Two weeks ago longtime Santa Clara bowlers found themselves homeless, so to speak, when the 55-year-old Moonlite Lanes shut down without notice. The property is slated for a 158-unit apartment complex by Prometheus Real Estate Group.
“All our leagues were told it would stay open until the end of the league year, in May,” said longtime bowler, past Santa Clara City bowling league president Kris Rowberry, who also hosts the online TV show, Lost Parks of Northern California (www.greatamericanthrills.net/lost-parks).
“It was a shock. There was a lot of anger. This was a really great recreational facility in the middle of Santa Clara and it just got ripped away.” Rowberry said he had “no clue” why the bowling alley was closed six months ahead of schedule. AMF recently made significant upgrades on the property, he said.
Responding to a request for comment, Moonlite owners Bowlmor AMF emailed this statement to the WEEKLY: “After a comprehensive analysis, AMF Moonlite Lanes location has decided to close. This was a very difficult decision and AMF Moonlite Lanes is grateful to the community for their patronage and support. Bowlmor AMF does not own AMF Moonlite Lanes and at this time we do not have any information to release to the public.”
The shuttering of Moonlite is a big loss to local bowling leagues because its lane conditions – “oil patterns” – were kept at PBA standards.
“This leaves less than 10 league houses in the South Bay,” sad Rowberry. “At one point there used to be 18.” The closest bowling alleys are Cupertino’s Homestead Lanes and San José’s Fourth Street Bowl.
Moonlite Lanes opened in 1961, at the peak of bowling’s mid-century popularity. When it opened, Moonlite included a day care center, a restaurant, and Cal’s Roaring Twenties Lounge and was open 24 hours a day.
“Now It’s Official,” the San José Mercury wrote on Aug. 18, 1961 about Moonlite’s grand opening. Opening festivities included a visit from TV star Jim Backus, famous for being the voice of cartoon character Mr. Magoo and roles in the TV shows “I Married Joan” and “Gilligan’s Island.” To celebrate the opening, bowlers got a free week of bowling. Another celebrity who reportedly bowled at Moonlite was Monkees drummer Mickey Dolenz.
Rowberry has his own memories of Moonlight’s heyday. “I remember having birthdays at Moonlite, even though we lived in San José. That’s how popular it was. I remember going to all-night bowing events.”
Moonlite’s closing “is a tragedy,” said Rowberry. “Bowling is becoming more popular. People are looking for authentic experience – not just video games or virtual reality – and there’s going to be no place to do it.”