Photograph by John Eng
By Chris Nichols
June 16, 2015
Like drive-in theaters before them, the last of the larger-than-life classic 1950s bowling centers that once roamed Southern California are nearly extinct. The oversized thrills and colorful frills of Mission Hills Bowl in the San Fernando Valley, Friendly Hills Lanes in Whittier, and Wagon Wheel Bowl in Oxnard all went dark this month.
Crews quickly descended on the mid-century buildings to scavenge for valuables. At least the maple lanes from Mission Hills, originally designed by Vegas architect Martin Stern, Jr., will see more strikes at a bowling center in Vietnam. The Wagon Wheel was the last vestige of a once-thriving roadside amusement along the 101 that is now completely shuttered. Friendly Hills is a modern masterpiece from architects Powers, Daly, and DeRosa, who reinvented the bowling center after WWII. It featured a beauty parlor, coffee shop, and the Mayan Room lounge alongside the 32 lanes.
All three are important links to a lost world and they will be missed. Each municipality is considering a mild case of historic preservation for the buildings.