Say it isn't so: Leilani Lanes closure marks end of an era

Forty-four years to the day after its grand opening, general manager Jerry Hahn and part owner Jack Leary announced to employees that Leilani Lanes had been sold and would be closing its doors for the final time next spring.

Greenwood's beloved bowling alley will have its final day on March 31, 2006, at the end of this year's league season. In a sign of the times, Leilani Lanes, as well as Volvo Auto Repair across the way, have been sold to make way for an apartment complex and new commercial development along Greenwood Avenue.

Bowling centers, which were in their prime when Leilani was built in 1961 have been losing ground to entertainment centers, malls and other attractions. The once prominent hang-outs for all ages have become vintage visits for most. At one time there were 22 bowling alleys in the city of Seattle, but with the coming loss of Leilani Lanes that number will decrease to four: Sunset Bowl in Ballard, Imperial Lanes in Rainer Valley, Garage Bowling and Billiards on Capitol Hill and West Seattle Bowl.

"Bowling centers in urban areas all across the country are on prime real estate," Hahn acknowledged.

Soon to go are the Lani Kai Restaurant and Lounge, the 36 lanes of pins, the pull-tab casino, for those who want to gamble just a little bit, twilight bowling, bumper lanes for the 3-year old granddaughter who just loved to throw the ball down the lane and a vending machine that sells socks.

Bowling alleys hold some kind of memories for everybody, whether you bowled with your best friends every Thursday night for the past 40 years, or if you had your seventh birthday party at the bowling lanes down the street. The slick wood lanes and well-worn bowling shoes remind us of a different time, before cell phones or online video games, when spending a Friday night at Leilani Lanes was the most natural thing in the world.

Hahn has worked at Leilani Lanes since it opened and knows the loss will be hard on the community. The bowling alley has been a central spot for many years, and "a lot of the customers have been here for all 44 years," he said.

That includes costumers like senior league bowlers Ethel Granberger and Chuck Arrington.

Granberger first bowled at Sunset Lanes in Ballard, and then at Leilani Lanes after it opened. She bowled with her friends, with her children, and her daughter even worked there when she was younger. Now her children have grown and move away but she still bowls with her league, playing 'poker on the mark' for a $3 pot, twice a week.

And when Leilani closes... "We'll go back to Sunset," said Granberger.

Jack Leary, part owner of both Leilani Lanes and Sunset Bowl in Ballard, says there are no plans to sell Sunset Bowl, despite the recent sale of Leilani.

"We [at Sunset] are going to accommodate as many new people as we can," Leary said.

With Leilani's closure many league bowlers will have to find other leagues at other bowling centers before the next season. And not everyone who patronizes Leilani will be able to move on when its lanes close.

"There's a lot of ladies in our Monday league who have said they wouldn't go the extra distance [to Sunset Lanes]," Arrington said.

"So many people end up putting down their ball and quitting when this happens," Hahn said.

Leilani Lanes is more than just a place to bowl for many people in the Greenwood community. Chuck Cornell and his brother Terry meet here for breakfast five days a week, Granberger and Arrington bowl with their senior league every Monday and Friday, and Hahn has spent his entire career working at Leilani. Kids have their birthday parties, local charities have their fundraisers here, and local teenagers get together for rock 'n' roll bowling every Saturday night. Lealani Lanes is a gathering place.

"We know them, we know their names and they know us," Hanh said. "This is a family place."

Over the next five months the bowling will continue, as employees look for new positions and bowlers look for a new place to call home. Many of the regulars are upset at the thought of looking for a new place.

"There are just not too many places left to go [to bowl]. We don't know what it will be like at Sunset and the next closest would be Edmonds," said senior league bowler Jan Barett.

"We wish we could make a collection and buy the place ourselves," Granberger added.

But the future holds nothing more for Leilani, and those who can will try to move on to other bowling alleys and start many of their long standing friendships over again. Hahn has worked at Leilani his entire life, and at 63-years old will be looking for a new career come spring. But until then, he will be running the show at Leilani; making preparations and saying good-bye to everyone who passes through the doors to bowl here before it closes.

"I was here when it began and I'm going to be here to lock the doors on the last night," Hahn said. "After that, I don't know."[[In-content Ad]]