144 — and my Dad took a video of me bowling a random frame. You can watch that video here.

Saratoga is on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2008 was named the city’s best lanes by Riverfront Times. I’d link to Saratoga’s website, but it’s so minimal it may not have been updated since the 1950s either.

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Remembering Thunderbird Lanes


Thunderbird Lanes, 1555 N. Mountain Ave., was a bowling alley just below the 10 Freeway in Ontario that operated from 1960 until about 1991. It was torn down in 1996 to make way for the Edwards 14 multiplex. A vertical pole sign spelled out the name Thunderbird and was crowned by a neon-edged bird, wings extended.

As Charles Phoenix’s “Cruising the Pomona Valley, 1930 Thru 1970,” the source of the above rendering, put it:

“Visible from miles around, perched high above the action below, the giant spread eagle thunderbird with a 17 foot wingspan was aglow in yellow neon and alive with red light bulb eyes.”

I never bowled there, arriving after the center closed, but I remember the sign being just tall enough that from the freeway the bird could be seen peeking above the barrier.

At the Ontario Library’s Model Colony History Room, I paged through some phone books for information. The nifty 1960 ad at right notes that the Thunderbird, 1555 N. Mountain Ave., had 32 lanes and “free instruction.” The 1968 ad boasts that the Thunderbird had a “Daytime Housewives’ Leagues” (!) and was open 24 hours (!!). Definitely a good era for bowlers.

By the 1980 ad, the only portion still open 24/7 was the Thunderbird’s coffee shop, named the Trucker’s Spot. Makes me wonder if passing truckers had been among the night-owl bowling crowd.

Anyway, as I said, the bowling alley was demolished, but the Thunderbird figure atop the sign was saved, repaired and placed in the city’s Museum of History and Art. That’s the bird below. The museum, at 225 S. Lemon Ave. (essentially, the southeast corner of Holt and Euclid), is definitely worth a visit.

You’re encouraged to leave a comment if you have a memory of the Thunderbird, or even if you just think the bird is cool.

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The Bowlium, Montclair

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Montclair’s Bowlium Lanes opened in 1958 at 4666 Holt Blvd., just west of Monte Vista Avenue, and the oldest surviving bowling alley in the Inland Valley is still setting ‘em up.

The 32-lane bowling center recently gained a new, snazzier sign (see above). It’s a far cry from the astonishing sign (see below) that lured motorists from 1958 until its demolition in 1999, but it’s better than the two bland monument signs that filled in in the interim.

Friday’s column (read it here) has more about the signs and also about Shakey’s Pizza down the street, Montclair’s oldest restaurant.

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Let’s Roll: Arrowhead Lanes, San Bernardino

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Headed to San Bernardino’s National Orange Show recently, I was delighted to pass by a bowling alley. I made a stop on my way back.

And speaking of way back, Arrowhead Lanes is a pleasant throwback. The scoring machine looks like something from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and it must baffle newcomers, because the woman at the counter routinely asks if bowlers would like her to enter their names for them. Meanwhile, the ball return sends balls into a teardrop-shaped bin where they swirl around like thoughts in Herman Cain’s head.

The monitors above the lanes give you your score and nothing else — no fancy graphics, no ads. Helpfully, if you bowl multiple games, it shows you the same frame from each game, so you can instantly compare, say, your fourth frame from this game to your previous two.

The lanes are in good condition and the balls are neatly organized, with all the balls of the same weight grouped together, all the same color. I really liked my experience there. I don’t know how often I’ll drive to San Bernardino to bowl (perhaps never again), but this place makes it tempting. A few particulars:

Address: 299 W. Orange Show Road

Number of lanes: 32

Owner: AMF

Year opened: 1959

Architect: Paul R. Williams

Neighbors: Maytag Superstore, Turner’s Outdoorsman

Games: Billiards, video

Bar: Yes (with vintage “Cocktails” sign)

Ambience: Scarcely updated 1960s equipment and furniture; serious bowlers; working class vibe

Deal: $10 an hour beats $3.95 per game

Website: www.amf.com/arrowheadlanes

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Bowl more, spend less

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Saratoga Lanes, St. Louis, Mo.

As mentioned in my Sunday column, I’ve been bowling frequently this year, usually during off-peak hours to save money. All of our local bowling alleys have deals that can save you dough, as long as you don’t mind bowling at, say, the middle of the day, nights after 9 p.m. or before noon on a weekend.

Currently you can bowl at Montclair’s Bowlium for $1 if you get there between 9 and 9:30 a.m. weekend mornings, or for $1.50 if you’re there after 9:30 but before 11.

They have a lot of regulars, including seniors. One man brings three bowling balls and polishes them after each roll. Another carefully points his feet just so before beginning his approach.

A few times I drove to Covina Bowl for 98-cent games. I like its midcentury modern bowling alley, but Covina proved a long way to go to save two cents.

Here are links to the website of each Inland Valley bowling alley, where you can search for deals or find out more. Look under “prices” or “specials,” and remember that the specials may change from time to time.

* The Bowlium, 4666 Holt Blvd., Montclair.

* Brunswick Zone Upland, 451 W. Foothill Blvd., Upland.

* Brunswick Deer Creek Lanes, 7930 Haven Ave., Rancho Cucamonga.

* Chaparral Lanes, 400 W. Bonita Ave., San Dimas.

* Brunswick Foothill Lanes, 17238 Foothill Blvd., Fontana.

* Brunswick Classic Lanes, 1800 Hamner Ave., Norco.

* Brunswick Covina Bowl, 1060 W. San Bernardino Road, Covina.

* Oak Tree Lanes, 990 N. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar.

Happy bowling.

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Kapu-Kai on eBay


Reader Eric Scherer forwarded an eBay listing (ending Oct. 26!) for a postcard of the fondly recalled Kapu-Kai bowling alley, coffee shop and Tiki bar in Rancho Cucamonga. View the auction and the postcard here.

Scherer drew my attention to wording on the reverse side (shown on the eBay listing): the area code — 714 — and the motto “foremost among Tahitian-Type Entertainment Restaurants – in food – service – exotic surroundings – modest pricing.”

The Kapu-Kai stood at Foothill and Vineyard, where Albertsons is now, from 1962 to 1994. Here’s a previous blog post with lots of great comments.

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