Goodbye, Nude Bowling

The last days of Kona Lanes

Closing a bowling alley is a lot more complicated than you might think, if you think of it at all. That which isn't sold off or donated has to be junked. For a week, the staff at Kona Lanes in Costa Mesa did brisk business selling old bowling balls, pins and even shoes—$5 for each. One afternoon a couple in their late 30s came in from Long Beach. They said they wanted to buy 30 bowling balls to landscape their yard. While the guy went to an ATM to get some cash, the woman retrieved a shopping cart from the parking lot and then went to the ball racks. Eventually she rolled the shopping cart up to the desk with 20 balls–every remaining blue and green or other colored ball left in the alley.

She said her yard used to have a bowling-ball perimeter, until they were all stolen. By the time the guy returns with money, staff has convinced the woman to buy a case of 10 bowling pins and a pair of shoes. Their total bill came to $155.

Not long after they left a blonde walked in. She hugged a few staff members and then walked out crying, cradling a pink bowling ball like a baby.

"People are asking to buy the small tile off the floor outside the door," said Juanita Johnson, the slight yet authoritative woman who has managed Kona Lanes for the past 11 years. "People want to put in bids on the orange chairs. Apparently they're more valuable than we thought. People are grabbing old uniform shirts used before I started here. People are asking to buy the original bar furniture, the old cash registers and office equipment. Some of that is older than I am. Some of the things people are asking for I never would have thought of—the wood on the lanes and the approaches."

The end is not far off. People are bidding on TVs and old equipment, but a lot of junk has been tossed out. Johnson is trying to sort it all out.

"You know that dumpster we brought in out front on Tuesday? We've had divers in there every day," she says. "You name it, someone wants it."

Wants it, but unfortunately not Kona Lanes. The 40-lane Polynesian/Googie bowling alley/landmark officially closed on Sunday night, May 18, after 45 years in business. Its future—beyond getting flattened by bulldozers contracted by landowner Henry Segerstrom—is unknown.

Like many alleys, Kona tried numerous gimmicks to build crowds. It hosted rock concerts. It supported a Polynesian/Western-themed restaurant called the Kona Korral. It even advertised "nude bowling," but that was just a scam to get people to come inside.

In the last days, owner Jack Mann was very busy. Taking a break behind the front desk, he sighed. "The Segerstroms are hell-bent on taking down the building real quick," he said. "But we have always had a good relationship with them. Remember it's an expensive piece of property and they're not making any money off it. We were here five years longer than we were supposed to be. Our lease ended in 1996. We've been month-to-month since then."

Mann explained that he originally wanted to keep the lanes open until the end of May, but so many people thought he'd already closed that it became too expensive to stay open past the 18th. His electricity bill alone was $5,000 a month. Mann has owned Kona Lanes since 1980. His family has owned bowling alleys throughout Southern California for many years. Bowling is in their blood. Kinda.

"Ironically, nobody in my family is a bowler," he said. "We can tell you all the technical information about bowling, but we don't bowl."

* * *

From a Kona Lanes ad in a very yellowed copy of the Jan. 12, 1969, edition of the newspaper OC Bowler:

Every league bowler wins a quality human hair wig. . . . And we emphasize the word "Quality."

* * *

Just a few days before locking the doors forever, Mann stood by the lane-selection desk, looking it over. "This is all original equipment," he said. "It's pretty amazing."

Some of that original equipment included the following:

•Hand scoring tables. Virtually every bowling alley in America has computerized scoring tables, but not Kona Lanes. "Mostly I'll remember the fact that I kept my own score," said Brandy Lyon, a 22-year-old Huntington Beach resident who bowled at Kona Lanes many times. "There was nowhere else you could do that."

•Pinsetting machines. Installed with everything else when Kona Lanes opened in 1958, the pinsetters look like massive orange front-loading washing machines—but without glass doors. Metal identification plates riveted to each facade list 56 separate patented inventions. They are true contraptions, full of gears, wheels, springs, wires, nuts, bolts, pistons, rams, levers, belts, flywheels, mechanical counters, wooden planks, steel plates, switches, toggles, buttons, cranks, bars and motors. They look like a combination weaving loom and medieval torturing device. Everywhere you look there are "Pull Power & Motor Plugs Before Entering Machine" warnings.

According to Mann, a bowling supply company purchased every pinsetter. Mann would not reveal the price. By May 29, every machine was pulled out of the building, dismantled and hauled away.

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