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Landmark Status for Santa Monica's Last Bowling Alley Could Block Development

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 15, 2013 -- With a four-story mixed use development poised to replace Santa Monica's last remaining bowling alley, the Landmarks Commission voted Monday to consider designating the 55 year-old building a landmark.

Landmark status for the building -- which has operated as a bowling alley since it opened as Civic Lanes in 1959 -- could scuttle plans by property-owner Tooley Interests, LLC, a local real estate group, to develop the property.

Tooley Interests filed its request with the City's Planning Department in December, a month after AMF, which operates the bowling alley on Pico Boulevard and Third Street, declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

“There was no question that this was something we needed to look into,” said Landmarks Commissioner Nina Fresco, adding that the building is “pristine.”

“It has all the original signage, all the original lockers,” Fresco said. However, she added that landmark status would not preserve the use of the building or extend to the lockers, which are considered furniture.

Even though designating the building a landmark won’t ensure that it will be used as a bowling center, it would prevent any significant changes to the facade of the building and the sign, severely restricting what Tooley Interests could do with the property.

As of press time, Tooley representatives did not return requests for comment.

According to the City's historic resource inventory, the “sprawling bowling alley” is a text-book example of “Vernacular Modern” style, with its mid-century facade and tall, angular sign with the words “BOWL” in alternating orange and white letters.

“Due to the rarity of the building type in the City, the property appears eligible for listing as a Santa Monica Landmark,” a report by the Department of Parks and Recreation found.

Landmarks Commissioner John Berley said that, though he knows very little about the building, it is clearly a site of “cultural significance,” a fact reinforced by the Parks and Recreation report.

“This is the last remaining family bowling center in the City of Santa Monica, a type of recreational building that was an important part of the city's history during the 1950s and 1960s,” the report states.

While AMF is on the road to recovery, the impact the company’s financial woes might have on its Santa Monica bowling alley remains unclear.

Several phone calls to AMF went unanswered, but according to an official statement on the company's website, AMF will not be going out of business and during the process of restructuring its finances will keep its bowling centers open.

“Our goal is to strengthen AMF financially so that we can exit Chapter 11 with the operational and financial flexibility we need going forward,” the statement reads.

The Landmarks Commission will revisit the issue again in about two months, Berley said.

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