Goodbye, Nude Bowling

The last days of Kona Lanes

•A "Bowler's Valet" vending machine. Inside were items deemed essential to the bowler, items never priced higher than $1.25: Shoelaces, "Shur-Hook Fingers," cheap novelty gags, Curad bandages, Anacin tablets, wristbands and a thick wax crayon to "apply to shoes for a smooth approach."

Mann said quarters were still being fed into the machine as late as 1990.

From left: Old vending machine stocked with laces,
pain relievers and novelties was sold;
last Kona Lanes owner Jack Mann;
vintage pinsetters have a date with the refurbishing plant;
some carted off scoring tables;
Alice doesn't bowl here anymore.

* * *

Curt and Linda Horst of Fountain Valley stand at the approaches–the hardwood area before the lane–near Lane 15, staring at the inch-thick hard maple flooring. Curt is tall, wearing a white T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He has a ponytail coming out from beneath a white BMW cap, and a blond-turning-gray handlebar mustache.

They say they want to buy a couple of lanes' worth of hard maple wood.

"I like the wood," Curt says. "It's kind of neat that it's from a bowling alley. I like stuff like that. I'd like to put this wood in my office. We already have barn wood we took out of an old house on Lido that we use for paneling."

Linda shakes her head. "I don't think it looks very good," she says. "But he thinks it looks great."

I ask them what they remember most about Kona Lanes.

"I've lived here since 1961," he said. "I don't remember bowling here. I think I came a couple times for one of those 'Rock and Bowl' shows, but never to bowl. My dad used to tell me about these Hawaiian luaus they used to have. I wish I could tell you that I came here and bowled a 300 game back in 1972, but I can't. Sorry."

* * *

Aaron Turlis is in his mid-20s. He's worked the Kona Lanes counter for the past two lonely months. He got the job by responding to a want ad in the paper.

"I only found out the place was closing when I answered the ad," he said. "But I took the job anyway. I knew it would be a blast."

Turlis said he all but grew up at Kona Lanes. "I used to come here with my mom when she was in a league called Parents Without Partners," he remembered. "It was almost like an escape. I was here constantly. I wanted to be here more than home. It really was my home away from home."

Eventually, Turlis began bowling in his own kids' league, "New Kids on the Lanes."

"You know," he suddenly recalled, "I had my first date here."

"What was his name?" asked another counter attendant standing nearby.

"Actually, I still liked girls back then," said Turlis, laughing.

* * *

While cleaning out one of the offices, a staff member found a plain white flier from 1993 advertising Kona Lanes' 35th anniversary. It read, in part:

At one time, Kona Lanes was "the place to be" in Costa Mesa. The center was open 24 hours and had a coffee shop and popular piano bar. The coffee shop has since been replaced by the Island Grill and the piano bar has given way to the popular karaoke where patrons get the opportunity to sing in front of their friends with accompaniment from CDs.

Staff said the flier had been posted on a wall for the last decade.

* * *

At 1:16 p.m. on may 31, as workers began slicing up the lanes and long after all 40 pinsetters had been hauled away, Weekly photographer James Bunoan bowled the last frame in the history of Kona Lanes. He assures us it was a strike.

* * *

A month before Kona Lanes closed, a man walked in, ambled over the hand-laid, one-inch ceramic tile painted pink, green, black and white that covered the entrance, through the glass doors and beneath the sign boasting "Through these doors pass the world's GREATEST BOWLERS." He nodded to an attendant near a vending machine selling Aquafina water and then took a seat behind Lane 30, where a couple was bowling.

He wore a fishing hat and said his name was Mark. He spoke slowly, like it was a struggle to form even these words. After a few minutes he went up to the couple and asked the girl if she remembered him. The girl said she did not. Mark watched them awhile and then went back to his chair.

Not long after, another girl came in.

"Mark, how are you doing?" she asked.

"Fine," he said.

"I haven't seen you in awhile and I've wondered if you're okay."

"I'm fine."

They talked a bit. After a time, Mark said he'd forgotten the girl's name.

"Janet," she said, pausing. "Well, it was nice seeing you."

He watched her leave, walked back to his seat by Lane 30 and watched the people bowl.

I asked Johnson about patrons coming in and getting emotional. She starts to tell me, and then stops. I think she's just collecting her thoughts, but after a few moments I realize she's all choked up. I step away and then watch her walk quickly to her office. I don't see her for nearly a half-hour. But when I run into her again, she seems better.

"Sometimes," she said, "the easiest thing to do is just open a drawer and empty it."

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