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
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,
To their credit, management has tried everything they could to
keep it alive and then some -- rock bands, contests, giveaways, you
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
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
In the heartland, bowling is such a serious business that it has
its own language. Listen to Jay Watts, the "Thunderbowl" team
"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
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,
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.