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Lanes May Be Declared Landmark

Preservation: L.A. City Council will vote on designating the Holiday Bowl a monument of postwar architecture.

September 12, 2000|PETER HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 1950s bowling alley in the Crenshaw district could be declared a cultural monument today if the City Council agrees with preservationists who consider it a rare reminder of the city's postwar culture.

Designating the Holiday Bowl, which closed in May after more than 40 years in business, would be a remarkable step. Not only does the property's owner oppose the designation, which would prevent demolition for at least a year, but no bowling alley has ever achieved such status.

But those who want to save the building say that there is no bowling alley quite like the Holiday Bowl. Its closing this summer prompted coverage by the national news media, which celebrated the alley--long a gathering spot for Japanese Americans and African Americans--as a model of racial harmony in an area scarred by the 1992 riots.

Preservationists also argue that with its zigzagging roof and plate-glass walls, the bowling alley is a prime example of the 1950s pop architectural style now called "Googie."

Swayed by such arguments, the city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted in June to name the Holiday Bowl a historic-cultural monument, which would give it at least a reprieve from demolition for one year.

The designation requires approval by the City Council. After a hearing Monday by the council's Arts, Health and Humanities Committee, its head said she backs monument status.

"It is important because it represented a cross-generational mix of people. It represented a cross-racial mix of groups interacting," said Councilwoman Rita Walters.

Walters said that within the one-year reprieve, she hopes preservationists will come up with a plan to turn the site into a commercially viable property, such as reopening the bowling alley and building new stores elsewhere on the lot. If they can't, Walters said, she will support demolition next year.

But the property owner, Marshall Siskin, and the councilman for the area, Nate Holden, want to see the alley at Crenshaw Boulevard and Coliseum Avenue demolished to make room for chain retail stores and restaurants.

At the committee hearing Monday, Holden deputy Armen Ross said "the demand no longer exists" for a neighborhood bowling alley. "The African American population in the area has declined, the Japanese American community is now very small. It's the grandparents and parents who are still in the area. The children have moved away," Ross said.

Ross said residents in the area now suffer from a dearth of department stores and sit-down restaurants.

Elizabeth Watson, a lawyer for the property owner, testified that the owners and developers studied the possibility of continuing to run the bowling alley but concluded it couldn't survive financially.

Watson also attacked one of the main arguments for preserving the bowling alley, saying that it is not an outstanding example of "Googie." She cited a 1985 book on the form, which mentioned several Los Angeles sites, not including the bowl.

But at the urging of preservationists, the author of that book wrote a letter supporting their effort. Alan Hess, author of "Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture," called the Holiday Bowl an excellent example of "Googie" architecture, symbolic of the city's post-World War II prosperity. "It expresses an era and a character," Hess wrote.

The preservationists also have statements of support from the Professional Bowlers Assn. and bowling industry giant Brunswick and a letter signed by 20 university professors from schools including UCLA, USC and the University of Michigan. The professors contend that monument status for the bowl would "highlight the rich and complex history of our city."

Thus far, the political stakes have been high. Catherine Schick, who headed the Cultural Heritage Commission, says that she was not reappointed to the commission this year because Mayor Richard Riordan was unhappy with her vote for monument status.

Riordan spokesman Peter Hidalgo said Schick's allegation is "absolutely untrue," and that the mayor simply wanted to give someone else a chance to serve on the commission.

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