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Bowlers Bid Farewell to a Star

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Instead of going out of business quietly, the owner of Hollywood Star Lanes bowling alley went out with a bang and a buck.

On Wednesday, Star Lanes’ last day after 42 years, it cost only $1 for a beer, a hot dog, some French fries. Even renting a pair of bowling shoes. An hour of bowling, $21 an hour in the past, was only $6.

Hundreds of patrons and onlookers crowded into the place, some waiting up to four hours for a chance to bowl one last time. Others were there just to take in the atmosphere or to get a souvenir--a banner or even one of the alley’s decorative, neon-lighted interior stars.

Mostly, the crowd came to mourn Star Lanes’ passing.

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“We feel horrible,” said 18-year-old Lindsey Newhall. “It’s the end of an era.”

Her friend Julie Peek agreed. “You can feel a certain nostalgia in this place,” she said. “Other places aren’t this way.”

Owner Sam Barnese said the $1 prices were his way of thanking bowling enthusiasts and others who made the 32-lane bowling alley on Santa Monica Boulevard a local institution.

“Hopefully, we made a lot of folks happy,” Barnese said as workers removed an ATM, pay telephones and a cigarette vending machine. “Maybe they’ll even miss us.”

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That was evident as the 11 p.m. closing time approached.

Barnese hugged longtime regulars, posed for pictures and gave away autographed bowling pins to those who asked.

“This is too much,” he said, fighting tears.

Some wandered around the crowded bowling alley with video cameras recording its last night.

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Star Lanes, which Barnese and his father opened in 1960, was closing because the Los Angeles Unified School District needs the land for a new elementary school. After apparently telling school officials early on that he would sell the 3-acre parcel, Barnese later said he wouldn’t give up the property.

A judge earlier this year ruled in the district’s favor, ordering the bowling center’s closure.

District officials want the land for an elementary school that would accommodate 800 students. The neighborhood’s school, Ramona Elementary, is only three blocks away from Star Lanes and is bulging at its seams with 1,200 students.

Los Angeles School Board President Caprice Young, who represented the area, said officials were left with little choice because other possible sites might have meant the loss of low-income housing, a valuable commodity in an already overcrowded neighborhood.

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Barnese’s bowling alley was an attractive choice because it meant sparing homes, Young said. It was easy for officials to try to obtain the property since Barnese was the only owner.

And because he indicated early on that he was willing to sell, a contention he now hotly denies, Young said district officials went ahead and used eminent domain--the ability of governments to take private land for the public good--after they could not reach a purchase agreement with Barnese.

“This was the best site,” Young said.

At the bowling alley, Young’s explanation was dismissed by patrons, many of whom signed petitions urging that Star Lanes be saved.

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“Why destroy a family-oriented place to put in a school?” asked 32-year-old Paul Chen. “I’m not against schools, but that makes no sense to me.”

The alley’s longtime chief maintenance worker, Clay Rand, invoked some gallows humor to illustrate the dilemma facing Barnese.

“The school district is to us,” Rand said, “what Enron was to Arthur Andersen.”

Many in the crowd Wednesday said it made little sense to abolish a local icon, characterized by its 1960s look, that became known worldwide since the 1998 bowling cult film “The Big Lebowski” was filmed there.

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“That was a great movie,” Newhall said. “And the people here are friendly.”

Meanwhile, Barnese prepared for the last night of business.

Mindful that the alley ran out of beer the night before, the owner told Rand to pick up 30 cases of Corona for Wednesday night.

Barnese also had to deal with souvenir hunters, shooing away one man who offered $5,000 for the 5-foot-high neon star on one wall.

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“Talk to the school district,” he said.

School officials say the district will officially take possession of the property at 12:01 a.m. today, leading to the possibility that the bowling alley will be razed by the end of the year.

The new school should be completed in about two years, officials said.

That didn’t impress Star Lanes waitress Antonella Cannalire, 29, who helped collect almost 6,000 signatures to try to save the bowling alley.

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“The kids who would be in this new school could have used this place for recreation,” she said. “I think the school district people are evil.”


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