Bowlero Mar Vista opened on Venice Boulevard last night with pulsing music, klieg lights, and a dancing bowling pin. The makeover of the center once known as Mar Vista Lanes is a new concept from New York-based Bowlmor that includes an expanded and fancified menu, club lighting, and a permanent DJ booth.
The old Mar Vista was rode hard and put away wet, so it deserved the pricey and extravagant transformation (even if it did come at the expense of the 1960 Armet & Davis-designed interior—mostly the awesome Pepy’s Coffee Shop and bits of the Makai Room tiki bar). Mar Vista was built at the peak of a golden age in bowling, when more than 25 percent of Americans participated in the sport and hundreds of new centers were built in wildly futuristic styles. Much of Mar Vista’s original charm was stripped away in a bland 1975 remodel.
Studio Lemonade of Salt Lake City designed the new center. They describe their inspiration as “Road trip to Baja,” but the concept looks back on the entire 20th century as a toy box from which to select design motifs: from Dogtown and Z-Boys surf to Lava Lamps to Ms. Pac-Man. It’s all mixed up and comes out feeling a little like bowling poolside at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. The young staff is wildly enthusiastic and seems genuinely excited to be there, and they’re everywhere. You won’t have to wait long to enjoy your order of Fon-Dude or Enchill-Outas.
In the last year Bowlmor completed the purchase of industry icons AMF and Brunswick. They are now the largest operator in the $3.2 billion American bowling industry. The next center slated for conversion is El Dorado Lanes in Westchester.
I ran into owner Tom Shannon on the lanes and grilled him about historic preservation. He assured me that he wants to keep the vintage survivors thriving in this age of luxury bowling. “If there’s only going to be one steward of these old bowling alleys, I’m glad it’s going to be me,” Shannon told me. “ I love these places as much as you do.”