Verdugo Hills Bowl – The Beginning
Longtime local Dennis McNerny has been prompting me for several years to write about one of the most important icons of our valley in the post-war years, the Verdugo Hills Bowl. Dennis was working there when it closed, and its loss has stayed with him all these years.
Verdugo Hills Bowl opened in 1959, expanded in 1977, and closed in 1996. It was located prominently on the north side of Foothill Boulevard just east of Pennsylvania, where the Vons supermarket is located today. Generations of valley residents spent their childhoods there learning the sport, teenagers sparked romances and generally got into trouble, and adults played on competitive bowling (and drinking) teams. In researching the history, I was surprised to find that my usual go-to for info, the old Ledger newspaper, for whatever reason had almost nothing about the bowling alley. Odd.
Rumblings about the 24-lane “La Crescenta Bowl” began in early 1958. It was to be sited at 3237 Foothill Blvd., next to the Safeway store on Foothill. A concept drawing of it was released in ’58, and it looked nothing like what was built a year later. The drawing showed it looking much like an extremely large ranch-style home, single story, molded concrete brick walls and a low-pitched tiled roof.
By the time of the groundbreaking in April 1959, the design had changed radically into the taller, geometric modern design that we all remember. It was split level in the front, built with tilt-up concrete walls, fronted with tapered steel girders holding up a rectangular overhang. Expansive windows gave a beautiful view of the Verdugo Mountains and a “floating ramp” led from the parking lot to the main floor above. Other things had changed as well. It was now 28-lanes and the name was Verdugo Hills Bowl. The 30,000 square foot, $1 million building featured a coffee shop, cocktail lounge, billiard room, children’s play area and an outdoor patio court.
This was perfect timing for the housing boom of young families flooding the valley. The bowling alley opened on Friday, Oct. 30, 1959 at 6 p.m. Open bowling was to be on weekends with the weekdays reserved for league competition.
By the next year the bowling alley was in full swing. An advertisement from 1960 advertised: “Sign up now … Ladies! For free instruction class. Free bowling, shoes, coffee, child care. We still have openings for couples – Saturday mixed fours. Attention Juniors! Opening for more bantams, juniors and seniors starting Saturday.”
Entertaining in the cocktail lounge was “Bob Elliott, recording star… Monday through Friday.” (I looked hard for who this “Bob Elliott, recording star” would have been. The only Bob Elliott I could find from that era was the Bob portion of the comedy team of Bob and Ray. Bob and Ray were quite famous and had a five-decade career. Is it possible this was that Bob Elliott?)
Here are some memories of one of those early women bowlers: “I moved here in 1965, and a little after joined a bowling league (prior we used to bowl at Grand Central Bowl Glendale, not Jewel City). But back to Verdugo: At the time they advertised babysitting service while bowling for 5 cents. The older lady [who] watched the kids was great with them.
“As my kids got older, they bowled the bantam leagues and I began coaching. The bowling alley teamed up with other bowling centers and several leagues were formed with kids, all ages. They would have tournaments there with other cities.
“At this time, bowling was very popular. Verdugo Hills Bowl had leagues starting with Crescenta Valley High School students in the early morning. There were 9 a.m. leagues (moms were at home at this time), seniors in the afternoon and evening leagues at 6 and 9 p.m.
“VHB was always pretty strict with the kids, keeping them out during school hours, not allowing swearing, but that was a positive as they learned that if you want to be here you follow the rules, and most did. Many parents just dropped their kids off with some money, probably figured the babysitting was good.”
Next week, more memories of the Verdugo Hills Bowl.