Skip to main content

San Clemente Journal

Gone, But Not Forgotten. There was a bowling alley once ...

Oct 07, 2020 09:25AM ● By Mike Chamberlin

The bowling alley was originally built in 1946; historic pins provided by Linda Luitjens-More. 

by Mike Chamberlin

As a kid, you just assume some things will never change. You assume that there will always be surfboards, that there will always be fast cars, and that the historic bowling alley will always be there. 

Granted, it was a far cry from the super centers that now house bowling alleys such as the multi-leveled Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Downtown Disney in Anaheim … so modern they even serve sushi! But as a San Clemente teenager in the 1960s, I found it a thrill to bowl a few games at the San Clemente Bowling Alley, sandwiched between the Casino and the Miramar Theater … now it’s gone.


It was 74-years-ago in 1946 that the first ball hit the boards at the bowling alley. But much like drive-in movies and corner drug stores, it was only a matter of time before these small-town splendors began disappearing.

In a nutshell, the Grand Dame simply wore out. The ocean moisture led to dry rot and eventual mold. She was on life support, and although a historical building, she could not be resuscitated. 
The year 1971 was the code blue for the ‘white cylinder’ that had made its mark in San Clemente for decades. The Historical Society tried to keep the actual building alive with occupants ranging from a scuba diving shop to a furniture store, to a charity outlet. It once held marketing offices and rehearsal hall for the dinner theatre when Sebastian’s West was next door. But in 1992, they gave up the ghost completely and the door was shuttered and locked forever.

I knew it was coming, but it broke my heart when I drove by on the actual day the wrecking ball replaced the bowling ball and demolished the old bowling alley and with it thousands of memories of those that it once served so proudly. 

Among them was Ron Brown, who was also teenager in the 1960s. He commented, “What I remembered most was the comfort of bowling in a small-town atmosphere with family and friends. The bowling alley and the movie theater were a big part of the original beach town ambience.” He added, “You can take the kid out of the beach town, but it’s hard to take the small beach town out of the kid, no matter how old he becomes.”


Linda Luitjens-More has a very unique tie to the bowling alley. “My family moved from Los Angeles to San Clemente in 1963. My mom had been a long-time bowler, so when we arrived, she soon joined a league at the bowling alley. My sister and I tagged along, and I remember upon entering for the first time, I was greatly disappointed that it was a drab narrow building with only a few lanes; quite a contrast to the huge, bright multi-lane alleys of Los Angeles. My sister, Laurie, remembers playing Skee-Ball there.”

Linda added, “When the alley closed down, my mom, always open to a bargain, bought boxes and boxes of the bowling pins that they had put up for sale. Whatever for? She figured they were made of good hard wood and would make great logs for our fireplace. We burned those ‘logs’ for years and still have a box of them left.”

Growing up in San Clemente in the 1960s, Adele Lacebal-Roberson never actually remembers being inside the bowling alley, but she said, “I just remember how loud it was hearing the balls strike the pins while watching a movie at the theater next door!”

But like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, there is newfound optimism for reconstruction of the site. Plans at the moment are to build a food court with outdoor dining where the bowling alley once stood. Along with the adjacent historic former Miramar Theater, the new building will become part of the new Miramar Event Center and Restaurants, and a grand opening is hoped for late this year or in early 2021.