By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer
Posted:   06/02/2009

CHATSWORTH – The AMF Rocket Bowl fizzled this week after 47 years, the latest pin to fall among dozens of San Fernando Valley bowling alleys.

The Cold War-era venue saw its last strikes Sunday as disabled kids launched balls down its lanes. With its lease not renewed, AMF is pulling its equipment while the landowner plans to raze the building for a shopping center.

“I’ve been crying every day, this is my second home,” said Kathy Brening-Ray, 47, of Chatsworth, a Rocket Bowl regular. “Losing this hurts a lot of people.

“All these bowling alleys that have closed – there are no new ones.”

The 32-lane bowling alley opened as in 1962 as Comet Lanes at De Soto Avenue near Nordhoff Street, just north of what is now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s De Soto plant.

It was soon renamed the Rocket Bowl – and became an after-the-bell hangout for nearby workers.

Over the years, the AMF Rocket Bowl became a weekend home to Special Olympics and City of Angels bowlers.

But despite its soaring zig-zag roof and ’60s-style coffee shop, the AMF Rocket Bowl failed to qualify as a city Cultural-Historic Monument.

The demise of the Rocket leaves seven “bowling houses” in the Valley. Twenty others have closed in the last quarter-century, enthusiasts said.

A spokesman for AMF Bowling Centers could not be reached for comment. Some AMF officials familiar with the AMF Rocket Bowl said the company, which had planned a $400,000 remodeling, didn’t renew its lease after the property owner tripled the rent.

Brian Fagan of Selective Real Estate Investments has applied for a zone change that will allow a 32,000-square-foot retail plaza to be built on the site.

He said rent for the bowling alley had hadn’t been raised for 12 years and was way below market.

“I’m sorry to see it go,” Fagan said. “Basically, the existing bowling operator didn’t want to stay. We have tried for quite some time. But since they refused to stay, we began the zone change process.

“We wanted to keep them in the community.”

He added that the retail development had the unanimous support of the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council and Councilman Greig Smith.

Brening-Ray was 5 when she confronted the 10 distant pins at what is now the AMF Rocket Bowl. She later met her husband during smoky league play.

On Tuesday, workers were busy dismantling its lanes, pin machines and pro shop. The coffee shop’s dozen chrome stools sat empty.

She had hoped to celebrate its golden anniversary, she said.

“It’s a shame,” said Brening-Rey, who has a collection of 40 bowling balls. “This is something that can be done all year `round, seven days a week. Your kids can have fun.

“We have the bowlers, but fewer backers.”

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