L.A.’s Most Iconic Mid-Century Bowling Alley Has Closed

Covina Bowl shut down for good this weekend; the building’s future is uncertain

Covina owl

owl closed this weekend after a long and colorful 61 year-run. Longtime customers were turned away from the packed bowling lanes on Saturday night and told to return for a final game on Sunday, only to be greeted by a sign taped to the door directing them to other lanes run by BowlmorAMF. The New York-based bowling giant took over the lanes about a decade ago from the Brutocao family, who built and operated the lanes starting in 1956.

Covina Bowl grand opening, 1956

Photograph courtesy Alan Hess

The Los Angeles Conservancy successfully nominated the googie-style building designed by architecture firm Powers, Daly & DeRosa to the National Register of Historic Places last spring citing its “zigzag entrance canopy [that] floats above natural rock piers” and “enormous glass-filled pyramid entrance and soaring triangular ‘Covina’ sign.”

Architect Gordon Powers at Covina Bowl

Photograph by Larry Undersell

At the time the massive center was built in a former orange grove, the entire San Gabriel Valley was about to undergo a transformation from agricultural emptiness to a collection of postwar suburbs. By the late 1950s, the population of West Covina had grown 1,000 percent. It was one of the fastest growing cities in America.

When completed, Covina Bowl boasted 50 lanes, a coffee shop, a billiard room, a cocktail lounge, a nightclub showroom, a childcare facility, a beauty parlor, and multiple banquet rooms. These meeting halls became the hub of the community and hosted political rallies, wedding receptions, and birthday parties for generations. “Covina Bowl was a prototype for scores of such buildings across the country,” says architect Alan Hess. “Their landmark designs make them major examples of Modern architecture as much as the many beautiful custom-designed homes by Lautner, Ellwood, Kappe, Eames, and Koenig.”

Covina Bowl circa 1956

Photograph Courtesy International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame

Developers have expressed interest in preserving some elements of the building, but the city has not yet received or approved any plans. Trucks have been spotted carting away mechanical equipment, likely to be used at other Bowlmor centers, but the fate of the landmark itself remains unknown.