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Midtown Bowl closing its doors after 52 years

World on Wheels skating rink goes too

Cynthia E. Griffin | 6/20/2013, midnight

It survived the civil unrest of 1992 that left its neighbors burned out hulks.

It survived in a neighborhood where gangs are an ever-present force to be reckoned with.

It provided the same gangs with a neutral place to learn the ancient art of bowling, under the direction of deceased youth league coordinator Leroy P. Williams.

At one time, it served as home base for a youth program that was 200-youngsters strong.

It even survived the bifurcation of its once booming 48-lane structure into a 24-lane configuration on top and a roller skating rink on bottom.

According to bowling industry expert Dewann Clark, who is national vice president with the National Bowling Association, that new arrangement became a symbiotic combination that helped AMF Midtown Lanes, located at the intersection of Venice and San Vicente boulevards, become a notable standout in an industry where the local players have fallen one by one in the last three decades.

Holiday Bowl, Southwest Bowl, West Pico Bowl, Manchester Western Bowl, Trojan Bowl, and Rodeo Bowl, all once offered urban Los Angeles residents a place to go for recreational and league bowling, but are now closed.

But with the closing of Midtown Bowl and World on Wheels skating rink, slated for June 23, the local urban community has lost its last recreational outlets that are not a city or county facility.

The demise of the bowling center and skating rink, both operated by AMF Bowling Worldwide, whose representative refused comment on the closing, comes at a quirky time.

In November, AMF filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This is the second time since 2001 that the corporation has filed for bankruptcy, according to a Wall Street Journal report, and the culprit this time, noted the newspaper, is a cash crunch and failing to find a buyer for the business, which includes a chain of 262 bowling centers across the United States.

AMF is the largest operator of bowling centers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, the property where the center is located has just emerged from a 52-year lease and was purchased by its longtime property management company, Midtown Shopping Center Associates. The company has managed the center since 1978. They purchased it in April.

According to Courtland Young, the property manager and company partner, AMF has been paying 1960s rent he described as “pennies on the dollar” compared to today’s going rate of $3 a square foot.

Young said a key part of the challenge to keeping the bowling center and skating rink in place is trying to find a new operator, and he said his broker has been looking, but no one has come forward.

Young said that there is an option to extend AMF’s lease until November, but the Virginia-based corporation refused and opted to close.

According to Young, his company wants to find the best possible use for the building with a tenant interested in the community. He also said that within the next 60 days, a community meeting will be held to solicit input from residents.

Clark, who credits joining a youth league at Midtown with saving him from the negative pull of the streets, met with Young Friday in an attempt to offer a possible way to save Midtown, but the Midtown Shopping Center Associates representative said Clark’s proposal of establishing a nonprofit organization is not workable for the company.

As closing day nears, Clark has revived a mixed doubles tournament he founded at Midtown and is inviting all youth bowlers to participate in a special squad, which begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

“We’re billing this as “The Final Event,” said Clark of the tournament, which is completing its third and final week on Sunday. “We’ve included a lot of fun events because we want everyone to come out and participate just to be a part of the grand finale festivities. Novelty prizes and memorable keepsakes will be given out.”