Kailua landmark Pali Lanes closes after 60 years in business

·6 min read

Jun. 30—The bowling shoes were checked out one last time, and the staccato of bowling balls hurtling down polished alleys was heard for the final time at the Pali Lanes on Tuesday.

The alley was full of laughter punctuated with cheers, but also an overall sense of sadness as a stream of people visited Pali Lanes to say farewell to their favorite Kailua hangout.

After 60 years, Pali Lane at 120 Hekili St. will hand over its keys to property owner Alexander &Baldwin at noon today, according to manager Christian Arakawa.

"You tell people it's just a bowling alley, " said Arakawa. "People don't realize it's more than just bowling. For some people like myself, it's a second home."

It is the people who come together around bowling, according to Arakawa, who himself started as a Maryknoll high school student, a path that eventually led him to becoming Pali Lanes' youth director and, now, activist and president of Team Save Pali Lanes.

There are also the senior leagues and special-needs kids who have been bowling regularly at Pali Lanes as part of the WINGS program, or Windward Instruction for the Generalization of Skills.

Rosemarie Grigg, WINGS Group founder, calls Pali Lanes the "heart of the community " and a place where she and others have for 20 years been able to help youth learn communication and gross motor skills in a safe and welcoming environment.

"Bowling is a terrific sport for us, and the iconic Pali Lanes is the place to do it—bowling is not relegated to a certain age or ability level, " she wrote in a letter. "Bowling is a sport in which we ALL can participate, from the very young to Kupuna-age ; if not rolling a bowling ball, at least cheering for our friends. After all, what other sport can a 3-year-old granddaughter play with their 93-year-old great-­grandmother, and enjoy it just the same !"

Prior to the pandemic, Arakawa said, Pali Lanes served up to 400 special-­needs kids and adults a week and was a place for senior bowlers to meet.

The late Mary Sabata rode a bus to Pali Lanes until she was 100 years old to bowl in two leagues, Arakawa said. Pali Lanes meant a lot to her, and she wanted it saved.

A &B and Pali Lanes. A &B said owners Daniel Sylva and Art Machado had approached them to initiate closing discussions.

Machado said he felt sad Tuesday, and overwhelmed by the outpouring of thank-you cards from the Special Olympics and kids across the island.

A &B said it will have full access to the property Thursday and initiate an assessment of the property condition, with safety as a top consideration. A &B has no plans beyond the assessment at this time, and no time frame for how long that will take.

The struggle to stay afloat has been ongoing for years, and the wear and tear is visible on the historic property.

Community members and #SavePaliLanes movement in early 2018 after A &B announced plans to redevelop the building and surrounding area after the leases' original expiration date at the end of January 2019.

Members of a group called Our Kailua. Eventually, A &B put redevelopment plans on hold, extended the lease and commissioned a community survey that found 56 % of respondents supported keeping Pali Lanes as is.

In December the building—designed by the architectural firm Wimberly &Cook—was as an example of midcentury Modern design.

But the pandemic dealt a big blow to the struggling business due to nearly six months of closures and additional restrictions.

Since 2013, A &B said, it had not raised Pali Lanes' rent upon acquiring the portfolio of Kailua properties from Kaneohe Ranch.

A &B said that in 2018 and 2019 it provided Pali Lanes with 8-1 /2 months of rent relief worth $91, 800. Additionally, due to mandated shutdowns last year and this year, it offered another 11 months of relief in monthly rent and real property taxes.

Pali Lanes held a grand opening on May 20, 1961, according to The Honolulu Advertiser, offering free bowling bags, ice cream and soda. Then-Mayor Neal Blaisdell and surf legend Duke Kahanamoku were scheduled to untie the maile lei for the grand-opening ceremony for the $1 million building.

Back then the building also housed The Skillet Restaurant, along with a barbershop and nursery for children.

Ione Gumpfer of Kailua has been a part of Pali Lanes since 1961. She and her sister were among the first members of the junior bowling league as teens. She went on to become a state champion playing in national tournaments.

"My sister and I would walk to the bowling alley on Saturdays, " she said. "For two summers we were here every day."

It was where she met her husband, too, then introduced bowling to her two sons. Now her 15-year-old grandson, Vaden-Kai, is part of the league. This is how they bond on weekends.

"It's very sentimental, " she said. "I want to keep it going for my grandson, too. He finally found a sport that he likes."

Tekla Weber of Our Kailua, who applied for the building's historic status with the state, said she is also pursuing a historic designation nationally.

"I felt that there was a large, beautiful heart that was placed in a community in need of gathering, and this was a lovely inside environment that opened its doors to everyone, " said Weber.

She remembers a lifetime of graduation and birthday parties held there, including her own 50th-birthday party.

"When you're inside you feel the aloha you were raised with, " she said. "You don't know the people, but you can still talk to them. You congratulate each other on the other side when there's a strike."

It still has potential to serve as a gathering place for everyone, she said, adding that she appreciated A &B for listening to the community.

A &B said it is "reiterating its commitment to exploring ways to preserve the Pali Lanes building and finding uses that appeal to residents and surrounding local businesses."

With the closure of Pali Lanes, only a handful of bowling alleys remain in business on Oahu.

Arakawa said there are up to 15 part-time employees affected by the closure. Some will go to other jobs, and some will retire.

Some are still not giving up on hopes of saving Pali Lanes. Machado said he is still hoping for a last-minute miracle.

Rather than turning it into an entertainment venue with bowling, Arakawa said it should stay true to the sport, with certification that allows it to continue hosting leagues and tournaments. A &B once said, he said.

"I really hope A &B stays true to their word, " he said.

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