Sunset Bowl may rise again
It's a longshot, but it could happen. Maybe, just maybe, it's not the end for the Sunset Bowl in Ballard. It could rise again in two or...
Seattle Times staff reporter
It's a longshot, but it could happen.
Maybe, just maybe, it's not the end for the Sunset Bowl in Ballard.
It could rise again in two or three years from its soon-to-be demolished remains on Northwest Market Street, and be part of a complex with apartments and shops.
Sunset Bowl and its land were bought in early January for $13.2 million by AvalonBay Communities — a large corporation with interests in 184 high-end apartment complexes in 10 states.
Brian Fritz, AvalonBay's vice president of development for the Pacific Northwest, said his company was interested in the idea of a new Sunset Bowl constructed in the apartment complex.
"We're definitely going to study that use," Fritz said. "But we're just not operators of that type of business.
"We're not a typical builder. We hold these [apartments] for a long time. We want to meet with the community and understand their wants and needs."
But if the longshot dream happens, it'll be in no small measure because of the dozens of hours that Ballard resident Jim Bristow has spent to save the beloved institution where he bowls every Tuesday night.
After news of the Sunset Bowl sale, there were plenty of postings on the Internet.
"SAVE THE SUNSET, SAVE SEATTLE, SAVE AMERICA'S CITIES!!!!"
And then there was Bristow, who walks the talk.
Bristow, 45, is the owner of a small contracting business in Ballard, and does consulting on sustainable building.
"My wife and I like Ballard. Everything you want is right here, locally," he said. "That's starting to disappear. Some call it 'gentrification.' I call it, 'sterilization.' "
Bristow had watched what happened to another legendary bowling alley, Leilani Lanes in Greenwood.
He couldn't let that happen to Sunset Bowl.
Leilani and Sunset Bowl were owned by the same family corporation, Sunset Bowling and Recreation, which has 31 shareholders spread throughout the country.
In both cases, the value of the land on which the bowling alleys sat was worth more than the business. Leilani sold in 2005 for $6.25 million. At that time, Jack Leary, the general manager of the corporation who oversaw its day-to-day operations, said Sunset Bowl was not up for sale.
"It wasn't even on the market," Leary said last week. "But they [the developers] kept on pouring more and more money."
The scattered family members decided not to pass up the $13.2 million.
Leary's wife, Pat, who also has worked at Sunset Bowl, said about the shareholders in distant places, "They don't have a sense of what this means to the community."
One bowler's mission
Bristow began his efforts to save Sunset Bowl the way many such grass-roots initiatives begin — with a petition. He wrote it out on his kitchen table and brought it to his Tuesday-night league game.
Now, with the help of others, the petition "to save the last dry and warm gathering places for families, friends, and kids of all ages in North Seattle" has 3,400 signatures.
His nephew helped create www.savesunsetbowl.com.
And Bristow also was willing to put up a considerable amount of hard cash.
At one point, he believed he could keep the Sunset Bowl going as-is for at least another year. By the time permits are issued, it'll be at least a year before the building is demolished. So Bristow proposed to the Sunset Bowl corporation that he buy the contents of the bowling alley, and keep it going with its current 50 employees.
Bristow even had his Washington Mutual banker draw up a letter stating that Bristow had a $100,000 line of credit for buying the equipment.
But those hopes fell apart when Bristow asked to see the books for Sunset Bowl before making such a sizable investment.
Said Jack Leary, "The board won't let me show him. ... It's not apples to apples. What we do is no reflection of what he can do."
So now Bristow is devoting his time to making the case to AvalonBay that a bowling alley and an apartment complex above it can coexist.
"We're never going to have Sunset Bowl back as it is," Bristow said. "It'll likely be more upscale, but we want to keep this as a bowling alley, within reach of everybody. We want parents to feel comfortable bringing their families for birthday parties and weekend outings."
The final goodbye?
It turns out that an obvious concern — noise from pins getting knocked over — can be dealt with.
Murrey Bowling Equipment, of Los Angeles, has been installing bowling alleys around the world since 1938, including bowling alleys with residences above.
"It [noise] is not an issue in a building that's got steel and concrete between each floor," said Patrick Murrey, chief executive officer of the company. "And you can use fiberglass insulation where the pinsetter machines are."
But for now, that is all just in Bristow's imagination.
The reality is that the bowling alley is scheduled for its last full day of operation on April 13 — one last day of families oohing at a lucky strike; one last day of guys hanging out at the lounge, watching sports on TV; one last day of ordering a hamburger overflowing with chili and onions.
Then, at 1 a.m. on Monday, April 14, the doors will close.
And someone like Jack Workman, 62, who's done everything from tending bar to washing dishes in his 42 years at Sunset Bowl, will be out of a job.
What are plans for the future?
"I have no idea," Workman said.
On April 22, the James G. Murphy Co. will conduct another ritual in the closing of a business: It will sell to the highest bidders the pinsetters, the bowling lanes and alleys, the chairs, tables, forks and knives.
A clean sweep.
But maybe not the end.
"I was told it'd be a lot of work," Bristow said about saving an institution. "That's all right. I was prepared for it. Somebody had to do something."
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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