A call to action to preserve lawn bowling and Alhambra's parks

  • Photo courtesy of Alhambra Bowls Club.

Alhambra, did you know there is a lawn bowling green in your very own Almansor Park that offers free lessons and trial memberships to all interested bodies? Did you also know that the City is considering removing lawn bowling from Alhambra as part of a larger project to accommodate a multi-level parking structure in Almansor Park? If not, I am here to tell you about it and let you know why this threatened public asset is important to the community.

First, what is lawn bowling, or “bowls” as it is formally called?

Many people liken it to bocce ball, but perhaps a more appropriate comparison is the Winter Olympic sport of curling where spherical stones are pushed down a rink of ice to a center point at the end of the rink. The concept of all three sports, bowls, bocce ball, and curling is the same. A person, or a team, must get their bowls (not balls), stones, or bocce balls closest to a center point on a rink. In curling, the center point is called the button and it is stationary at the end of the rink. But in bocce ball and bowls, the center point is a smaller ball, called a jack that is rarely in the same place and is moveable during play. The primary difference between bocce ball and bowls is that you cannot toss your bowls at the jack, you must roll them, and the bowls do not go straight down the rink, they have a bias that makes them curl inwards when they slow down. Thus, even though bowls is not a physically demanding sport, it requires a very high level of concentration and the game allows for a great deal of strategic depth. Below is a YouTube video that describes the game.

So why is lawn bowling important to Alhambra and communities at large?

First, Lawn Bowling Provides a Sport for All Ages, Abilities, and Skill Levels. One of the great benefits of lawn bowling is that it’s a sport that appeals to all demographics. People as young as ten and as old as 100 can actively participate in lawn bowling. Unlike basketball, tennis, baseball, soccer and football, lawn bowling does not require great strength, stamina and mobility. Indeed, 60% of Alhambra Bowls Club (ABC) members are senior citizens, and some have disabilities that prevent them from engaging in other sports.

Second, Lawn Bowling Promotes Healthy Living. Lawn bowling provides an activity that is healthy but not overly stressful on the body. Throughout the course of one 12-end game, participants walk over one mile. In addition, lawn bowling stretches the muscles and improves stability and balance; is mentally beneficial since it is a quiet sport that invokes deep concentration and strategic thinking; and provides a venue for social interaction, learning and fun. For these reasons, lawn bowling is endorsed by the American Heart Association as a heart healthy activity, and the California AARP has specifically endorsed the Alhambra Bowls Club.

Third, Lawn Bowling Promotes Social Cohesion and Camaraderie. According to the most recent national census, Asians account for 53% of Alhambra's citizens, and 58% of all Alhambra businesses are Asian owned and operated. So it is no coincidence that 66% of ABC's members are of Asian ethnicity. Not only are we a majority-minority club within southern California, but nearly all of our Asian members are also immigrants. Thus, ABC provides an environment of safety and refuge to many of its members who share the commonality of English as their second language.

The classic bowls stance.

Fourth, Lawn Bowling is a Unique Sport not Offered by Most Communities that is Good for Business. Since most cities do not offer lawn bowling to their citizens, people from all over the region come to Alhambra to lawn bowl. Some of ABC's members live as far away as Whittier and Azusa. And because of the centrality of Alhambra, tournament and league play brings people in from all over southern California. This is good for the City's bottom line, as ABC members as well as lawn bowlers from other clubs who come to ABC for league and tournament play are spending money in Alhambra to eat and shop when they are not on the lawn bowling green. Thus, lawn bowling is an incentive to come to Alhambra, and every lawn bowler is a potential customer to Alhambra's business community.

Fifth, The Alhambra Bowls Club Promotes the City of Alhambra. ABC has one of the strongest contingencies of tournament bowlers in southern California. There are tournaments nearly every weekend in SoCal and there is usually at least one ABC member at every one of them proudly wearing a club shirt and nametag. Not only do ABC members consistently participate in league play and attend most tournaments, they often win them. So good are Alhambra's lawn bowlers that two of them were recently selected to the U.S. National Team, which represents America in international play.

So Why Should You Care?

In short, Alhambra is lacking in park green space, affordable housing, and limited clientele activities. Yet the City is proposing to build a parking structure that will further diminish the City's green space while at the same time destroy public assets that benefit seniors and the disabled. Such a structure could also increase traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, illicit activities, obstruct views, and lower the housing values of the very people that this structure is supposed to benefit.

To this point, L.A. County completed a Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Study in May 2016 that included a specific report on Alhambra. The study reported that the County average is 3.3 park acres per 1,000 persons. Policy 4.4.1 in the City of Alhambra's own General Plan states the following as one of its goals, "Promote the designation and/or acquisition of open space areas to meet existing and future open space and parks needs of City residents by providing open space in parkland in accordance with the standards of four acres of local park space for every 1,000 persons." Yet, the L.A. County Parks and Rec. Needs Assessment Study reported that Alhambra has 0.9 park acres per 1,000 city residents, and was designated by the study as a "High Park Need" city. Thus, the City is taking a step backward by removing existing park space and replacing it with a parking structure that will diminish the entire area.  We should be doing the opposite.

Bowls as a sport requires concentration, strategy and city support.

Minutes from a May 2015 City Council Meeting reveal that three city council members were supportive of moving the tennis courts to the lawn bowling area in order to make way for a new parking structure. However, at a meeting on June 21 with Alhambra's new City Manager, Mark Yokoyama, the Alhambra Bowls Club was informed that the City was now considering options to preserve lawn bowling. These options include, but are not limited to, rebuilding the current lawn bowling greens, or building a new lawn bowling green in a different location, in addition to greater City support and promotion of the club in the future. In an email, Mr. Yokoyama clarified, "It is a very complex, dynamic and ever changing issue that is driven by many things like legal issues, budget issues and what funds to use or can be used, practical issues, city priorities, etc. Again, we do not know what any final plans will be nor can I promise anything at this point."

Alhambra should be increasing its park green space and limited clientele activities to improve City aesthetic and the lives of its residents, but instead, the City is proposing to decrease and destroy green space and park assets that benefit the public at large. Lawn bowling and parks are good for Alhambra, parking structures in residential areas are not. ABC hopes that the City will diligently work to preserve and improve the state of lawn bowling in Alhambra. Preserve Alhambra's parks, preserve the Alhambra Bowls Club, and preserve the integrity of the City of Alhambra.

If you would like to try lawn bowling, ABC offers free lessons and two-month trial memberships. Interested people can contact Sean McMorris via email at mcmorris23@gmail.com for English, or Raymond Che at 626-284-8557 for Chinese.

City Update on ABC and the proposed parking structure: City Manager Mark Yokoyama tells the Alhambra Source via email that preserving ABC is part of an overall parks improvement plan that the city is considering over the next couple of months. He also notes that the city hasn’t yet made a decision on a proposed parking structure, and that it is also one of many options under consideration for this plan. 

To learn more about the proposed parking structure at Almansor park, read our previous coverage here, as well the results of our reader poll on such a proposal

9 thoughts on “A call to action to preserve lawn bowling and Alhambra's parks”

  1. The bowling green is constantly vacant. It seems to only be in use a couple days a week for a few hours. I think this space should be opened up and used as a fustal/soccer pitch.

    Is that lawn real grass or artificial turf?

    1. Hi Gino,

      The lawn bowling green is not constantly vacant. This is a misconception some at City Hall have perpetuated. The greens are used almost every day of the week. But because the City has not provided the club with lighting for evening play, we are the only sports facility unable to engage in evening play. This severely limits when we can bowl, because in the winter it gets dark before many members get off work, and in the summer, it is too hot to lawn bowl on most days until after 6 PM. To this point, you will notice that Almansor Park is most busy in the evenings and that is because it is the coolest and most convenient time of day to engage in sport and leisure activities. So the basketball and tennis courts are busy, but the lawn bowlers cannot participate for a lack of lighting.

      Furthermore, the City has destroyed the club’s artificial turf green by first cutting two large holes in it without replacing the turf, then by power watching it. So, this has also contributed to less play than what is typical at our club.

      Yet, all of these things are a product of the City’s unwillingness to support the club over the years, as well as its outright destruction of our facility.

      If you would like to try the game, we club bowl on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 PM and every Saturday morning at 9 AM. Club bowlers are on the green all times of the day and week, so if you see one, just ask abut the game.

  2. Philip Buchanan

    Wow! I love lawn bowling! I’m a long time resident and am going to sign up to play! thanks!

  3. Great article, and very timely since the city of Alhambra wants to cover the greens with concrete to make more tennis or basketball courts. People go to parks to get away from concrete. They go to parks to enjoy the grass and wildlife. And yet, the city wants to cover the grass bowling greens with more concrete.

    Alhambra doesn’t appreciate the wonderful little gem it has in the Alhambra Bowls Club. It certainly doesn’t appreciate that two of it’s members have been named to Team USA for Bowls USA and will be competing internationally representing the United States.

    Take some time to come over to Alhambra Bowls Club at Almansor Park and discover lawn bowling. We would love to introduce you and your family to the game.

  4. No one says to “give up” so called “existing” green space. The question is to look at yourself in the mirror and ask who’s fault is it!

  5. The thought of giving up this existing green space that is used for community gathering, recreation, and rejuvination is just jaw dropping.  Like the author says, we should be doing the opposite.  The city has had its opportunities, but ended up selling its land to developers or being forced to sell its properties when the state shutdown the redevelopment abuses.  This is hard to take.

  6. Lack of green space for our city? What city hasn’t cried for lack of green space?! Why not blame the single family home owners who have caused sprawl and continue to stop development for more in-fill housing, thus causing more sprawl elsewhere and destroying the green spaces there! I remember a time when Walnut and Chino Hills were full of green spaces. Now they are full of housing tracts because anti-development in this city and elsewhere continue to destroy our metropolitan peripheries. People are forced to seek housing in other places and that’s what destroys green space in general, not just this city!

    Nothing new here folks…

  7. Great article Sean, Well articulated, and a real work of art..
    Well done lad…

    Bill

  8. Great article Sean,
    I do hope that the city realizes that lawn bowling helps make Alhambra a more vibrant, diverse and inclusive city. Thank you for taking the time to introduce us to Lawn Bowling and I will be out there trying to compete with you soon!

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