Column: Sparing Covina Bowl scores a strike

I was an admirer of the 1956 Covina Bowl in its latter years before its 2017 closure. Now, a housing developer is putting 132 units on the property while saving the bulk of the building, the 60-foot-tall sign and other distinctive features. I took a tour for my Sunday column.

By way of background, I’d been mulling writing a column on this for a long time but wondered if I could justify it, in my own mind at least, since Covina is a little west of even the westernmost part of the IE. Then, by chance, I learned that the historic consultant for the project is a Riverside acquaintance who is active in historic preservation there. She offered to arrange a tour with the developer. Bingo, column achieved!

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Let’s Roll: Covina Bowl


Covina Bowl is one of the area’s granddaddies, built during bowling’s boom in 1956 and still in operation. It just turned 60. Much of the center is original, with flagstone cladding, a 60-foot sign, oddball Egyptian and Polynesian touches and some evidently original lamps.

I’d bowled there a couple of times on a Sunday morning despite the drive. A 60th anniversary party on Feb. 11 drew me back. They had a cake shaped like the building, including the soaring A-frame roof, a sweet touch and an inspiring bit of cake architecture. (Rice Krispies helped.)



After the party, I bowled two games, although I’m not a fan of cosmic bowling, which is what was going on that night. The lanes seemed to be in good condition. The art above the pins depicting a stylized Art Deco skyline was a cute way to dress the place up.

The balls weren’t so hot, though. In my range (10, 11 and 12 pounds), most had too-small holes, and the one I settled for scraped my thumb — waah, waah, waah. There were a lot of 14- and 15-pounders, which tempted me to move up except that my arm might have fallen off.

The scoring system worked fine and the screen graphics were good. After whiffing on the second ball in a frame, the screen showed animated pins guffawing silently at me. Deflating, but I couldn’t help but join them.

Covina Bowl is one block off the main drag, cutting down on its visibility, and you can tell from the enormous footprint, nearly a square block of land, that the pin palace was once a center of community life. These days, not so much, and its days as a bowling alley may be nearing an end. Enjoy Covina Bowl while it lasts.

There are decent places to eat nearby: a Northwoods Inn of a similar vintage, several Mexican restaurants, Capri Deli a couple of miles east and a Norms in a round building (a former Steak Corral “family westaurant”) with an amazing sign that lights up in sequence.

Address: 1060 W. San Bernardino Road, Covina

Number of lanes: 50 (count ’em, 50)

Owner: Brunswick

Year opened: 1956

Architect: Powers, Daly and DeRosa

Neighbors: Home Depot, Mar y Tierra No. 3, Northwoods Inn

Air hockey: Yes (and nine billiard tables)

Bar: Yes

Coffee shop: Closed

Pro shop: Yes

Ambience: Fred and Barney would love it, except for the cosmic bowling

Deal: $2 games and shoes after 6 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Tuesdays

Hours: 10 a.m to 11 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday, 4 to 11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.






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Let’s Roll: Brunswick Zone, Upland


Upland’s bowling alley is relatively modern and located on the busy commercial corridor of Foothill Boulevard, just west of Euclid and cater-corner from Upland High, a recipe for success. At 40 lanes, it’s about as large as they get.

I’ve bowled there a bunch of times, and while it doesn’t have the flair of Montclair’s Bowlium, it’s a little easier to get to for me. It’s my go-to bowling alley, and the place where I hit my high score, 200.

One user-friendly touch is that all balls of the same weight are the same color, making them easy to sort for the staff and to return after you’re done. Anyone who’s spent time poking around the shelves for a ball of their favored weight will appreciate the ease of finding a ball: Here are all the 7-pounds, next are all the 8-pounds, organized in order up to 16. My favored weight, 10 pounds, are all green.

The lane furniture is a little uncomfortable, with swing-out swivel chairs, and as with most electronic scoring systems, entering your name or making changes is tricky, maybe more so here with colored pyramid keys that correspond to elements on the overhead screen, once you figure it out.

The graphics on the monitors are funny. For instance, anthropomorphic pins walk out of jail when you roll a gutter ball. The “turkey” graphic below memorializes my getting three strikes in a row, a rare feat for me. On my most recent visits, the monitors were measuring your rolls’ speed (10 to 13 mph for me) and only showing the last five frames instead of the whole game at once.

Upland is probably due for an update; in 20 more years we might think it’s retro, but at this point it just seems a little behind the times, and the exterior is awfully bland too. But while the Dude, Walter and Donny from “The Big Lebowski” would probably find the place too anonymous, Brunswick Zone is a good place to bowl.

Address: 451 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Euclid), Upland

Number of lanes: 40

Owner: Brunswick

Year opened: 1985

Architect: somebody who thought a faux awning against a brown box really dressed the place up

Neighbors: Upland High, Kishi, Vons center

Air hockey: Yes

Bar: Yes

Coffee shop: No, but Nathan’s hot dogs. And salads.

Pro shop: Yes

Ambience: Families, teens (the future of bowling)

Deal: $2 Tuesdays, with games and shoe rental $2 each after 8 p.m.







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Let’s Roll: Bowlium Lanes, Montclair


I intended to write a series of posts on bowling alleys, set up a format to do so, produced one on San Bernardino’s Arrowhead Lanes in November 2011, and then never wrote another one. Oops. Well, here’s the second in the series, and I promise not to wait three years for the next one.

Possibly my favorite local bowling alley, Bowlium Lanes offers a burst of style on a dispirited stretch of Holt, even if the enormous pole sign fell victim to sign codes a few years back. Behind the flagstones, arches and dingbats on the exterior you’ll find more retro style inside: a cozy enclosed diner and vintage signs for restrooms and cocktails.

The interior is well-maintained too. The lanes are kept well-oiled (possibly too well-oiled) and they have plenty of balls to choose from. The scoring machines are tricky to program, with directional arrows in multiple colors for navigation, and I kind of hate them. The graphics on the overhead screens are entertaining. Besides the bowling, there’s a pro shop, a bar and a game room.

Bowlium is open 9 a.m. to midnight Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. That’s not 24-hour bowling, but 17-hour bowling is impressive.

Address: 4666 Holt Blvd.

Number of lanes: 32

Owner: Scott and Teresa Poddig

Year opened: 1958

Architect: Powers, Daly and DeRosa

Neighbors: vacant lot, quaint real estate office, elementary school

Games: Game room

Bar: Yes, with vintage “Cocktails” sign

Coffee shop: Yes, with counter and stools

Ambience: The Jetsons meet the Flintstones

Deal: Monday 9 p.m. to midnight: $1.25 per game, but there are more here.





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‘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.

The two photos above were contributed by reader David Sutherland, who took them circa 1986. Annie’s was the coffee shop name at that point.

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


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