New-look Torrance Bowlero opened as Bowl-O-Drome in 1957

Torrance Bowlero, the remodeled Bowl-O-Drome, opened in 2017. (March 2018 photo by Sam Gnerre)

Bowling alleys underwent a major technological change in the 1950s.

Before that, now-gone venues such as the 1930s-era Monticello Bowling Alleys in Torrance and the Rose Bowl Bowling Lanes in El Segundo relied on human pinsetters to replace the pins after each ball was rolled down the lanes.

It was dirty, low-paying, menial work, and a perfect candidate for automation and modernization. Enter the American Machine and Foundry Company, AMF for short.

In 1951, AMF engineers invented the automated pinsetting machine, which hit the market the next year. It spawned the rise of cleaner, modernized, family-oriented bowling centers to help serve the recreation needs of postwar suburbanites.

Torrance Press ad, May 8, 1958, Page 8. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library).

The South Bay Bowling Center in Redondo Beach opened at South Bay Center (now South Bay Galleria) in 1956.

A year later, the first such center opened in Torrance, the Bowl-O-Drome at 21915 S. Western Ave., on the eastern edge of the city. Two other major bowling centers opened in the city shortly afterward: Palos Verdes Bowl in 1958, and Gable House Bowl in 1960.

Artists rendition of the “Bowlarama” in 1956. Its name changed to “Bowl-O-Drome” before its grand opening a year later. Torrance Herald, Aug. 12, 1956, Page 12. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)

But it was the Bowl-O-Drome, on the northwest corner of 220th St. and Western Ave., that Schreiber Family Enterprises, run by father Alex and his two sons, Max and Howard, first announced in 1956. Construction on the $1 million, 40-lane, 40,000-square-foot entertainment center began on Aug. 13, 1956.

The Schreibers previously had built the Victory Bowl in Van Nuys, and Paradise Bowl on Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester. (The Westchester building still stands, though it’s not used for a bowling alley any longer.)

The facility originally was called “Bowlarama” in architect Arthur Froelich’s plans, but had been renamed “Bowl-O-Drome” by the time of its grand opening on March 29, 1957.

Display ad touts the new bowling center in Torrance. Torrance Press, March 21, 1957, Page 25. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library).

Bowling was the main event at the Bowl-O-Drome, but that wasn’t all that was on the menu. In its original configuration, the center also included a cafe, a cocktail lounge, dance floor, billiard room and infant nursery. Outside was a complete “kiddieland,” with small ferris wheel, pony rides, playground equipment and more, all free and under adult supervision.

60 full-time employees were hired to run it all, but no pin boys were necessary, as all 40 lanes had the new automatic AMF pinsetting equipment. Its ad slogan: “Bowling is more fun at the Bowl-O-Drome.”

Boyce Buckner, right, shown with Bob Prince, bowled the first 300 game at the Bowl-O-Drome. Torrance Herald, Aug. 25, 1957, Page 6. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library).

It didn’t take long for someone to bowl the first 300 game at the center. Surprisingly, Boyce Buckner, the man who bowled the perfect game in August 1957, had taken up bowling only six months earlier.  He still was taking lessons from Bowl-O-Drome instructor Bob Prince at the time of his feat.

The PBA announces its 1960 tournament at the Bowl-O-Drome. The lineup included Don Carter, second from left, and Dick Weber, third from right. Torrance Press, July 7, 1960, Page B-3. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library).

In July 1960, the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) ended its summer tour by staging the first Southern California Open at the Bowl-O-Drome. Bowling legends Don Carter and Dick Weber were among the participants, but it was the lesser-known Morrie Oppenheim who walked away with the title.

Live entertainment also was part of the Bowl-O-Drome’s offerings. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, mainstream combos such as Lynne Davis and the Del-Tones (no relation to Dick Dale’s Del-Tones), The Versatiles, Harry Helling and the Hallmarks and Andy Coulti and the Gigolos gigged at the bowling alley.

The Versatiles were among the performers at the Fun Room at the Torrance Bowl-O-Drome. Torrance Press, March 30, 1961, Page A-8. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library).

Bowling’s popularity soared during the 1950s and 1960s, but other pastimes soon eclipsed the action on the lanes, and the 1970s and 1980s were leaner times.

Gradually, though, bowling began to take on a certain retro cachet, and themed events held by bowling alleys such as extreme and rock ‘n’ roll bowling had brought some customers back to the lanes by the turn of the millennium. The popularity of traditional bowling leagues continued to wane, however.

Lucky Strike lanes, an attempt to fuse upscale dining, retro interior design and bowling, opened in 2006 at Del Amo Fashion Center’s Lifestyle Wing, but since has closed. The South Bay Bowling Center in Redondo Beach also closed in 2004, and was torn down the next year to make way for a new outdoor shopping area adjacent to the Galleria.

AMF operated the Bowl-O-Drome through two corporate bankruptcies in 2001 and 2012. On July 1, 2013, AMF merged with New York bowling firm Bowlmor Lanes to form a new entity, Bowlero Corp.

The new company began rolling out modernized, updated versions of its existing bowling alleys, completely redecorating tired interiors and exteriors with jazzier paint jobs, new furnishings, improved food and drink offerings and lots of neon.

Bowl-O-Drome in Torrance underwent its renovation in 2017. A grand reopening for the Torrance Bowlero bowling center was held on June 17, 2017, hosted by former Lakers great James Worthy.

Bowling has proven to be a hardy survivor. In addition to Bowlero, the Palos Verdes Bowl and Gable House Bowl continue to operate in Torrance.

Sources:

“Bowling Centers, 1949-1970,” LA Citywide Historic Context Statement, SurveyLA, 2017.

“Bowlmor Lanes: About Us,” Bowlero Corp. website.

Torrance Herald archives.

Former Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul held his annual celebrity bowling tournament at the Bowl-O-Drome in Torrance in 2015:

Published by Sam Gnerre

I worked for the Daily Breeze for 33 years as its archivist and librarian. In 2009, I started this South Bay History blog in order to explore interesting historical people, places and events in the South Bay and Harbor Area. I post a new article every week.

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