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Final strike for Palo Alto Bowl

City's last bowling alley closes after 60 years

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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."

Watch the video.

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2011 at 10:53 am

This was a lovely tribute with pictures and videos.

It is such a shame that so many people who enjoyed bowling here can no longer do so.

It is a shame that the Weekly waited until it was closed, making this an obituary rather than a local entertainment feature.

Like this comment
Posted by kongjie
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 23, 2011 at 10:56 am

kongjie is a registered user.

Bowling lanes are pretty narrow. Can't they just preserve them between the townhouses and keep everyone happy?

Like this comment
Posted by Gotta Cry
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Shame Shame Shame on Palo Alto Planning and City Council for letting this happen.

They need to wear this around their collective necks at the next election.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm

The Palo Alto Bowl's closure was set in motion when the city decided to allow housing on the land in 2006. Its fate was sealed by the city council in 2009. Those people who are only now jumping up and down about its closure...where were you back then??

Like this comment
Posted by Gotta Cry
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Resident Too....

Sadly unaware of the implications as they were poorly communicated to the community as a whole.

Nice of you to present yourself at the funeral.

Much appreciated.

Like this comment
Posted by Planning critic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm

The folks that work in the development department have a tough job and are certainly kept busy. No criticism there from me.
However, they don't seem to give a rat sass about enforcing existing zoning or the character of Palo Alto. Developers and builders court them, and the average citizen only interfaces with them when they feel their property, or some sacred local landmark, is in jeopardy.
This whole town is becoming a giant condo association where you almost have to "sit on the board" in order to protect your investment.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Gotta Cry...

Must be nice to be able to sit back and blame people when you don't like what's happened. Did you join those who rallied to save the Bowl in 2009? If not, then...welcome to the funeral!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2011 at 10:42 am

Daniel Mart, a Gunn special ed student graduate has been trying his best for several years to make people aware of what the PA Bowl meant to the disabled and hasn't stopped. vWeb Link

He may not be very clued up on business but he has certainly shown a lot of enthusiasm and effort.

Like this comment
Posted by Duke
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2011 at 10:59 am

If El Camino Real is morphing into a residential street, then where are the commercial buildings going to move to? NIMBYs beware. What about the trendy "mixed use" concept in suburban city planning? They could build the housing on top of the bowling alley. The White House has a bowling alley in it. If it's good enough there, then why not here?

Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2011 at 10:57 am

Bring back the Indian Bowl on Emerson!

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2011 at 11:02 am

The good old days.

Here's part of a story on bowling history in PA from the Palo Alto History Project
Web Link

"In the city’s early days, local establishments such as Castle Bowling Alleys and T.A. Marlowe’s were the places to go. By the mid-
1920s, the bowling scene had shifted over to J.C. Rapp’s College Bowling Alleys, an immense “amusement palace” at 443 Emerson. The building included pool and billiards tables, a Peninsula Creamery soda
fountain, a restaurant, a cigar store and even a barber shop---conceivably in case you wanted to get a trim between frames. A Palo Alto Times article in 1923 informed the public that Rapp was soliciting “high class patronage” for his establishment---perhaps not the type of clientele that would always be associated with the

By the 1940s, local bowlers had moved down the street to Indian Bowl at 735 Emerson, “in the heart of the automobile district.” The purveyor of “the fastest boards in town,” Indian Bowl used the not-so-P.C. Stanford moniker as its namesake and logo. And its offer of 50 dollars to anyone who bowled a perfect 300 game perhaps does not seem so generous until considering that bowling a line (10 frames) cost two dimes until 6 PM and a quarter after that. The Indian Bowl advertisements from that era also recall the pre-
mechanized days of bowling---“Pin boys are always available!” boast the fliers."

BTW Does Stanford's Tressider Union still have bowling lanes?

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I am glad we got rid of the bowling alley. Like liquor stores, they should all be gone.

Like this comment
Posted by Class of '83
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2011 at 10:24 am

The bowling lanes at Tresidder Union are long gone.

Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 26, 2011 at 10:37 am

I agree with John, bowling alleys are like liquor stores...wait...WHAT!?!? Ohhhhhh, they're things that John doesn't like. Well then obviously they should all be shut down.

What's next John?

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm

this would have met with much more protest if the students in the townhouses would be attending PAUSD instead of Santa Rita
that stretch of el camino is much safer since the deadheads stopped camping there during concert week

Like this comment
Posted by Jan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm

My kids and I enjoyed the free bowling program during the Summer. It was a throwback to simpler times. We will miss it!

Like this comment
Posted by what the #@^
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Over 60% of the City of Palo Alto Development Center employees are now contract employees.Those making local zoning, building, etc. decisions are made from company employees that have won outsourcing contracts thru the city. You all wanted to get rid of city employees that had institutional knowledge and were held accountable for their actions and now you're crying in your beer how local business's are disappearing because of decisions made by outsourced employees who could care less about your concerns. Y'all are too funny!

Like this comment
Posted by Jim from Lynnwood WA
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm

My neighborhood used to be Moreno and Indian Drive. I grew up there in the late 50's and through the 60's. My buddies and I used to go to the bowling alley for the pool tables and the first computer game I ever saw. It was a trivia game with half a dozen categories. Our parents would drive us there and pick us up hours later. No concern, at least expressed, about us being unattended. How about the Indian Bowl in downtown, I think it was on Emerson, anybody remember that???!!!

Like this comment
Posted by danny
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm

If I had run for city council, my campaign slogan would have been 'Save the Bowling Alley'.

Actually, I mentioned to McNellis that he should put the bowling alley in Alma Plaza.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

Why blame the city council? The owner made the decision to sell.

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