Bye, Kona Lanes and Tiki googie

She's old. She's tired. She's not well. Her clothes are tattered and

stained, and her makeup faded away years ago. She's been demeaned,

insulted and abused. And now, the end is near.

Kona Lanes, the grande dame of Orange County's bowling alleys, is

all but done. On Monday last, the Costa Mesa Planning Commission

approved a Kohl's department store for the last remaining piece of

the Mesa Verde Center puzzle, sounding the beginning of the end for

Kona Lanes.

But don't turn those bowling shoes in just yet. There's at least

one frame left to play.

Mayor Karen Robinson has called up the Kohl's approval to the City

Council for further consider- ation, a bit of deliberation, a dash of

rumination and a dollop of cogitation.

Is "dollop" a great word or what? We should use it more. "Dollop."

There, I just did.

Regardless of what happens to Kohl's, I'm afraid Kona Lanes is

about to be dragged and dropped into the grand recycling bin of

history. By rights, Kona Lanes should have become a fond memory long,

long ago.

To their credit, management has tried everything they could to

keep it alive and then some -- rock bands, contests, giveaways, you

name it.

Kona Lanes is a little bit of 1950s nostalgia, which doesn't buy

much in 2003 Orange County, where the cost of doing business can be

mind-boggling.

The problem isn't bowling itself. Just because you haven't bowled

since Johnny Ray did "Cry" doesn't mean the lanes have gone dark

forever. Bowling may be an occasional, tongue-in-cheek diversion here

in the land of the hip and happening, but in the Midwest and the

South, it's a religion.

I will bet something of great value, for example, that you have no

idea that last Tuesday, at the American Bowling Congress

championships in Knoxville, Tenn., the "Thunderbowl" team from Omaha

surged ahead of the "Supreme Deck" team from Livonia, Mich. in the

final game.

In the heartland, bowling is such a serious business that it has

its own language. Listen to Jay Watts, the "Thunderbowl" team

captain:

"We started out a little slow and waited for the track to break

down a little bit. The second game, we hit the transition, where the

oil carried down and our break point washed out a little bit. We had

to make a bigger step left to get the ball further down the lane."

Holy cow. And all this time I thought the point was to get your

thumb out of the ball.

Still skeptical? Try this:

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam uses bowling as a social

barometer in his book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of

American Community."

Americans "meet with friends less frequently and even socialize

with our families less often," Putnam writes. "We're even bowling

alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not

bowling in leagues."

Hmm. This is serious.

But Kona Lanes is slipping away, not because of complex cultural

differences, but simple economics. Measured in dollars or miles,

Livonia, Mich. is a long, long way from Orange County.

Will I miss Kona Lanes? Terribly. But, my real interest in Kona

Lanes isn't bowling, at which I am every bit as pathetic as every

other sport I try.

It's googie. And, yes, that's a real word.

I am a big fan of googie -- that wonderfully loopy architectural

style that spattered the highways and byways of America from coast to

coast in the 1950s and early '60s.

There are two categories of googie -- "outer space" and "Tiki."

For outer space, think of "The Jetsons," Tiny Naylor's,

Tomorrowland at Disneyland, or every "Astro Burger" or "Mars Motel"

you ever saw. They were all an explosion of turquoise, pastel pink

and orange, with soaring, triangular roofs and signs. America was

bonkers about nuclear energy and space travel, and it showed. We were

sure that space travel would be as common as a Sunday drive by 1970

and that nuclear energy and robots would do everything for us.

The other googie school, "Tiki," was completely and totally out of

control -- Hawaiian, Tahitian, Polynesian, call it what you will.

That's where Kona Lanes fits in. There were more "Kona" or "Kon Tiki"

or "Tahiti" coffee shops, bowling alleys, motels, and apartment

complexes than anyone could count.

Today, they are nearly all gone or going fast, which is not

necessarily a bad thing.

By the way, it's important not to confuse "googie" with "roadside

art," which refers to those fabulous hot dog and doughnut stands

shaped like giant hot dogs or giant doughnuts, along with "teepee"

motels, trailer parks, etc., etc. Roadside art precedes googie,

dating back to the late 1930s.

It might or might not interest you to know that when googie fans

hit the road for a grand tour of all things googie, Costa Mesa is a

major stop. It has a number of Tiki classics, but none more famous

than the towering Kona Lanes sign, and the Ala Moana apartments on

Wilson Street, just west of Harbor Boulevard, with its soaring,

Polynesian roofline.

So there you have it -- everything you always wanted to know about

Kona Lanes, googie and "The Jetsons," and probably a good deal more.

OK, here is a test:

Question 1. George Jetson's daughter was Judy Jetson. What were

his wife's and son's first names?

Question 2. Toward the end of the Monsanto exhibit ride in

Tomorrowland, the narrator says, "I must turn back. I must turn

back!" What is he afraid will happen if he keeps going?

Question 3. From 1957 to 1967, Tomorrowland also featured a

walk-through house made entirely of one material. What was the house

called, and what was it made of?

Do your own work, don't show up next week without the answers, and

stay off the Internet.

I gotta go.

* PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs

Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at PtrB4@aol.com.

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