When Bonnie and Woodrow White built South Salt Lake’s Bonwood Bowl in 1957, they made two lasting decisions.
The first was creating a unique moniker, combining the first few letters of each of their first names.
The second was installing a giant sign — that included an 8-foot bowling pin and ball — in front of the business at 2500 S. Main.
For the next six decades, the sign served as a Salt Lake County landmark — even making an appearance on Broadway, where it was included in the backdrop of the Tony-winning "Book of Mormon” musical.
Last October, the base of the sign was hit by a drunken driver. The impact shattered portions of the structure. Rather than replace the sign with something more modern, the White family decided to restore it.
It will be officially unveiled Tuesday during a 3 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. From 2 to 5 p.m., the center also will offer bowling and food at discount prices. One line of bowing will be 57 cents each, as will shoe rental, small drinks and fries.
“The sign, being 62 years old, is so iconic and had such a legacy and history behind it," said Emma Dugal, one of the Whites’ five children who now co-own and manage the bowling center. (Bonnie and Woodrow White are deceased.) “We just all felt strongly that we wanted to preserve it as closely as we possibly could. I think my parents would have liked that.”
Fortunately, the ball and the pin, “which are the real iconic parts of the sign," said Dugal, as well as the letters that spell “bowl” were unscathed in the crash.
YESCO (Young Electric Sign Co.), which built the initial sign, manufactured new parts to add to the old ones. The result: a sign that is close to the original. The most notable difference involves Bonwood Bowl’s Trophy Room for those 21 and older. It’s now a “bar-grill” rather than a “lounge.”
Roger Roper, director of the Utah Historic Preservation Office, praised the restoration. “Iconic signs such as this are not only an important part of a business’s identity," he said in a news release, “they become landmarks that help define a community’s unique character.”
Woodrow White and brother Verdi built the alley at the height of the bowling craze. From the moment it opened, the 18-lane center was busy. The Whites quickly expanded, adding 10 lanes and its Trophy Room in 1958.
In 1972, Bonwood added 14 more lanes and became one of the biggest bowling centers in the Salt Lake Valley, Dugal said. It still maintains all 42 lanes today along with the restaurant, bar, pro shop and arcade and video games.
Verdi managed Bonwood in the early years. When he retired, Dugal’s brother Dean White took over. Dean recently retired after managing Bonwood for more than 30 years. Today, Dean’s son, Todd White, is the general manager.
In the 1960s, there were many active bowling leagues at Bonwood, from the Intermountain Young Buddhist League to the Trade Tech Bowling League. Businesses such as Rolfe’s Furniture and Appliances in Kearns would sponsor bowling competitions with cash prizes. Teams had colorful names — such as Star Barber, Rosehill Dairy,or Quality Produce — and would come from across the state to compete.
At one time, the valley featured 11 large bowling centers, Dugal said. Now there are six.
“So many of the centers that were around when Bonwood first opened are gone,” she said, ticking off a list of alleys that have been knocked down, including Ritz Classic Lanes, Rancho Lanes and Fairmont Bowl. “We are one of the last.”
Which is why preserving the sign was so important, Dugal said, noting that the restoration cost more than $25,000. A new sign would have been half that.
The drunken driver, who walked away from the crash, was uninsured, and Bonwood’s insurance paid only a small portion of the replacement.
“From a business point of view, it would have made more sense to do a generic sign,” she said. “But these iconic signs really do belong to the community. They are pieces of community art, and it’s a shame when they go by the wayside. They just don’t make them anymore.”