News

Palo Alto Bowl, Midpeninsula's last alley, set to close

Local closure follows nationwide trend, leaving local bowlers in the gutter

Palo Alto Bowl owner Rhythm Smith sat Monday facing a sea of empty lanes, wringing her hands -- her left, with its long, milk-white nails, and her right, the bowling hand. She was distraught about the impending closure of the local institution, which still bears many of the sights and sounds reminiscent of its founding days in 1957. Its shutdown on Sept. 16 represents not only the loss of her business but the continuation of a nationwide downward spiral for traditional bowling alleys.

Palo Alto Bowl has been on death's door for some time. The fatal blow landed in December 2009, when the Palo Alto City Council approved a plan to demolish the alley, as well as the nearby Motel 6 and a small retail strip, and replace it with a mixed-use project consisting of a major brand hotel and 26 townhouses. Since talk about the closure began surfacing around six years ago, more than 5,000 Palo Altans and others have signed petitions, joined Facebook groups and protested the decision at City Hall in vain.

Demolition was initially scheduled for last fall, but Barry Swenson Builder chose to postpone the redevelopment and extend Smith's lease, citing economic constraints on construction. According to Smith, Aaron Barger at Swenson informed her of the current timeframe "two or three weeks ago."

Barger said he now hopes to begin construction prior to the end of the year.

At 4329 El Camino Real, nearly halfway between Charleston and San Antonio Roads, Palo Alto Bowl sits on prime property. Though Smith said the alley was and is financially stable, the revenue from the center simply hasn't been enough for the property owners to justify keeping a sizable parcel of Silicon Valley land wrapped up in recreation.

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Since the owner of Mel's in Redwood City decided to shut his doors in May, the closure of Palo Alto Bowl leaves the Midpeninsula without a single lane -- a striking condition considering the former significance of the bowling alley within American community life. Smith said she doesn't foresee a new center opening anytime soon -- available land is too small and too expensive -- forcing local bowlers to drive to Cupertino or San Mateo.

For many avid league bowlers, the commute will be surmountable, if inconvenient. High school students will choose other activities.

But for others Sept. 16 represents the final frame in a longer, more meaningful game. Smith said that Palo Alto Bowl is the only house in the area that caters to special-needs groups such as the Special Olympics and blind and disabled veterans. Smith became particularly agitated speaking about the effects of the closure on such groups.

"My veterans are more upset than anybody," she said. "They're asking me to do something, but what can I do?"

Smith added that she has numerous regulars in senior leagues, including many in their 90s, who can't travel and will have to hang up their shoes in September.

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"One woman who has a solid 110 average just bowled a 201 the other day. She was so happy," Smith said.

Opponents of the closure have cited the alley's importance to local special-needs and disabled communities as among the primary justifications for its preservation. In an email to the Palo Alto Weekly, Dan Mart, architect of the "Save the Palo Alto Bowl" online campaign, accused the City Council of "institutional discrimination toward the disabled." He also decried the loss of a locally significant establishment that has brought "character" to the city. Similar sentiments have been echoed throughout opposition efforts, which have targeted not the developers but the City Council, for voting for the redevelopment.

Smith, too, noted that she gets along well with Barger and has no animosity for Barry Swenson Builder or the property owners. But she had hoped the city would step in.

More than 52 million U.S. adults and almost 20 million children bowled at some point last year, making it the nation's No. 1 sport in terms of broad participation, according to studies provided by the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America. Bart Burger, vice president of development for the association, said bowling stands out because it has "very few barriers to entry."

However, he noted, while overall participation appear to be holding strong, the number of bowling facilities in the U.S. has been in steady decline for decades. At its height in the 1960s, Burger estimated that there were 7,000 to 8,000 alleys in operation throughout the country. Now there are only about 5,000.

A major contributor to the drop, he said, is that many proprietors who opened their alleys during the bowling boom in the 1950s and '60s have been unwilling or unable to upgrade their facilities to compete with larger family-entertainment centers, which offer bowling along with other amenities such as indoor climbing and laser tag. Rising property values, an enticement to sell properties, have also been a factor in other areas.

Burger said family-entertainment centers and smaller "hybrid" bowling centers that remove a few lanes in order to offer other amenities, may be the most viable means of survival for alley proprietors.

Burger also said that something must be done to compensate for a major decline in organized league play.

"Imagine a restaurant that had guaranteed patrons for 30 weeks straight," Burger said. "Unfortunately, people aren't making as many long-term commitments like that anymore."

After the last pins drop at Palo Alto Bowl, Smith said she's not sure what she'll do.

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Palo Alto Bowl, Midpeninsula's last alley, set to close

Local closure follows nationwide trend, leaving local bowlers in the gutter

by Jeff Carr / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 1:40 pm

Palo Alto Bowl owner Rhythm Smith sat Monday facing a sea of empty lanes, wringing her hands -- her left, with its long, milk-white nails, and her right, the bowling hand. She was distraught about the impending closure of the local institution, which still bears many of the sights and sounds reminiscent of its founding days in 1957. Its shutdown on Sept. 16 represents not only the loss of her business but the continuation of a nationwide downward spiral for traditional bowling alleys.

Palo Alto Bowl has been on death's door for some time. The fatal blow landed in December 2009, when the Palo Alto City Council approved a plan to demolish the alley, as well as the nearby Motel 6 and a small retail strip, and replace it with a mixed-use project consisting of a major brand hotel and 26 townhouses. Since talk about the closure began surfacing around six years ago, more than 5,000 Palo Altans and others have signed petitions, joined Facebook groups and protested the decision at City Hall in vain.

Demolition was initially scheduled for last fall, but Barry Swenson Builder chose to postpone the redevelopment and extend Smith's lease, citing economic constraints on construction. According to Smith, Aaron Barger at Swenson informed her of the current timeframe "two or three weeks ago."

Barger said he now hopes to begin construction prior to the end of the year.

At 4329 El Camino Real, nearly halfway between Charleston and San Antonio Roads, Palo Alto Bowl sits on prime property. Though Smith said the alley was and is financially stable, the revenue from the center simply hasn't been enough for the property owners to justify keeping a sizable parcel of Silicon Valley land wrapped up in recreation.

Since the owner of Mel's in Redwood City decided to shut his doors in May, the closure of Palo Alto Bowl leaves the Midpeninsula without a single lane -- a striking condition considering the former significance of the bowling alley within American community life. Smith said she doesn't foresee a new center opening anytime soon -- available land is too small and too expensive -- forcing local bowlers to drive to Cupertino or San Mateo.

For many avid league bowlers, the commute will be surmountable, if inconvenient. High school students will choose other activities.

But for others Sept. 16 represents the final frame in a longer, more meaningful game. Smith said that Palo Alto Bowl is the only house in the area that caters to special-needs groups such as the Special Olympics and blind and disabled veterans. Smith became particularly agitated speaking about the effects of the closure on such groups.

"My veterans are more upset than anybody," she said. "They're asking me to do something, but what can I do?"

Smith added that she has numerous regulars in senior leagues, including many in their 90s, who can't travel and will have to hang up their shoes in September.

"One woman who has a solid 110 average just bowled a 201 the other day. She was so happy," Smith said.

Opponents of the closure have cited the alley's importance to local special-needs and disabled communities as among the primary justifications for its preservation. In an email to the Palo Alto Weekly, Dan Mart, architect of the "Save the Palo Alto Bowl" online campaign, accused the City Council of "institutional discrimination toward the disabled." He also decried the loss of a locally significant establishment that has brought "character" to the city. Similar sentiments have been echoed throughout opposition efforts, which have targeted not the developers but the City Council, for voting for the redevelopment.

Smith, too, noted that she gets along well with Barger and has no animosity for Barry Swenson Builder or the property owners. But she had hoped the city would step in.

More than 52 million U.S. adults and almost 20 million children bowled at some point last year, making it the nation's No. 1 sport in terms of broad participation, according to studies provided by the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America. Bart Burger, vice president of development for the association, said bowling stands out because it has "very few barriers to entry."

However, he noted, while overall participation appear to be holding strong, the number of bowling facilities in the U.S. has been in steady decline for decades. At its height in the 1960s, Burger estimated that there were 7,000 to 8,000 alleys in operation throughout the country. Now there are only about 5,000.

A major contributor to the drop, he said, is that many proprietors who opened their alleys during the bowling boom in the 1950s and '60s have been unwilling or unable to upgrade their facilities to compete with larger family-entertainment centers, which offer bowling along with other amenities such as indoor climbing and laser tag. Rising property values, an enticement to sell properties, have also been a factor in other areas.

Burger said family-entertainment centers and smaller "hybrid" bowling centers that remove a few lanes in order to offer other amenities, may be the most viable means of survival for alley proprietors.

Burger also said that something must be done to compensate for a major decline in organized league play.

"Imagine a restaurant that had guaranteed patrons for 30 weeks straight," Burger said. "Unfortunately, people aren't making as many long-term commitments like that anymore."

After the last pins drop at Palo Alto Bowl, Smith said she's not sure what she'll do.

Comments

Scrub
Stierlin Estates
on Aug 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm
Scrub, Stierlin Estates
on Aug 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I remember having bowling classes in high school at the old Mtn. View bowling alley.
We would even smoke inside while bowling. Ahhhh. The good old days.


Alexandra
North Whisman
on Aug 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm
Alexandra, North Whisman
on Aug 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm

While it's sad to see a long-time institution close, I am not completely surprised. Back in October 2009 I booked my pre-wedding/ after-rehearsal dinner party here at the lanes for about 30 people on a Thursday night. When we showed up at the designated time the clerk behind the counter said they were booked and had a league or some other group there and he could now not accomodate our party!! With customer service and poor planning like that, it was probably only a matter of time before the bowling alley closed with or without new development coming in. Luckily we found an alley in Santa Clara (I think) that could accomodate us on such short notice that evening.


Really?
Blossom Valley
on Aug 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm
Really?, Blossom Valley
on Aug 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm

How classy, a pre-wedding/after-rehearsal party at a bowling alley.

By the way, customer service has nothing to do with the closing of the bowling alley.


MVFlyer
Monta Loma
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm
MVFlyer, Monta Loma
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I'm sure the PA city council members don't consider a bowling alley or a low cost motel vital to the area--they probably think they're a blight, and can get much more $$$ from pricy townhomes and a high cost hotel.


Thom
Jackson Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm
Thom, Jackson Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Another sad thing that has come about. Camino Bowl was shut down yrs ago leaving Palo Alto the only game close to Mtn View and Palo Alto. I think it's a shame to see and I will miss it. I'm in my mid 50's and bowled at Camino and PA Bowl since the mid 70's. I won't go to Homestead Bowl so for me the day the bowl closes I guess I'll call it a done deal.


tommygee54
Rex Manor
on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm
tommygee54, Rex Manor
on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm

When I first bowled in this alley, it was called Fiesta Lanes, and you could walk into it from the restaurant facing El Camino. My best order of Onion Rings came from this restaurant---at least a 30 count dish for only 75 cents. Now you know how long ago this was, in the late 1960's. And George the owner (I think) was a very nice guy, even when I last saw him in the late 80's or early 90's. As for the alley, I bowled in there ALOT, even at Camino Bowl. Then Camino Bowl closed so I bowled at Fiesta exclusivly. Then when I joined bowling leagues as an adult, I moved over to Homestead Lanes as it was THE new place. But I have not bowled there since 2003 as I live in Mtn. View. When Palo Alto Bowl closes, Homestead Lanes will be closer. I have never bowled at Moonlight Lanes.

Again sorry to see Fiesta Lanes closing for good...


Wendy
Cuesta Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm
Wendy, Cuesta Park
on Aug 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm

When I grew up in this area in the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a bowling alley on the Stanford campus that I could bike to! I do think it is sad that the nearest bowling alleys will be so far away now. Perhaps someone will decide to open a mixed-use facility as the article suggested is the wave of the future.


MoveIt
Cuernavaca
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm
MoveIt, Cuernavaca
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Why not salvage all the alleys and equipment and re-open the place at the new San Antonio Center? Mountain View needs more recreational places and this new complex needs a fun spot for kids, families, seniors, singles.. to hang out.


Resident
Blossom Valley
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm
Resident, Blossom Valley
on Aug 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Adding a bowling alley to the new development on San Antonio is a great idea. Barring that, why not include bowling in the re-development plan. It seems like an attraction for a hotel. What corporate offsite wouldn't be better followed with a team building event?


Amber
Gemello
on Aug 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm
Amber , Gemello
on Aug 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I moved away from the Bay Area 15 years ago and away from PA MV 20 years ago. I will miss Fiesta Lanes just as I mourned Camino Bowl closing from afar. I miss bowling at Tressider Union as well. I am trying to get my husband to join a mixed league here in Texas with me but don't see it happening. Good bye


tommygee54
Rex Manor
on Aug 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm
tommygee54, Rex Manor
on Aug 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Yes that is what the new San Antonio development needs---a bowling alley. The leagues will really keep it busy. Now all we have to do is get the City of Mtn. View to accept that idea...


The Eye
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Aug 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm
The Eye, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I have fond memories of bowling with my family at Fiesta Lanes, back in the 1970's, and then, years later, the private investigation agency I worked for was hired by them in the 1990's to send me to play customer, to ensure that the bartenders were not serving free drinks to their friends, and dipping into the till. Good times, all of'em!


tommygee54
Rex Manor
on Aug 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm
tommygee54, Rex Manor
on Aug 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I do not know why the lanes are empty. Don't people go out to bowl anymore? I guess at nearly $5 a game, open bowling is too much. In the 60's I could bowl many games for 25 cents each. Now those were the days.


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