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Willow Grove Park Bowling Lanes, Willow Grove, PA (other)

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Mo-Eye posted on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 4:05 PM

Name:Willow Grove Park Bowling Lanes
Street:Easton and Moreland Road
City:Willow Grove


Mo-Eye posted on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 4:14 PM

Willow Grove Park Bowling Lanes was part of the larger Willow Grove Amusement Park. The Bowling Lanes were built in 1961 and had 116 lanes, which was then the largest bowling alley in the world. They had 3 restaurants and even a nursery for the kids inside. Here's a pic from one of Sven's older posts :down:

And a 1960s photo :down:

The 3 restaurants inside were a german beer themed Hauf Brau, the Waterfall Room, and the Tiki Room. Found this great photo of the tiki room :down:

Not a whole lot of tiki, but still some nice Witco items.

The park closed down in 1975, and this building was demolished sometime between then and the early 1980s.

NOW we are talking jet-age A-frame, baby! :D
That exterior photo is great. OK, I am asking again, WHO will do the book on mid-century bowling alleys here!?
And that interior: Arrrgh, I just wanna reach in and move those napkins and silverware so I can zoom in on one of those place mats, I bet they had a cool graphic rendering on them!

Mo-Eye posted on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 8:03 PM

Maybe the graphic on those place mats is similar to the one here on the matchcover :down:

I can't believe for being the largest bowling alley in the world that there isn't more info and photo of this place on the web.

Wow, I'm guessing there isn't much info on this place because it only lasted 14 years? That's amazing that they would build an awesome building like that and tear it down so quickly. What did they put in its place? I'm surprised they didn't reuse the building... that's a lot of square footage.


Well, it sounds like after it closed, it may have sat there empty for quite a while, almost 10 years, so may have been in pretty bad shape. They then bulldozed the whole thing and built a mall...


[ Edited by: Mo-Eye 2009-11-09 22:06 ]

On 2009-11-09 22:05, Mo-Eye wrote:
Well, it sounds like after it closed, it may have sat there empty for quite a while, almost 10 years, so may have been in pretty bad shape

Now THERE would have been a site for some serious urban archeology! Something of that size being deserted and defunct must have had an almost post-nuclear air to it.

On 2009-11-09 20:03, Mo-Eye wrote:
I can't believe for being the largest bowling alley in the world that there isn't more info and photo of this place on the web.

On 2009-11-09 21:02, Tiki Shaker wrote:
Wow, I'm guessing there isn't much info on this place because it only lasted 14 years?

Just like it was the case with Tiki Style, which came and went equally quickly, and had been forgotten and relegated to the trash heap. When this flamboyant commercial architecture (Googie) fell out of favor, it was considered tacky and outdated, and people still have not recognized it as ART. But in a hundred years from now it will be considered akin to Art Nouveaux, Greek temples or in this case, even the pyramids. I mean look at these things, built in every-day, middle American, middle-of-the-road communities!:

These were people's TEMPLES of leisure! Show me a mall today that matches that kind of imaginative architecture.
That's why people have to go and dig up the architects while they are still alive, and get the renderings and paper ephemera while they are still around.

Found this ashtray on the web, which uses the architectural rendering:

I'm guessing the demise of the amusement park it was located in had a lot to do with the closure also. It just seems like this thing closed in the heyday of bowling. Well, whatever the cause of the closure was, as always.... it's a damn shame.

TikiG posted on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 9:48 AM

A damn shame, Yes!

I cringe whenever I think about the destruction of Willow Grove Amusement Park, home of several legendary wooden roller coasters over the years. Just awful.


I found some more info which helps explain its demise.

The bowling alley and the attached amusement park, which was quite large, were owned by the Hankins Family. They neglected the park for years and maintenance became a real problem. In April 1976, right before the opening of the season, the major roller coaster rides were inspected. All 3 needed a major overall or a total rebuilding at a cost estimated at $1 million. With that news, the Hankins announced within days that the park would not reopen.

After that, they shortly had a going out of business sale and stared selling everything in the park, including rides and structures. Then, the park would just sit there until 1977, when they announced that it would be sold to Pan American Associates, who announced they would build a $25 million regional mall in 1978.

There were lengthy negotiations with the township about the mall. They were forced to shrink the size of it and did not get final approval until May 1979.

In the meantime, the Hankin family was engulfed in their own legal dispute over this sale. The total value of all of their holdings was nearly $64 million. After a number of lawsuits, the sale that was announced in 1977 didn't actually go through until September 1980. The outcome of all the legal battling was the court ordered sale of all the family's property. After this judgement, demolition began and the property was completely bare within 3 weeks at the end of September.

So with this story, I would assume that everything inside the bowling alley was sold off, then the empty shell sat there for over 4 years, so there probably wasn't much anyone could do with it.

Mo-Eye, thanks for the details on the Willow Grove amusement park. I wanted to see more so I found a few photos from AmusementParkNostalgia.com .

Here's an aerial shot. The bowling alley can be seen toward the top:

Not everybody was happy about the arrival of the bowling alley because it meant filling in part of one of the lakes. As a result, "The pavilion that once sat on the lake, now sat in the middle of the parking lot".

Here's a photo before the bowling alley was built showing the lake:

This wasn't just any amusement park. Check out this old postcard showing "The Alps" roller coaster:


As someone who used this bowling alley on a weekly basis in my pre-teens I can say that it was awesome and left an impression in my mind that will never fade. I remember the Waterfall Lounge better than the Tiki Room but I remember all the restaurants there well. Unfortunately I don't have any memorabilia from it besides the matchbook cover already displayed but just looking at those photos brought a flow of memories back. My family had a business in Willow Grove for a few decades so I have very early recollections of the park and the bowling center. I am always looking for items from that area so if I find anything new I'll certainly post it.
I think there were a few reasons for its quick demise. The first is that is wasn't profitable. I never was in there when more than half the lanes were being used. The second is that just like Willow Grove Park the land became very valuable as the area went from rural to suburban. The third was that the Harkin family who owned this property along with the amusement park were fighting bitterly amongst themselves both personally and legally.

i've been past there a few times in the last ten years and the bowling alley is still there but nothing as magnificent as pictured :(

I also grew up bowling at the lanes on Saturday mornings, it was an awesome place. Lots of restaurants, lounges, game rooms, pro shops, etc. And it is hard to imagine how big 116 lanes really are without seeing it. As accurately reported, the place was torn down long ago, so the corpse who has driven by and seen the alley, but not as grand as it once was, has somehow mistaken a Michaels for a bowling alley, as that is one of the stores in the strip mall that is now where the alleys were. The large indoor mall next door is where the amusement park was.
Thanks for the posts, it brought back cool memories.


Architects: Powers, Daly and DeRosa (masters of the "California-style" bowling center)

"Willow Grove Lanes was the most ambitious project undertaken by Powers, Daly, and DeRosa... The 800-foot-long V-shaped building took fifteen months to build. Viewed from the outside, it was nothing if not breathtaking. The main entrance was highlighted by a solid parabola that swung skyward 116 feet and hovered over a multicolored water fountain situated in a miniature lake. When you entered the building, your eye was drawn to a rotating turntable display of bowling paraphernalia. To accommodate the disparate needs of different types of customers, the architects provided a variety of ancillary social spaces. Their nursery boasted a life-sized rocking horse. Teenagers fraternized at a soda bar called 'The Hutch.' Adults were invited to sample the German fare at the 'Hofbrau,' a full service restaurant" (excerpt from the book Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks by Andrew Hurley, 2001, pp. 154-155).

Other Powers, Daly and DeRosa-designed bowling centers that are still in existence include Bel Mateo Bowl (San Mateo, CA), Country Club Lanes (Sacramento, CA), and Covina Bowl (Covina, CA).

A recent picture taken at Country Club Lanes...

Wow, that still exists !? Good to know!

Which Covina Bowl, THIS one:

...or the West Covina Bowl:

Both still stand, also. :)


Covina Bowl... sorry, not sure who designed West Covina Bowl.

My friend Gretchen (of SacMod) and I have been trying our best to document the NorCal Powers, Daly, and DeRosa bowling centers.
Not all too long ago, sadly, the SF Bay Area lost our most eye-popping example - Futurama Bowl in San Jose.

Promoted as “San Jose’s Newest and Finest Bowling Alley,” Futurama Bowl opened in 1961 at 5390 Stevens Creek Blvd. Futurama featured 42 “automatic” lanes, a restaurant/cocktail lounge called the Magic Carpet Room, and a fitness center called the Glamorama Room.

After a 30+ year run, the bowling alley was closed to be transformed into a Safeway grocery store. All that remains today is Futurama’s quintessentially Googie sign, revamped and repurposed, its towering bowling pin supplanted by a giant Safeway logo.


I grew up in Willow Grove (1973-88), and only moved out of the area in 2010. The bowling alley wasn't 116 lanes. It had 110 lanes, and was the second-largest bowling alley on earth. The record holder is in Tokyo, and it DOES have 116 lanes.

The bowling alley building still stands, but it no longer has that monstrous overhang in the front. It's been converted into a small strip shopping center.

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