A group of bowlers dismayed about a plan to demolish the Palo Alto Bowl plan to petition the Palo Alto City Council to save the 53-year-old alley.
A four-story hotel and 26 homes are slated for the 3.6-acre site, located on El Camino Real at the border of Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos.
Barry Swenson Builder purchased the property in May 2007. The bowling alley could be demolished as early as spring 2010, when its lease on the property is up, according to Rex Golobic, owner of Palo Alto Bowl.
But Daniel Mart, a Mountain View resident, hopes to prevent that from happening. He's started a petition drive, saying it's not too late, even though the Palo Alto Planning Commission recommended approval of the hotel and home plans on June 10.
"Palo Alto does not need any more hotels and condos. Much too often in history, cities have destroyed character," he said.
So far, more than 380 people, including residents of Palo Alto, Los Altos and Sunnyvale, have signed the petition online at www.move.to/savethepaloaltobowl.
People posting on the site have expressed loyalty to the alley.
"Palo Alto Bowl is the core of my social unit, and I know it is the same to many others. Getting rid of it would deny the area of a source of classic and safe fun that is otherwise sparse in our area. It's not just a place of history. It's still used to this day by many, many people," wrote Jeff Hayman.
Rosalyn Carson agreed.
"My kids and I have used Palo Alto Bowl for years. There are no other bowling alleys around here to go to. What will we do without it?" she wrote. "We have many hotels with empty rooms on El Camino Real."
According to Susan Barnes, the city's economic resources/redevelopment program manager, Palo Alto has 1,819 hotel rooms, with an average occupancy of 50 to 60 percent.
On Tuesday afternoon, the lanes were filled with people from all backgrounds: grandparents from India learning to bowl with their grandchildren; foster grandparents introducing children to bowling; old-timers; and mothers in for a little quality and bonding time with their daughters, high-fiving a strike or a split.
Billy Oliver has been at the Palo Alto Bowl since the 1970s. Retired, he comes here every day, he said.
"It stabilizes the community -- it's a chance for people to meet," he said.
Golobic, the alley's owner for more than 20 years, is surprised by and grateful for the support, he said. He would like for the Palo Alto Bowl to remain open.
His family has owned bowling alleys since 1937. At one time, he owned as many as 15. But now he owns just three: Palo Alto Bowl, Bel Mateo Bowl in Belmont and Serra Bowl in Daly City, he said.
He recalled the days when Palo Alto had two alleys -- including the Indian Bowl, where Golobic, a Stanford University class of 1945 alum, used to hang out with friends. The Palo Alto Creamery was nearby, and students would bowl and then meet up for milk shakes, he said.
The sport is still popular, he added: More people use the lanes from Monday through Friday than use the golf course on a single day.
But the alleys "take up an awful lot of space and can't compete with people who want to build housing and retail. There are still lots of new centers being built all of the time, but not in coastal California," he said.
The principal method for keeping the bowling alley on the site would be if the city were to view the recreational value of the land on par with other uses, Golobic said.
He pointed to the Homestead Lanes in Cupertino, where city officials zoned the land for recreational use, he said.
Scott Asencio, assistant general manager at Homestead, said the bowling alley serves as a recreational center for high school teams, De Anza College, the city's Parks and Recreation programs, and special-needs groups and was considered too valuable of a public resource to eliminate, he said.
Some bowlers said they envision that a spiffed-up Palo Alto Bowl could serve a similar function, where city recreational programs take place.
The rezoning idea could run into some legal issues, however, according to Palo Alto's current planning manager, Amy French. Rezoning is possible, but raises questions as to the fairness to the land owner, who has submitted his plans for the hotel and homes "in good faith."
But the hopeful Mart said Palo Alto Bowl remains relevant to the community. It provides many unseen services that improve quality of life, including an anti-drug "kids bowl free" summer program that offers two free games each day throughout the summer. And the Special Olympics trains there, Mart said.
"There has been a huge argument by many people that there aren't other nearby spots to congregate as great as Palo Alto Bowl," he said.