By sparing Covina Bowl, housing developer scores a strike

Covina Bowl used to be an occasional haunt of your columnist/bowler. I had last visited the midcentury modern gem for a 60th anniversary party in 2016, where a cake was baked to resemble the building’s distinctive silhouette, and again in 2017, days before its 50 thunderous lanes went silent.

I was back earlier this month. This time, my bowling shoes stayed in my trunk.

With all of its lanes and pinsetting equipment ripped out, part of a deal to ensure no competition with a new bowling center in town, Covina Bowl is no more. Or is it?

Remarkably, the exterior looks much as it did when the bowling center was in operation, only refreshed.

The monumental triangular sign reading “Covina Bowl” still stands 60 feet tall. The walkway’s wavy-roofed canopy remains too. So does the dramatic, pyramid-shaped entry and the vaguely Mayan-style designs imprinted on the curving concrete-block wall.

But now it’s all part of a residential development.

Developer Trumark Homes bought the property in 2019 and is in the process of adding 132 residences to 10 acres. Trumark kept the main building and some major features.

“This is one of the most unique projects I’ve been in involved in in 20-plus years,” Eric Nelson, a vice president of Trumark Homes, told me.

A new housing development on the site of the former Covina Bowl incorporates the original sign and building. The 132-unit development is named — why not? — Covina Bowl. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Trumark Homes vice president Eric Nelson and historic consultant Jennifer Mermilliod admire the curving concrete wall of the Covina Bowl building with its Mayan-themed design. The wall was a 1960s addition that was deemed worth preserving. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

A wavy-roofed canopy leads to the A-frame Covina Bowl building. That distinctive wave is duplicated in some parts of the new development, including the canopy over the trash enclosure. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

A real-estate sign in front of the development touts its unusual name: Covina Bowl. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Covina Bowl’s coffee shop has been restored and its seats reupholstered. Possible tenants, the developer says, could range from Bob’s Big Boy to a sake bar or a microbrewery. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Interior street names of Covina Bowl relate to bowling, like at this intersection of Pin Lane and Spare Road. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Covina Bowl signage has a midcentury style and uses the bowling center’s original colors of coral and turquoise. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Covina Bowl as seen in Feb. 2016 on its 60th anniversary. The bowling center closed a year later. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Covina Bowl, which was one of the first bowling centers in suburbia upon its opening in 1956, is now a residential development that incorporates the original sign and building. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)



We were talking in the parking lot along with Jennifer Mermilliod, the project’s Riverside-based historic consultant, near the freestanding sign. Roughly four stories in height, it’s almost as tall as the property’s signature palm trees.

“Not many signs are this big or this flamboyant,” Nelson remarked.

How do you retain a bowling center sign in front of a housing development — at least without changing the name to denote the development’s new name? Easy.

“The project,” Mermilliod pointed out, “is named Covina Bowl.”

Covina Bowl sure beats the usual placeless subdivision names. (Or my alternative bowling-related suggestion, Gutter Ball Estates.)

Some of the signage is in midcentury style, with a swooping cursive C in the word Covina, and in the original Covina Bowl colors of coral and turquoise. “Models Open,” a Covina Bowl sign proclaims. “New Townhomes & Flats.”

It’s kind of adorable, as are the interior street names. You could live at the corner of Pin Lane and Spare Road, as long as you have $428,780, the lowest price, to upwards of $751,614.

As I say, I had a loose connection to Covina Bowl, bowling there perhaps a half-dozen times in the 2010s. Saturday mornings you could get a lane dirt-cheap, for something like $1.25 per game. (That’s more my price range.)

No doubt the slight savings was burned up in gas to get there from Claremont, but then, bowling was just an excuse to revel in Covina Bowl’s midcentury feel. Clearman’s North Woods Inn, another striking piece of 1950s architecture, is a couple of blocks away.

An unofficial farewell event in March 2017 was organized by Charles Phoenix, the Ontario-born history buff and entertainer who highlights midcentury style. Most of the people who attended were looky-loos, including the host.

As we chatted, Phoenix asked what was in the shoebox tucked under my arm. He seemed baffled when I said I was carrying bowling shoes and planned to use the bowling center for, you know, bowling.

In subsequent years, possible preservation and re-use of the site was of interest to me. The Los Angeles Conservancy, of which I’m a member, advocated for its protection.

The Conservancy initiated study to determine if Covina Bowl was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places — it is — and helped persuade Covina City Hall to seek a developer who would save as much of the city and state landmark as possible.

The first proposals only promised to save the A-frame entrance. Then Trumark got interested.

Nelson was born in Covina in 1972. His parents bowled at Covina Bowl when he was a toddler, making use of one of the center’s most unusual amenities.

“They would use the day care,” Nelson told me with a chuckle, “which is wild.”

Citrus groves were just starting to vanish from Covina in the postwar housing boom when the Brutocao brothers developed the bowling center in 1956 to appeal to suburban families. It was one of the first by architects Powers, Daly and DeRosa, who designed 47 California bowling centers from 1955-1962.

“Designed in the exuberant Googie style and with an exotic Egyptian theme in arresting color, the Covina Bowl featured exaggerated, eye-catching features meant to snag the attention of passing motorists and delight patrons,” Mermilliod wrote in the project’s cultural resources survey.

Covina Bowl broadened bowling, typically a male domain, to appeal to women and entire families. A nursery, a beauty salon and a billiards room were part of the center, which operated 24 hours a day.

“This bowling center really spoke to the new American family,” Mermilliod said.

With its meeting and banquet rooms, used by service clubs, fraternal organizations and civic groups and for weddings, high school reunions and municipal ceremonies, Covina Bowl for decades was a hub of the growing community.

Those days seemed long gone when Trumark got the property.

The interior floor was concrete and dirt. Squatters had camped on the roof and stripped the building’s wiring. There were concerns the building might not survive long enough for anyone to formally save it.

Trumark, which spent $7 million on the land and $3 million on restoration and renovation, won over preservationists and city officials with its plan to save the important parts.

We stepped inside. The building is mostly a shell, awaiting one or more new uses for its 10,000 square feet. The former coffee shop is partly restored, including the counter with its 17 cantilevered seats and the vintage pie case, milk machine and ice cream freezer.

Outside, interpretive panels tell the Covina Bowl story. And a small space is set aside for lawn bowling. Nelson called it a fun tie to the original use.

“It’s in the location,” he said, “where the bowling lanes were.”

David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three 7-10 splits. Email, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

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