Monday, January 23, 2006

Save America's Bowling Alleys

I love modern architecture.

I love I.M. Pei, I love googie, I love Quentin Tarantino Diners and vintage Arby's restaurants. But I really really love bowling alleys.

I recently found a page for a group called the Recent Past Preservation Network- a group of civic-minded architecture lovers who want to see the wonders of hyperbolic roofs and kidney-shaped motel signs be enjoyed by generations to come. I encourage you all to visit- it's a great site that gives up-to-date info on the state of modern architecture, coast-to-coast.

Here in Denver, we've seen our fair share of amazing 1950s and 1960s architecture be swept away for the sake of "progress." A good example is Zeckendorf Plaza, a 1960s I.M.Pei designed urban pavilion featuring a hyperbolic entrance canopy for a local department store and a stunning hotel building, as well as an ice rink. The entire pavilion was retooled, the canopy demolished, back in the mid-90s. The site is now home to a really ugly hotel.

What is rather puzzling about the destruction of modern architecture in city centers like Denver is the same thing that is puzzling about the prevalence of chain restaurants. Here's the thing: a beautiful, authentic 1950s bowling alley will be demolished in the name of progress, utility, modernism, etc. Then, give it five or ten years, and you have a chain of bowling alleys that adopts a mission to re-create the look, feel and environment of a beautiful, authentic 1950s bowling alley. It's like how a TGI Fridays, Applebee's, Chili's, Bennigans and Red Robin will move into town, chase every locally-owned, neighborhood bar and grill out of town, then spend billions on marketing to try to look and feel like a locally-owned neighborhood bar and grill. It's stuff like this that makes me hate postmodernism.

But yes- it is my humble (and correct, by the way) opinion that motels like this, coffeeshops like this, and yes, bowling alleys like this are no less a part of our American architectural history than traditional Victorian or Colonial buildings.

Picture a future in which the only evidence of postwar architecture will be a revisioning designed by Madison Avenue bigwigs and existing only in the shopping centers surrounding exurban housing developments. And then go and give some scratch to the folks at the RPPN.


  1. I agree. Out here in CA, a lot of our "antiquities" comprises weird forms of vernacular architecture, and saving them is difficult because they're thought of as "tacky," even though the stuff that replaces them tends to be both tacky and - worse still - inhuman.

    You should have a look at the book "The Destruction of Lower Manhattan," if you haven't seen it already.

    Also, I tagged you with this meme.

  2. Hmmm...

    VV, is it just me, or would our own Tom's Diner fit in with that Googie style?

    Too bad I don't have a digital cam, or I'd head down there to take a few pictures some day, jsut so I could send it to those interesting folks.

  3. I'm totally with you on the bowling alleys and aquatone quadrilaterals, but all the same, I really, really hope that no initiative develops to save middlebrow-vernacular PoMo -- especially the ubiquitous salmon-and-green designs with self-consciously syncopated brick patterns -- until much of it is demolished.