By LANCE ARMSTRONG
Editor’s note: This is the fifth part in a series regarding the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.
Most Sacramentans would likely agree that the most memorable corner of Watt and El Camino avenues is its northeast corner, which once featured the notable combination of Country Club Lanes, Sam’s Plaza Hof Brau and Tower Records, Books and Video.
Although the Tower businesses ceased existence in 2006, a treasured part of this corner’s history remains through the existence of Country Club Lanes and Sam’s Hof Brau, as the business is now known.
Country Club Lanes, which predates the establishment of the Tower stores and Sam’s restaurant at this location, held its grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 20-21, 1960.
Plans for the construction of this bowling alley date back to 1958, when members of the Kassis family, who were already well known in the Sacramento area for their operation of the Stop-N-Shop supermarket chain, decided to establish a bowling alley.
At that time, the Sacramento area was home to several bowling alleys, including Town & Country Bowl at 2032 Fulton Ave., Alhambra Bowl at 1221 Alhambra Blvd., Capital Bowl at 1415 L St., Sacramento Bowl at 915 6th St. and South Bowl at 5005 Stockton Blvd.
But for Frank, Lewis, Edward and Walter Kassis, who had envisioned opening their own bowling alley, their dreams extended well beyond simply bringing another bowling alley to the Sacramento area.
Instead, these brothers, who were also joined in this endeavor by their cousins, Tom and George Kassis, who moved from Cheyenne, Wyo. to become involved with the project, desired to establish a recreation and entertainment center featuring the capital area’s grandest bowling alley.
After the selection of the 5.5-acre site for this center, the property was eventually developed through the Country Club Building Corp., which consisted of a group of stockholders, who included Stop-N-Shop customers and employees and friends and business associates of the Kassis family.
By the fall of 1958, plans had been drawn for what would become one of the nation’s largest and most attractive bowling alleys.
Although none of the Kassis family members involved with this project were experts in the field of bowling, they learned a lot about bowling in a short period of time, as they spent about six months studying many different bowling centers.
The Kassises eventually decided to have a unique building constructed with a 48-lane bowling alley, a fine cocktail lounge, dining rooms, banquet facilities and a variety of other features.
Selected as the architects of the building were Powers, Daly and DaRosa, a Long Beach firm that was recognized by the nation’s then largest recreational company, American Machine and Foundry, which is commonly known as AMF.
In October 1958, initial labor on the site began. This work included the placement of a lower concrete pad and the construction of the parking lot.
Although active construction of the building did not commence until the following January, a goal was set to have the center readied for league bowling nine months later.
Fortunately for those anticipating the meeting of this goal, league bowling began at Country Club Lanes in September 1959.
Prior to the aforementioned grand opening of the more than $1 million Country Club Lanes building, a special opening of the lanes for stockholders was held on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1960, followed by a champagne luncheon for special guests a week later.
As previously noted, the grand opening for this 24 hours per day, seven days per week, north area recreation center, which provides entertainment for all ages, was held on Feb. 20-21, 1960.
It was during that time that many people viewed the many features of the building for the first time.
From its inception until present times, the Country Club Lanes building has drawn much attention for its unusual architectural, space age features, which predate the popular 1960s animated series, The Jetsons.
Early promotional literature for the center included the following words: “From the outside, you’ll marvel at the gigantic parabolic and hyperbolic marquees reaching toward the sky.”
After entering the building under either of these marquees, early day guests were greeted with 48 gleaming lanes with modern, electronically-controlled pin spotting machines, electric Tel-E-Score projector units, AMF Underlane ball returns, Lazy Susans and seating for more than 200 people.
Other original features of the building included the two-level Candlerock Lounge with bars, a revolving bandstand with a live orchestra, a waterfall and a tropical pool, the Candlerock Restaurant and Coffee Shop, the Hickory and Cypress banquet rooms, the Chuck Wagon dining room, a billiards room and a Romper Room with complimentary care for the children of bowlers.
Upon the building’s opening, an 8,500-square-foot area on its second floor was occupied by the personnel department of Aerojet-General Corp.
On the north, Watt Avenue side of the building is multiple store spaces. Original tenants at this site were a travel agency, dry cleaners, a liquor store and barber, beauty and mosaic tile shops.
Assisting in bringing early attention to Country Club Lanes was the well-known bowler Frank Clause, who described this Sacramento area bowling alley on the nationally televised show, “Jackpot Bowling,” as “the world’s most beautiful bowl.”
About two years after the opening of the center, the Kassis brothers purchased Tom and George Kassis’ interest in the business.
The gradual transfer of the ownership of Country Club Lanes from the founders to the second generation of Kassis family members began in 1985.
But while still under the majority ownership of its founders, Country Club Lanes underwent a $1.3 million remodel in 1991 and 1992.
This remodel included the conversion of the Rock’n Bowl Café at the former Candlerock Restaurant and Coffee Shop site into a fast food eatery called The Concourse Café, the resurfacing of lanes, the remodeling of the bathrooms and the installation of state-of-the-art, automated scoring equipment, new seating, new carpet, new sheetrock, new ceilings and new lighting.
It was also during that time that the business added a new selection of colored bowling balls to its offerings.
Today, Country Club Lanes, in addition to its 48-lane bowling alley, includes its Lazer X laser tag arena, which is located in part of the old Candlerock Restaurant and Coffee Shop, a space-themed video arcade in the old billiards room site, a prize arcade at the former Hickory Room site and a private party room – Party Room A – in the former location of the Romper Room.
Additionally, a large banquet facility is located in the former Aerojet personnel department site.
Although operating a short distance from its former site, The Concourse Café continues to serve diners inside the bowling alley building.
Businesses presently operating on the front, north side of the building are Country Club Cleaners, The Hair & I hair and nail salon, World’s Best Comics, All World Systems watch and clock repair and the building’s newest tenant, Tower Florist.
Dave Haness, president of Country Club Lanes, is among the more noteworthy people in the history of this business and the bowling industry itself.
Haness has been dedicated to the success of Country Club Lanes for more than 40 years.
Others who have provided longtime service to the center are head mechanics Bob Courtade, Wally Dorei and Dave Mardon and assistant manager Jerry Zepp.
Although more than a half-century has passed since the opening of Country Club Lanes, it has managed to remain a viable business. And its continued success is a testament to the dedication of its ownership, employees and the fact that entertainment and fun among family and friends never goes out of style.