Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - September 23, 2011

The final strike

Palo Alto Bowl not spared from closure

by Photo essay Veronica Weber

Story by Casey Moore

Petite, gray-haired Grace Siesbuttel, 83, shuffled forward, 15-pound bowling ball clutched in her arms. She gently swung her right wrist down, then backward, then forward, and dropped the ball, her eyes tracing its path as it rolled steadily down the worn wooden lane.

Five pins crashed with a flutter and tumbled over.

Siesbuttel and fellow members of the Guys and Dolls Jubilee bowling league came for their final game Wednesday, Sept. 14, two days before the 60-year-old Palo Alto Bowl on El Camino Real shut down for good.

The closure of the Bowl — set to be replaced by 26 townhouses and a brand-name hotel — leaves Palo Alto without a local alley for the first time in decades.

The Bowl's atmosphere was quieter than usual in the last few weeks as many savored their final moments in the alley.

"This is the only bowling alley I've ever come to," said Jeff Bradshaw, a middle-aged Palo Alto native who attended the Bowl's last $1-game Monday night with his brother Bryan.

"I remember taking bowling lessons here as a kid," Bryan Bradshaw said wistfully.

Mountain View residents Jessica Waldbauer, 18, and Tori Waldbauer, 14, had been coming to the Bowl for nine years. The closest alternate location, Homestead Lanes in Sunnyvale, doesn't feel quite like home.

"It might be cheap but it's not the same," Jessica said.

Among the Guys and Dolls, the mood felt bittersweet. As usual, the floor was littered with black bowling bags, the speckled fuchsia countertops decorated with opaque plastic beverage cups. But the normally boisterous brigade tempered their cheers to reflect upon their experiences.

Siesbuttel remembered bringing her five children here — three girls, two boys — starting in the 1960s. Her memories of the alley range from a high-profile shooting out front in the late '60s to a personal high score of 255, achieved while pregnant with one of her daughters.

Although her average score has dropped from a 170 to a 95 over the years, Siesbuttel is undeterred. She plans to transfer to Homestead Lanes to continue bowling.

"So long as the people I bowl with don't mind, I don't care," she said smiling, her dangling bowling-pin earrings framing her face.

For Alli Kinnear, childcare center director for Google, the league connected her to her team of fellow Google employees as well as other community members.

"There's people of all different walks of life here who just like bowling," Kinnear said. "It's an unusual little cross-section of our community."

Additionally, "There are days when the best thing possible is to throw a heavy object at other heavy objects and knock 'em down," she said, laughing. "We'll say, 'The pins have faces today.'"

Nearby bowler Georgia Williams described socializing at the Bowl as "a family reunion." Williams first came to Palo Alto Bowl as a 1-year-old in 1963 with her mother, Bettie Adams. In July, she threw Adams' 70th birthday party at the alley.

"I've bowled all over the Bay Area, but I always come back here," Williams said.

The mother-daughter duo spent their last night at the Bowl laughing loudly and exchanging sarcastic jokes. But between games, Williams looked out over the crowd somberly, tapping her teal-tipped fingernails in contemplation.

"It really is special for me," Williams said. "I'm going to miss it."

Staff Photographer Veronica Weber can be emailed at vweber@paweekly.com.

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