Strike another bowling record. Long Beach has no alleys to spare as most split long ago. With the recent revocation of Java Lanes’ live entertainment license, those with long memories and high scores are estimating various figures of how many alleys populated our town at any one time. Some say the score was as high as 17, though our research reveals that in the bonanza year of 1961, an even dozen bowling alleys existed in Long Beach.
As of this moment, it’s down to one surviving alley: Java Lanes, and, according to its manager, it might well be the next to go down. What remains, to mangle a famed Bob Dylan lyric, is “bowling in the wind.”
At WWII’s end, Long Beach had five bowling alleys. Seven years later, seven alleys were on the scene and, by ‘53, there was a total of 10 bowling alleys in our city. Most of these alleys were downtown except for the Belmont Bowl (also known as the LeBan) at 4100 E. Ocean, the current home of Yankee Doodles.
In 1957, the year Java Lanes opened at 3800 E. PCH, eight alleys existed in Long Beach, including the Belmont and the Beachcomber (no relation to this paper, but certainly our choice for a game or two) at 25 Chestnut, downtown. Counting the Beachcomber, there were three downtown alleys, two near PCH in the central city and one in Northtown.
1961 was bowling’s greatest Long Beach year. Belmont Bowl, Java Lanes, and two on the eastside: Plaza Bowl at 6425 Spring St. near Palo Verde and the newly-opened Circle Bowl, near the Circle Drive-In Theater, at 1755 Ximeno Ave., Red Fox Lanes, across the street from Dooley’s Hardware as well as two alleys on Artesia Blvd. and one on Santa Fe Ave. provided pin crashing opportunities for this area’s lane gypsies.
At an undetermined date, a 22-lane alley was added to the recently demolished Franklin D. Roosevelt Navy Base. Within a few years, Circle Bowl would be history, but locals speak of Plaza Bowl persisting into the 1980s when the shopping center was remodeled for the new Albertsons.
Long-time Long Beach resident Doug Taylor recalled, “my grandparents owned the Major Bowl on W. Anaheim near Magnolia. I remember bowling there with my grandmother and cousins.” With partner George Leonard, they also owned “the little bowling alley which I believe was called the Seaside located near the site of the old NuPike. I believe that they also mentioned owning the old Boulevard Bowl. My grandfather, who was a principal in all of the bowling stuff, died before I was born so most of the information here is from stories told by my grandmother who was known as ‘Mom Taylor’ in some bowling league circles around town. I do remember her bowling some 200 games when she was in her late 60’s, so even though she was old and slow, she was still pretty good with the pins. My dad, uncles and oldest cousins all set pins at the Major and the uncles talked of setting pins at the Seaside.” Long Beach historian Morgan Humphrey recalled leaving a few coins in the gutter at Major Bowl to tip the pinsetters.
Several of those sites still stand as well-used government buildings. For instance, the Major Bowl was converted into the state employment office at 225 W. Anaheim at Pine, while the huge building housing Boulevard Bowl at 1945 Long Beach Blvd. became a county welfare office.
By 1965, Circle Bowl had disappeared and only Java Lanes featured aggressive promotion with “32 lanes of automatic pinspotters,” a nursery, coffee shop, cocktail lounge and the East Indies Room for fine dining and live entertainment which never seemed to stop at Long Beach’s final alley. Until now.