The Community Says Goodbye To Pickwick Bowl, A Gem Of Burbank History

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

As Pickwick Bowl has closed forever, many are reminiscing about the memories they’ve made at the well-loved location.

On Aug. 7, Pickwick Bowl shared a message on Instagram from General Manager Darin Mathewson confirming “the permanent closure of Pickwick Bowl and Banquets” would soon take place, with Tuesday, Aug. 15, being their last business day. This comes nearly two years after the city of Burbank told myBurbank that the Pickwick property was being sold, and its buyer planned to build nearly 100 townhomes on the land. 

Following Pickwick Bowl’s construction in the ‘50s, Burbank community members and residents throughout the Los Angeles area continually spent leisure time at the iconic bowling alley. Upon arrival, guests were met with a welcoming, down-home atmosphere and charming areas like the snack bar and arcade, the billiards and darts room, called the Riverside Lounge, and the Five Horsemen Saloon bar and lounge, in addition to Pickwick’s 24 lanes.

Pickwick property many years ago, with a drive-in, bowling alley, gardens, and community pool. Photo by Ross A. Benson from his retro files

On Sunday, Aug. 13, Burbanker Dana Morris, as well as several of her family members and fellow locals, stopped by Pickwick together. Morris bowled here during her childhood and attended numerous events at Pickwick Gardens as an adult. While she reflected on the site’s closure, Morris noted the profound significance of Pickwick in Burbank’s history. 

“Seeing places like Pickwick Bowl disappear makes us feel melancholy because we recognize nothing is forever, and all we will have in the end is our memories,” Morris said. “Now I know how my parents felt when the Media District buildings sprang up and when old familiar places were raised to make space for new developments. I would hope that we could rescue some of the lane wood, bowling balls, and pins and save them for display at the Burbank Historical Society and the Valley Relics Museum, so at least we could have mementos to spark conversations with the next generation about what it was like, once upon a time in Burbank.”

Up until Pickwick Bowl’s finale, Tom Welker served as a front desk employee and supervisor, and he is a recognizable face to many regular customers. Welker worked behind the front desk during public bowling sessions, various corporate and birthday events, and weekly league nights in the course of his nearly nine years with Pickwick. Before the pandemic, Pickwick hosted leagues in the morning and evening on Sundays through Thursdays, and more recently, league gatherings were held on Mondays and Wednesdays. 

“These people have been bowling here longer than I’ve been alive, but I’ve gotten really familiar with them,” Welker said of Pickwick regulars. “That’s the thing: bowling alleys are a communal thing. Even if you’re not family, you feel like family.” 

Welker and his now-former coworkers Mike Graves, a Pickwick Bowl mechanic, and Pro Shop Manager Roger Desgroseilliers bowled in the Monday night league. Now, it’s uncertain whether these colleagues and other bowlers will continue to participate in leagues elsewhere. 

“Unfortunately, I’m obviously very sad because I may not see any of these people again — I don’t know,” Welker said. “I don’t know if I’m still going to bowl. I don’t know if they’re still going to bowl because, for a lot of people, this is their home.” 

He added, “So it’s a bummer because I’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing these people every week.”

Pickwick Bowl was photographed this past week. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

From 2016 to 2019, Graves was employed at Pickwick Bowl as a manager on duty, and he returned to fill a part-time mechanic role beginning in 2022. He detailed the bustling, joyful ambience that was experienced by visitors to the entertainment venue. 

“It’s a very fun environment — very chaotic, as you would expect out of a bowling alley, but for the most part, it’s fun and easy to get along with people,” Graves said.

Roger led the Pro Shop for 24 years, during which time he was a devoted Pickwick bowler and worked alongside his spouse, Special Events Director Janie Desgroseilliers. On countless occasions, Roger noticed how the staff members and clientele developed a tight-knit bond amid exciting games and friendly conversations.

“Everybody that’s worked here, everybody that bowls here — it’s like family,” he said. 

While the business officially closed its lanes to the public after Sunday, Aug. 13, Pickwick’s league bowlers finished out their final games through the night of Aug. 17. 

Alexis Arnold became a member of the late-night Wednesday league within a few weeks of moving to Los Angeles from her native Pennsylvania. She ended up staying in the league for eight years and made several lifelong companions along the way. 

“[The league] really helped me meet a lot of new friends and some of my best friends,” Arnold said. “I’m so thankful that Pickwick gave me a chosen family when I was away from my real family in Pennsylvania.”

Another longtime league player is Roger Webb, who was part of the late-night Wednesday group for around 20 years. Webb first competed in a daytime league with former Cartoon Network coworkers, and though he was initially uncertain about saying yes to a Wednesday evening league, he was quickly won over by the Pickwick crowd.  

“I went, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ because I know the commitment… But then I started bowling, and I’m still here,” Webb said. 

He also stated that “the people” at Pickwick kept him coming back to the bowling alley, and one of Webb’s favorite moments here is when he bowled a perfect 300 game in recent years.  

Jonelle McMahon began bowling in Pickwick leagues in 1992 when her then-employer, NBC, initiated a league for their staffers. She went on to bowl in three weekly leagues: one on Mondays, plus two others on Wednesdays. McMahon cited her “dear friends” and a passion for the sport as reasons why she enjoyed going to Pickwick for over three decades.   

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“I love bowling and making new friends,” McMahon said. She added, “I love Pickwick. It’s been my home… I have my memories.”

The latest description regarding the Senate Bill (SB) 35 project that’s planned for the Pickwick property was updated on the city of Burbank’s website in October 2022. It states that “92, residential three-story townhome units” will be built here after Pickwick Bowl is demolished. 

City of Burbank Communications Manager Jonathan Jones says that “the applicant submitted applications for a demolition permit and grading permit that have not been approved by the City,” and city officials “do not have a timeline yet as to when the work will begin on the site.” LA Kings Ice at Pickwick Gardens, which was acquired by the LA Kings and American Sports Entertainment Company back in 2018, will stay operational. 

The Pickwick Bowl team offered a farewell via Instagram on Aug. 7, highlighting the indelible impact of the people who have supported the legendary Burbank site throughout its 60-plus years of operation.

“The heart and soul of Pickwick Bowl have always been our incredible customers,” the team wrote. “You brought life to this alley, making it a hub of joy, camaraderie, and love. From birthday parties and family gatherings to competitive leagues and spontaneous bowling nights, you made every moment memorable. Our fondest memories will forever include your smiling faces, the sound of pins crashing, and the contagious excitement that filled the air. As we embark on this final chapter, we invite you to join us in these remaining days to celebrate the wonderful journey we’ve shared.”

They continued, “Though we close our doors, the spirit of Pickwick Bowl will live on through each of you. Let’s make these final days a testament to the love and unity that have defined this special place. Until we meet again, dear friends, remember that our hearts will forever cherish the times we spent together at Pickwick Bowl.”


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