A Valley Landmark Plays Host to Celebrities and Locals for a Half-Century
Bowling alleys may be coined “the poor man’s country club,” says Corbin Bowl owner Ellya Calig, but when his family kicked off their business more than 50 years ago, they aimed to break the mold. His dad Jack and uncle George started out owning Santa Monica Bowl. They then chose the rapidly growing San Fernando Valley for their next venture. “They paid $50,000 for the land. At the time it was just two and a half acres of orange trees,” recalls Calig. They broke ground in Tarzana in 1956, and three years later, the opulent Corbin Bowl and Recreation Center, as it was known, opened its doors. The facility was equipped with 26 automatic pin-set lanes, coffee shop, banquet room, cocktail lounge, billiards room and children’s nursery. “It had everything. It was an ideal place for everyone—young people, families and ‘bowling bums’—guys that came to bowl a few games and hang out,” Calig explains. Corbin Bowl also hosted competitive league bowling, where players could win thousands of dollars in prize money.
The game was just part of the fun. Through the ‘60s and ‘70s, the facility’s Skol Dining Room and Lounge was a popular performance venue. Acts such as the Ike and Tina Turner Review, comedian Ben Blue and Hollywood Squares actress Pat “the Hip-Hypnotist” Collins all made appearances here. The lounge ultimately underwent a makeover, becoming the snazzy-themed Vegas Valley Room in 1963. Famous faces here were nothing out of the ordinary. “Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton from The Mod Squad used to come in and bowl. Bob Crane from Hogan’s Heroes and singer/actress Julie London would come to watch her husband, singer Bobby Troup, perform,” Calig remembers. It was also a popular location for filming TV shows Quincy and Moonlighting. In 1969 at age 19, Calig entered the family business. First he tended bar, and then he served as manager until 1979. The family still owns Corbin Bowl but leaves day-to-day operations to a manager.
After years of success, business started declining in the early ‘90s. The Northridge earthquake of ‘94 didn’t help matters much, causing some $300,000 in damage and an eight-month shut-down. Eventually Corbin re-opened—and with great timing. NBC’s 3rd Rock From the Sun, a top-rated show at the time, made the bowling alley its regular cast and crew hang-out. With Hollywood’s uber-hip Lucky Strike and the Jerry’s Famous Deli-adjacent Pinz in Studio City, there’s been something of a resurgence in bowling. Calig feels fortunate to count Corbin among the remaining original alleys. “There aren’t many of them left. Tarzana, Encino, Reseda and Rocket Bowl in Chatsworth have all closed down. Today it’s pretty much Corbin and Woodlake,” he says. Nowadays, Calig says, he makes sure to stop in at Corbin Bowl every couple of weeks. He notes, “While many aspects of the business may have changed—shoes used to cost only 10 cents to rent—it’s still just a great place to go for a strike.”
It’s all about owning it.