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Covina’s Atomic Age bowling palace is closing

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After 61 years, Covina Bowl is shutting down

LA says goodbye to the Covina Bowl this weekend.
Bill Selak via Flickr Creative Commons

Bowling enthusiasts may want to forgo Los Angeles’s unseasonably warm temperatures this weekend, and opt instead to spend time inside Covina’s air conditioned Atomic Age bowling palace. It may be their last chance to do so.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune has the sad news: On March 12, the Covina Bowl, one of the last midcentury bowling shrines still in operation in LA, closes its doors after 61 years.

Covina Bowl is truly a time capsule that captures a simpler time in America. When conceiving the bowling center, architect Gordon Powers loaded the building with amenities aimed at attracting the Greatest Generation and their Baby Boomer kids. A striking A-frame entrance brought people in the door, and a coffee shop, restaurant, barber shop and salon, children’s playroom, cocktail lounge, and 50 lanes for bowling kept patrons there and coming back.

Designed with an Egyptian theme, Covina Bowl had touches of ancient Africa mixed in with its midcentury design. Concrete walls leading to the entrance were made to look like ancient ruins, and Egyptian statues were on display in the cocktail lounge. Old world design flourishes mixed with terrazzo floors and midcentury lighting fixtures to create an exotic kitschy paradise.

As years went by, the Egyptian theme vanished. The banquet rooms were shut down, along with salon and coffee shop, as Covina Bowl adapted with the times to maintain its clientele. Now, even cosmic bowling and arcade games can’t stave off the inevitable. Owner Frank Barraco Jr. told the Tribune his business “has been in decline for years.” Last year, his family informed the city of Covina they would be closing up shop in 2017.

As to the future of the building, things don’t look so rosy at the moment. Speaking to KPCC’s Off-Ramp, Los Angeles Conservancy's director of advocacy Adrian Scott Fine says he rates his worry for the bowling alley’s future as “10 out of 10.”

According to Fine, Covina Bowl is eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. That means that if any new development required demolition of the building, it would have to go through a “very robust environmental review process and consideration of preservation alternatives.”

The National Register would create roadblocks to demolition, but Fine worries that the longer the building goes without a tenant, the longer it goes without regular maintenance, and that deterioration accelerates the threat of demolition.

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To save the Covina Bowl, someone will likely have to step in with an influx of cash and a modern twist to attract young bowlers. Luckily, it’s becoming quite trendy to do just that.