Off-Ramp®

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First Look: Highland Park Bowl restored to its 1927 splendor

by John Rabe and Maya Sugarman | Off-Ramp®

The eight bowling lanes at the newly renovated Highland Park Bowl all have vintage pin setters. The Highland Park bowling alley, bar and live music venue is set to open this week. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The Highland Park Bowl, at 5621 North Figueroa Street LA CA 90042, is scheduled to open to the public Friday, April 29. 

The 1933 Group, which refurbished the historic Idle Hour in North Hollywood and runs other evocative bars across like the Bigfoot Lodge in Atwater Village and Harlowe in West Hollywood, is re-opening the historic Highland Park Bowl on Figueroa Street in Northeast Los Angeles.

For the last year and a half, 1933 Group has been renovating Highland Park Bowl on North Figueroa Street. It's set to re-open this week.
For the last year and a half, 1933 Group has been renovating Highland Park Bowl on North Figueroa Street. It's set to re-open this week. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Most neighbors know the space at 5621 North Figueroa St. as Mr. T's Bowl, named for the man that bought the bowling alley in 1966 and mid-century-modernized it with a new facade, wall coverings and drop ceilings. Bowling was eventually pushed into the gutter and it became a well-known punk rock venue.

That's when entrepreneur Bobby Green, one of the 1933 Group partners, first heard of it. "I used to go to music shows there in the mid to late-'90s," he says. "I know I saw a lot of great punk rock bands there back in the day." He laughs that he didn't even think it was a bowling alley because it was so well disguised by that point, with a huge black curtain that blocked off the lanes.

Entrepreneur Bobby Green is one of the partners of 1933 Group. Green remembers visiting Mr. T's as a music venue – the bowling alley portion of the space closed in the 1980s.
Entrepreneur Bobby Green is one of the partners of 1933 Group. Green remembers visiting Mr. T's as a music venue – the bowling alley portion of the space closed in the 1980s. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The 1933 Group has been working on the restoration, Green says, for a year and a half. "1927 is pretty much what you're going to see when you come in. We were able to strip back all the years of remodel. It's a gorgeous space with a bow-truss ceiling, a forest mural that was hidden on the back wall (painted by the Arts&Craft Anderson Brothers) and eight skylights that were boarded up when we took it over." (Mr. T's was not known for being well-lit.)

Green says Joseph "Mr. T" Theresa didn't do too much damage. His additions were mostly cosmetic, including a thin metal facade on the building that  protected its original Spanish Revival front.

"A 1927 newspaper article we dug up called it 'the most beautiful building on Figueroa,'" Green says. "And sure enough, after that metal came off, there was the original building, the beautiful windows, and 'The Highland Park Bowl' was still painted on the stucco in the front."

Highland Park Bowl before Mr. T's mid-century renovation.
Highland Park Bowl before Mr. T's mid-century renovation.

Not that the restoration wasn't costly. Green says his group has spent about $2-million so far, about what they spent to restore the Idle Hour in NoHo. For example, restoring each of the eight bowling lanes cost $30,ooo, spent mostly on wood and machinery.

The 1933 Group isn't new to the gentrified neighborhood of Highland Park. In 2002 it bought the notorious Richard's Hofbrau just down the street from The Highland Park Bowl and turned it into The Little Cave, now La Cuevita.

As at all 1933 Group establishments, there will be food (wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and salads under executive chef Richie Lopez) and cocktails like The Dude Abides, a take on the White Russian.

Listen to the audio for John's full interview with Bobby Green, which includes more stories about bowling equipment, the notorious Hofbrau, and when Bobby knows a neighborhood is ready for a new bar. Hint: follow the artists.

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