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Memories of end of an era: Keith Kitti recalls Rocket Bowl

Keith Kitti served as facility manager at now-defunct Rocket Bowl.
Courtesy of Keith Kitti

This month marks five years since the landmark AMF Rocket Bowl in Chatsworth discontinued operations. This story originally ran May 21, 2012 and is being updated with a postscript.

Keith Kitti knew it was coming, but that didn’t keep the sting from hurting any less.

The date was May 31, 2009, nearly three years ago. AMF Rocket Bowl closed its doors in Chatsworth after staying in business 47 years. This year would have been the facility’s golden anniversary.

“My reaction was sadness,” said Kitti, who was Rocket Bowl’s facility manager when it shut. “The center was part of the Golden Age of bowling. And it just added another chapter to the end of the era.

“It wasn’t so much a business as a gathering of friends. It was a watering hole of sorts. It was a place where the same people gathered for 52 weeks a year and they would come not planning to spend a dime as much as to engage and talk.

“When the center closed, that part of the Valley lost a watering hole of people wanting to gather. As a result, it took a toll on a lot of close-knit friendships.”

The 32-lane Rocket Bowl, known as Comet Bowl when it opened in 1962, was located near Rocketdyne’s De Soto plant – on De Soto Avenue near Nordhoff Street. Despite its distinguished history and soaring zigzag roof, Rocket Bowl failed to earn status as a cultural historic monument.

Rocket Bowl was among about 20 area bowling centers that closed within 25 years.

“The writing was on the wall that it was going to close,” said Kitti, now the chief mechanic at 300 Pasadena bowling center. “The new landlord raised the rates substantially. There was no way the center could stay viable with that.”

So for a year, Kitti was aware that Rocket Bowl was headed for its demise. In the meantime, an AMF executive invited Kitti to help 300 Pasadena open its lanes after closing a year for remodeling.

Kitti, who was at Rocket Bowl for 12 years, said he “spent the bulk of my time (at 300 Pasadena) the last six months of Rocket’s life.”

In addition to being 300 Pasadena’s chief mechanic, Kitti is a terrific bowler, averaging 220 with a high series of 832 (290, 300, 242) that he rolled about 18 years ago. He recalled that he’s bowled 15 certified 300s.

Kitti, a 38-year-old Buena Park resident, said 300 Pasadena is “strictly open play. There’s no league or competitive play. It’s more of a nightclubby atmosphere with cosmic bowling all the time.”

As for Rocket Bowl, Kitti said, “I met a lot of great people. I’m lucky that with Facebook, I’ve been able to keep in contact with them.”

Postscript: The recent trend has definitely been down as far as the number of bowling centers in the U.S. There were 6,600 bowling houses in 1955 in the U.S., according to High Beam Research. Amid a bowling boom, that number increased to 12,000 in 1965. But in 2011, only 5,160 bowling centers remained.

As for Kitti, he’s been promoted to district mechanic and now oversees equipment at AMF Bay Shore Lanes in Santa Monica, AMF Mar Vista Lanes in Los Angeles, Bowlmor Pasadena and Bowlmor Anaheim.

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