If you were a kid living in Encino in the 1960s, you were well aware of Encino Bowl, located at 15945 Ventura Blvd., which is now the discount clothing department store. It was the go-to place after school for birthday parties and weekend fun that seemed to last forever. There was even a coffee shop at the bowling alley that had incredible crinkle-cut french fries served in red plastic baskets.
What more could a kid ask for?
The bike racks in front of Encino Bowl were loaded with Sting Ray bicycles, the most popular bikes of the era. Carpools would pull into the bowling alley parking lot and drop kids off. There was even a "babysitting room" for the toddlers who were too young to bowl, or whose parents were serious bowlers and needed time to themselves.
Encino Bowl was first opened in 1962 by co-owners Irv Miro and Harry Grant, a maverick in the bowling business, who operated several other alleys such as the Victory Bowl in the San Fernando Valley. Grant initiated the "Grant Classic" bowling tourney, which took place on Monday evenings. There was a competitive spirit at the Encino Bowl, with many top bowlers playing there. Some were even professionals.
"I used to go there several days a week after school," top neighborhood bowler and Birmingham High School alumnus David Leon fondly recalled. "I would even do my homework sitting at the desks keeping score of my bowling game and order those amazing french fries to be delivered to our lane, just by pressing the button for the waitress. I thought that was so James Bond."
The Grant Classic tourney continued at several other Grant-owned bowling lanes well into the 1980s and even '90s. Grant, who died in 2009 at age 95, was a true maverick in the development of bowling as a family sport in Southern California. Encino Bowl was his favorite establishment. Leon said Grant told him how sad he was when it was closed in the late 1980s.
"It was his favorite bowling alley. A second home to him, really," said Leon. "I remember seeing Harry [Grant] and the resident pro teacher Foy Belcher having their dinner and reading the newspaper sitting in the spectator seats on many occasions. They were real fixtures there."
Encino Bowl was known visually for its '60s yellow-orange and avocado green signage with retro-style lettering. Three of the classic '60s bowling alleys remain on Ventura Boulevard: the Corbin Bowl, Woodlake Bowl and the former Kirkwood Lanes in Studio City, now called Pinz.
Encino Bowl was also popular with young boys for its vast array of pinball machines.
"You could easily spend a whole Saturday at Encino Bowl," Leon said. "It didn't even matter that they played Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass type music over the sound system, not the Beatles. You just were so absorbed in that world when you were there. It was a mix of adults and kids culture in one establishment."
Now if I could just get an order of those french fries...