As demolition day approaches for the landmark Kona Lanes bowling
alley, accusations are flying that C.J. Segerstrom & Sons did not
make enough effort to keep bowling and other entertainment uses at
the Mesa Verde Center.
Kona Lanes, a distinctive bowling facility renowned for its googie
architecture, closed May 18. The Edwards movie theater and the Ice
Capades Chalet closed within four months of each other in 2001.
The Segerstroms, who own the shopping center, had intended to
replace all three with a Kohl's department store. But the City
Council shot that down in April after residents cried foul about the
loss of recreation and the prospect of another boxy, chain department
store being plopped onto Harbor Boulevard.
In their effort to get Kohl's approved, Segerstrom spokesman Paul
Freeman said in February the market for bowling in Costa Mesa did not
support the ailing Kona Lanes, which the Segerstroms were keeping
alive with rent concessions.
But not everyone agrees with that verdict.
Several entertainment operators say they would take over Kona
Lanes in a heartbeat if a long-term lease or the right price to buy
the land was available.
"It's a goldmine," said Joe Roussin of AMF Bowling. "I don't care
what anybody says on the Segerstrom side. I have several people that
are interested in that facility, at the right price ... [The
Segerstroms] don't even want to look at it. They're just saying it's
dead and they just want to tear it down."
Segerstrom officials declined to comment for this story.
The balls started rolling down the lanes at Kona in 1958. But a
drop in league play and Kona's outdated scoring system both
contributed to an unalterable loss in revenue.
Owner Jack Mann said he had discussed renovation options with the
Segerstroms. He estimated that he would have to invest about $3
million for a return of only $175,000 per year. He said the only
option they came up with was for a larger entertainment plan that
would involve the defunct Edwards movie theater and cost about $10
Earlier this year, Freeman also alluded to rehabilitation attempts
that failed due to economics.
"We looked at something like three to four detailed, conceptual
plans for expanded theater use, expanded recreation use," Freeman
said in February. "One scenario had a rink with the alley. There
simply wasn't the financial support to commit to it. Nobody wanted to
make the long-term commitment to spread over some time the cost of a
major renovation, and nothing short of that would have made it a
But some say the Segerstroms failed to provide long-term lease
Dave Osborn, vice-president of operations for Fountain Bowl in
Fountain Valley, said the partnership that owns Fountain Bowl tried
to negotiate a long-term lease with the Segerstroms five years ago,
to no avail.
"The landlord would not give us a long-term lease," Osborn said.
"Without it, you can't renovate the center, [you] can't afford to do
it. [The Segerstroms] did not want it to be a bowling center. They
wanted it to be something else."
And as recently as a week ago, Eleda Cohen, managing partner of
Sports Center Bowl in Studio City, said the Segerstroms wouldn't give
her any price for the land. Cohen said her business has increased 10%
each of the last four years.
"A piece of property in Costa Mesa is a prime piece of property
and it would be great to have a bowling center there," Cohen said. "I
didn't have anything to go on."
And the Segerstroms' claim that the market for bowling in Costa
Mesa is lackluster isn't entirely correct, Roussin said.
While league bowling throughout the industry has dropped in recent
years, nonleague bowling has picked up, keeping attendance overall
steady, Roussin explained.
"It used to be 70% league and 30% open," Roussin said. "Today,
it's about 50-50. There's a decline in one area, but entertainment
and open play has picked up and [we're] still at 100% plateau.
Overall, it's doing extremely well."
Former Planning Commissioner Tim Cromwell also believes the
Segerstroms could have done more to save Kona Lanes and the other
entertainment uses. Putting up a "For Lease" sign would have been a
good start, he said.
Cromwell, who develops shopping centers, said the Segerstroms can
make more money converting the entertainment to other uses. But he
would like to see the Segerstroms keep Kona Lanes and use it as a
bargaining chip with the city for future entitlements on the
Cromwell would also like to see a city leader act quickly to
declare the bowling alley historical to prevent demolition.
"If I was actually a city councilman, knowing what I know right
now about the interest in Kona Lanes from legitimate operators and
people who have the money to renovate and operate it and run it as a
first-class bowling alley, I think I would look into declaring Kona
Lanes as a historic building in the city of Costa Mesa and stop the
wrecking ball," Cromwell said.
While the movie theater and ice rink have not generated the same
groundswell of nostalgia, there is evidence that there is strong
support for these uses in Orange County.
Krikorian Theatres just opened a new movie theater in Buena Park.
For renovation opportunities, amenities like new screens, stadium
seating and no competition within three miles would be ideal but not
absolutely necessary, said Jeff Kristoff, a real estate consultant
who works with Krikorian.
"We're always looking for a good site to expand," Kristoff said.
"If there's a site that makes sense, we'll take a crack at it."
And the Ice Palace, which owns a rink in Aliso Viejo, opened a
brand new rink in Yorba Linda last November in an abandoned Ralph's
building. The rink offers a skating school, a hockey school, skating
competitions and other events, said Dominic Bassi, rink employee.
"We're doing very well," Bassi said. "We're above average for a
Councilman Allan Mansoor said he believes recreational options are
still viable at Mesa Verde, but the onus is on the Segerstroms to
"There's no doubt in my mind that a recreational type of use could
work there and that there are people that are interested in such a
use, but the bottom line is that it's going to be up to the
Segerstroms to bring something forward," Mansoor said.
As far as Assistant Development Services Director Perry Valantine
knows, the Segerstroms have not yet applied for a permit to demolish
Kona. But once they do, the bulldozers can start immediately,
A step Cromwell would like to avoid at all costs.
"When the wrecking ball hits Kona Lanes, it's gone forever and
they're probably going to get in there within the next couple of
weeks and start demolition," Cromwell said. "As long as that building
is still there, that has value to someone else."
* DEIRDRE NEWMAN covers Costa Mesa and may be reached at (949)
574-4221 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.