News

Bowlers fight to save Palo Alto landmark

Petitioners hope to 'change status quo' of city planning

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.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Save the Bowl 2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2009 at 11:33 am

Bowling is a sport enjoyed by young and old, able-bodied and disabled. Whenever I've gone with grandchildren, it was full. I've even had to wait for lanes. We don't need another hotel when we tore down one a half-mile away. We don't need more housing with the building of Mayfield and Altaire. We are already taxing the limits of infrastructure and traffic. San Antonio is at gridlock and the JCC and Altaire are still to be occupied. I wrote about this before and never got a response so I am glad that someone is taking up the cause. I would like to sign a petition but not online. Is there one at the bowling alley? Good luck, Mr. Daniel Mart.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Consider this: The bowling alley wasn't making a decent profit, despite its loyal but limited clientele and lots of memories among citizens who actually did NOT bowl regularly anymore. I bowled there and have wonderful memories too.

However...the owner could not operate at a loss out of nostalgia and probably could not afford the millions (yes--million$, folks) to relocate or build a new smaller bowling alley elsewhere in Palo Alto.

Nevertheless, he could retire on the incredible profits from a sale. So he decided to close his unprofitable business and sell his property. (Or if he rented, just substitute "unable to pay his rent." Is the property owner required to subsidize him with a below-market rent?)

A bowling alley on El Camino was simply not feasible anymore. End of story.

As for the developer....he is not spending millions in a vacuum. The zoning plan supports his project and he -- and the bank who is financing the project -- did some marketing analysis to see if redevelopment was feasible.

The community's role is to ensure that the design and density are not outrageous and do not have a deleterious effect. Palo Alto: go for the increased traffic on El Camino argument.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm

We don't have anything 'normal' around Palo Alto anymore. We lost Dennys, we don't have decent supermarkets, they want to take away the bowling alley. Must everything in this City be upscale or dense housing?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

"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."

This speaks volumes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hong Kongize
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 22, 2009 at 9:03 am

If developers have their say, they will make "Hong Kong" (dense housing) out of Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2009 at 9:11 am

It all boils down to what our quality of life in Palo Alto is becoming. For those of us who live in Palo Alto, we are gradually discovering that most of our amenities are now outside Palo Alto. Affordable shopping, decent grocery stores, large movie theaters showing the popular movies, and now it seems fun recreational activities, all have to take place outside Palo Alto. Reading the growing up in Palo Alto thread reminds us of all the fun things that used to be in Palo Alto and have now gone.

We are left with a City landscape that is full of housing and derelict sites of reminders of days gone by. Alma and Edgewood, Midtown gas station, and soon the PA Bowl.

The housing is not selling, hotel rooms are not occupied. I suspect the developer is in no hurry to start his redevelopment of this site as talk of the Bowl closing has been going on for some years. Sadly, I suspect this site will soon be another derelict, fenced off site, blighting our City.

Of course, we should not let this happen. Even if it is a done deal, we should not allow it to turn into another victim of dereliction.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 22, 2009 at 10:50 am

380 people sign a petition? Must be a slow news day.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2009 at 11:33 am

Consider organizing to save Casa Olga, which involves disadvantaged lives, instead of the Bowling Alley.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Pog
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Its a silly game anyway. Expensive, too heavy balls for kids, unhealthy air and of marginal skill benefit.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Aug 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Casa Olga and the bowling alley should both be saved. These are the kind of community functions I would like to see Palo Alto undertake.

We do not need more offices, condos, or dense projects.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by TheColonel
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Does this mean no more Thirsty Thursdays?

And is this still where 20-something Paly grad part-time Foothillers get hammered on 25 cent beers and beat up Stanford students?

Because, I mean, those were, like, good times.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

What's the extent here? If these man-made city planning rules were to be followed by the letter for all landmarks, would it be perfectly alright to just tear down the Creamery, Stanford Theatre, the 100+ year-old brick building in Downtown, and the Aquarius? So much has been destroyed over the years; what ever happened to a real sense of community? Of character?

The status quo has to change. For the good of ourselves, of our communities, and ultimately, of society.

Over 1630 supporters, people ... please join them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

And Mike, Stanford Theatre was an "extremely" endangered dump before the Packards saved it; knowing its history, would you have said good riddance to that building? The Guild, Menlo Park's former burlesque joint, has been in desperate need of a restoration for years; would you say good riddance to that? Same with JJ's Blues in San Jose and the Century Domes (historic dome film palaces are about as endanged in America as classic bowling alleys, perhaps even moreso; San Jose is home to several of the last remaining few).

There is always a very thin but fine line with history, my friend. We can either choose to protect the simple and romantic things in life that actually have a great story to tell and lessons for current and future generations, or we can just give in to current society's fake facade; a facade masked as "progress."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 23, 2009 at 7:42 pm

If you want to save it, you buy it. Look, someone has spent a fortune to acquire the property, in a fair market. You don't have a say on what they should do with it. We are becoming worse than Berkeley or San Francisco.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 12:14 am

First off, putting up a facebook page and gathering a small handful of signatures is not exactly activism. When Mr. Mart comes up with a business plan, I'll listen.

Second-

"If developers have their say, they will make "Hong Kong" (dense housing) out of Palo Alto"

The parenthetical is a nice attempt at covering the real intent of this statement, but it falls flat. Not even close to the first Palo Altan I've heard lately complain about certain ethnic groups "taking over" Palo Alto. Guess the soul of PA hasnt changed much from the redlining of the 1950's, has it? Very sad.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 8:27 am

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

If you don't support us, don't join, that's it. Get a heart, guys; get a life. If you don't understand our basic underlying argument here and don't care about history and want to develop everything, then that is extremely sad.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by billy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2009 at 8:41 am

I agree with Eric. If you want to save the business, then you need to put together a solid business plan. Wishing that some eccentric billionaire will rescue you is likely to fail. So is hoping for a government bailout. You need to be a lot more proactive than just passing around a petition. Who is the petition addressed to anyway?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 10:25 am

Daniel, your position becomes very, very hard to take seriously when you cant even coherently discuss it with someone that doesnt see you eye to eye.

email based petitions are such a low barrier-to-entry thing, nobody will take it seriously, nor should they, frankly. Do some heavy lifting, get a plan, DO something


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2009 at 10:26 am

You can't "make" the PA Bowling Alley stay in business. Who are you to say that he can't sell his business, his building for a profit? The guy has worked hard all his life - if he wants to sell and make a wonderful profit on his real estate, that's his business and wonderful good fortune.

Show him the money...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 10:30 am

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

I am being more pro-active; "we're" being a lot more pro-active ... we are not some citizens naively passing around a petition ... that alone doesn't do much, I agree.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by billy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2009 at 10:40 am

How about telling us exactly what you are doing to save this business besides passing around a petition. This is entirely about money, right? All you need is a better business plan than converting the land to condos.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2009 at 10:48 am

The land under the bowling alley and the adjoining small strip mall and Motel Six was sold to the developers about two years ago.

A hotel and condos are compatible with the zoning for those parcels.

People unhappy with the direction development has been taking in Palo Alto need to work towards revising the Comprehensive Plan and the associated zoning.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 11:26 am

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by billy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2009 at 11:47 am

Are you asking the city to buy the land back from the developer? I do not think that is a great use of tax payer money. Or are you looking for a private buyer? There have been numerous threads about this subject and I still do not understand what your plan is.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Save the Bowl 2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Two question: 1) Where can I sign a petition, and 2) does everything have to make a profit? I started writing about the demise of the Bowl about a year ago and nobody paid attention. Now, as it seems a sure thing, we are trying to stop it. Let's hope it goes the way of Alma plaza--stalled for years and years.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

Web Link

And I don't want to debate this ... if you dont support us, don't join us.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Daniel

I am one of your supporters and have signed your petition. However, you are beginning to sound very arrogant.

Some good ideas and some serious questions have been asked. I think you will get more help if you could answer some of these questions and listen to the ideas.

I will still support your cause, but not because of your attitude but because I think it is worthwhile.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel Mart
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

I apologize if I do; it is definitely and obviously not my intent. Part of it I think an anger towards a couple naysayers who have acted very rudely towards me on other issues before on this forum as well as this issue; a few of my words might have come off as overly-angry or what have you, and for this I am sorry.

It is also the nature of the web@times; I know that Ive misinterpreted "attitudes" on forums, FB and AIM before.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Whine whine whine
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2009 at 6:35 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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