Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Montrose Bowling Center’s Grand Opening


It was 1940 and bowling was becoming a popular social activity in America. Bowlers in the Crescenta Valley had to drive all the way to Pasadena for their league games. But now Montrose was getting its own bowling alley and the valley was in a frenzy of excitement. Last week you read about the construction of the bowling alley, but this week we’ll cover the opening ceremonies on May 29, 1940 – exactly 80 years ago.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Although the actual opening day was slated for Wednesday the 29th, the alley was finished a week before that and bowlers just couldn’t stay off the new lanes. The Montrose Bowling Center had a soft opening the week before with many ad hoc teams forming to challenge one another. The local newspaper, The Ledger, covered those matches, reporting on the scores. (A side note for non-bowlers: 300 is a perfect score – back then an almost impossible achievement – and anything over 200 is respectable.) During that warm-up period, some great scores were tallied above 200. The paper reported that the top local women bowlers only “threatened” 200 except for pretty local girl Ruby Griswold, who bowled several games over 200. She was also working the refreshment concession at the alley.

On opening night, the first ball was thrown by Dr. L. Johns who had put up the money for the building. Next on the bill for opening night, the Montrose Bowling Center had paid one of bowling’s “hired guns” to put on exhibition bowling, featuring trick shots. Max Stein was hired for several appearances at the alley through the first few days of its opening ceremonies. Stein had come to fame just a few years before in the Midwest, setting a bowling record. He was known as “the famous Jewish bowler” (I’m not making that up). He had moved to Los Angeles just six months before, competing on professional teams and hiring out for exhibition matches. He had immediately made his mark by bowling 11 strikes in a row in a game, narrowly missing a 300 score, the legendary “perfect game.” In Montrose exhibitions, Stein was not as hot, racking scores of 238 and 222, but with an average of 195.

Bowling fans packed the Montrose bowling alley to watch the famous bowler and some local talent stepped up to challenge him. The top man was Maurice Scanlan of Sparr Heights, who had actually recently had lessons with Stein. He was not able to best “the famous Jewish bowler,” only breaking 200 in two matches.

Between the exhibition matches, league bowling was started. There were some informally assembled teams who named themselves goofy names like Bears, Bulls, Catfish, Dogfish and the La Cañada Hill Billies. But there were many more teams sponsored by local businesses, made up of their employees. There was Dr. Johns’ squad, Huntington Iron Works, McNeal Cleaners, Gladding-McBean (a ceramics manufacturer in Glendale), Niitzsche Service Station and Jeffers Insurance. Anawalt Lumber fielded two teams for their two locations, Montrose and Tujunga. The best name has to be the team put together by Harry Slack Plymouth/Dodge dealership that called themselves the “Dodgers.”

Prizes were offered to high scores. A cool $100 would be given to any bowler who scored a perfect score of 300. That prize went unclaimed. While a perfect score today is not as rare, back then it was nearly unheard of. One of the prizes that was claimed was a pair of $5 deluxe Brunswick bowling shoes for the highest three game series. It was in the bag for Johnny McNeal of McNeal Cleaners until it was snaked out from under him by a gentleman from Glendale.

To me the star performance was by 10-year-old Diane McDonough whose parents drove her up from Los Angeles to drive the local bowlers crazy. With a regulation 16-pound ball she bowled a 192 game.

With the addition of a bowling alley, Montrose was complete. It was ready for the post-war boom, which saw the addition on an even larger bowling alley, Verdugo Bowl, up on Foothill Boulevard.

Verdugo Bowl is gone, but Montrose Bowl is still with us.