The Clairemont Bowl: Where the Action Is

Clairemont Bowl matchbook cover "Where the Action Is" (Estelle Swank collection)

It is estimated that 25% of Americans bowl, so why did they tear down the Clairemont Bowl in 2005?

When it opened in 1957, the Bowl was the most popular social and entertainment destination in Clairemont. Nothing came close then and nothing comes close today.

“The Clairemont Bowl was my house,” said Don Anderson. “In 1964, I had the first 300 game ever at the Clairemont Bowl. It wasn’t easy to get a 300 back then. Bowling lanes used to be wood with a lacquer finish. They were regularly oiled. Today, the lanes are urethane and can’t absorb oil. Scores and averages are higher today.”

Lefty Don Anderson rolled the first 300 at the Clairemont Bowl in 1964 (courtesy Don Anderson)

“Kenny Hubbard ran the Clairemont Bowl and didn’t want me winning all the time,” laughed Anderson. “He told Leigh Kimball to flood the lane with oil before I rolled my 300. Then he was mad at Leigh and asked why he didn’t flood the lane with oil. Leigh told him, ‘I did!'”

“Yale Kahn really enjoyed having (owning) the Clairemont Bowl,” Anderson recalled. “He wasn’t there a lot, but when he was there, he mixed well with the customers. Everybody liked him. After he died, the family wanted to get rid of the bowling alley. The last time I bowled there with my friends before it closed, I remember saying, ‘Why are they doing this?’ The bowling alley was still making money.”

Romance was almost as important as bowling. Clairemont Bowl matchbook covers said it all: “Where the Action Is.”

The Quad Room provided music, dancing and alcohol… the fuel, oxygen and ignition required for love. If you walked through the south parking lot before it was cleaned in the morning, evidence of safe sex could always be found littering the blacktop.

An unnamed friend remembered having a few beers one night after league bowling. “This nice looking girl was flirting with me and I asked her to go out bar hopping,” he reminisced “Well, we had a beer or so at the Quad Room and went somewhere else where they checked her ID. She was 17! Yikes!”

On slow Mondays in the early 1960s, the Quad Room sold 39¢ cheese pizzas and 59¢ pitchers of Schlitz to bring in customers. Even as a college student without an abundance of disposable income, I tried not to miss a Monday. The pizza and beer made a lasting impression, but the nubiles did not. I do remember a friendly gal with a full shirt named Carol. I just don’t remember her face.

My best friend and college teammate, Rich Nelson, was working construction, so he had money. Rich often said the reason money was invented was to buy beer.

He offered to take my brother, Andy, drinking on his 21st birthday. We ended up at the Quad Room and my brother showed his driver license to the bartender. “It’s my 21st birthday,” he cracked. The bartender muttered an obscenity, and said, “You’ve been drinking in here for the past three years.” My brother always had to have the last word. “Yeah,” he fired back, “and from now on it’ll be legal.” IDs weren’t checked very close back in the old days.

Marv Siesel, owner of Siesel’s Meats in Bay Park, sponsored a team in a league that started at 9:00 PM. “By 11:00, it was so smoky, you could barely see the pins,” he recalled.

The other side of Clairemont Bowl matchbook covers boldly advertised, “Leave your waist line at the foul line.” Doctors agree that an hour of bowling provides cardiovascular health benefits, but the benefits are mitigated by beer and food. Many people consider drinking beer and snacking to be part of bowling. (Eating replaced smoking in the equation.)

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (Columbia Records)

The most popular and famous band to play the Clairemont Bowl was Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Originally, Puckett’s band opened at the Quad Room as The Outcasts and returned with new talent as The Union Gap. Even in the late 1960’s, a band wearing Union Army uniforms from the Civil War was an unusual sight.

“The Quad Room was a great place to become musicians and to play the music and chase the profession that we were choosing,” said Gary. “The bowling alley was where the Union Gap signed contracts with Columbia Records and, as they say, the rest is history.”

When asked for a funny story about the Clairemont Bowl, Gary has a good one. “I remember standing on the passenger side of Bob’s (Bob Brown) ’56 Chevy Bel Air as he was in some sort of hurry. He, of course, had to take his bass guitar with him. He placed it on the ground to face me and talk over the top of the car. When he drove away, he had left his bass sitting in the street. I collected it and didn’t tell him for a while. It sort of freaked him out. I know how I would have felt, so I didn’t make him fret too long. Bad joke… but somewhat funny. At least to me and others I let in on the secret.”

Regarding other musicians who played at the Clairemont Bowl, Gary remembered, “Joel Scott Hill worked at the Quad Room and went on to be in the Flying Burrito Brothers. Also, Cory Wells before he went on to be in Three Dog Night.”

Few people remember the 1990s when dinosaurs stood on the roof of the Sunset Bowl (Bill Swank collection)

The Quad Room went Country Western in the 1970s and became The Alamo Room. Then the Clairemont Bowl was renamed the Sunset Bowl. Few people remember the 1990s, when dinosaurs stood “at the top of the Quad,” high on the roof of the Sunset Bowl. Fewer recall scantily clad women riding Triceratops to the Volcano Club. It was a concept that never caught on with the sensible taste of Clairemont residents.

The Clairemont Bowl has wonderful memories for those who can still hear pins flying. It’s where Gary Puckett had his big break in the music world. Don Anderson rolled the first 300 game on an oil-soaked lane and Marv Siesel remembers the fun he and his teammates had when they adjourned to Lefty’s Pizza on Morena after bowling.

August 25, 2005: Don Anderson, Mike Kuttich, Bill Purvis, John Meyer at Sunset Bowl (Don Anderson collection)

The Coliseum still stands in Rome. Madison Square Garden in New York has been rebuilt three times since 1879.

Memories are all that remain of the Clairemont Bowl and Quad Room. They are gone forever.

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