When it opened in 1956 with 32 lanes, Covina Bowl was one of the great examples of “Googie” architecture, defined as “a sub-division of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age and the Atomic Age.”
Countless coffee shops (Norm’s in Southern California being one example), motels (many along historic Route 66), car washes, drive-in movie theater signs and even some bowling alleys — they were not yet known as bowling centers — got the Googie treatment.
Covina Bowl underwent an expansion to 50 lanes and a few ownership changes over the years, and currently is operated by Bowlmor AMF. But now the owner of the land on which the center sits wants to sell, so this Sunday will be the center’s final day of operation.
In anticipation of this development, we recently visited Covina Bowl and snapped a few photos for the Bowlers Journal International and Bowling Center Management archives. You can find our exclusive photo gallery here: http://www.bowlersjournal.com/californias-covina-bowl-ends-6-decade-run-sunday/.
The interior shot served as a reminder of how different the amenities of mid-century centers were. Covina Bowl has a number of meeting rooms that not only hosted pre-season league meetings during the heyday of league bowling, but also post-season banquets — a staple of almost every league, where season prize money and trophies were handed out, and league members had one more opportunity to socialize before the summer break.
Three brothers — Louis, Leonard and Angelo Brutocao — were the original proprietors, and engaged the services of Powers, Daly and DeRosa to design the center. That architecture firm was “widely recognized as the masters of [Googie architecture],” according to the Los Angeles Conservancy, which maintains an online library of remaining examples of the style here: https://www.laconservancy.org/search/site/Googie.
A second-generation member of the family, Terry Brutocao, operated the center during much of its heyday, and served as President of the Bowling Proprietors Association of Southern California during its peak period of membership.
By 1986, Brutocao had come to think of the design of the family’s centers — Covina Bowl, West Covina Bowl and Anaheim Bowl — as both a blessing and a curse. In an interview, he said that there’s no doubt it draws attention, “but it sure does date you.”
In recent years, various elements of the exterior architecture of Covina Bowl had become noticeably worn. From the street, the center looked pretty much the same. But as one approached the doors from the parking lot, the wear on the building was apparent.
“Covina Bowl has been in decline for years,” said Frank Barraco Jr., whose father managed the center for the Brutocao family for 35 years before retiring near the turn of the century. “They haven’t been making any money. The banquet rooms shut down last summer.”
Come Sunday, the rest of the center will join the banquet rooms. And Southern California bowling will lose not only another iconic center, but 50 lanes that at one time were available for use 24 hours a day.