Arlie Johnston has walked up a hill twice a week for the last 28 years to knock down pins at Varsity Ridge Bowl.
She doesn't want the bowling alley demolished to make way for condos.
"It's just a great place to come- [owners] Ken and Judy and [Ken's sister] Gail, they just do a great job and you just feel like you're at home and they care about you," she said Monday.
Sitting in the underground bowling alley that's carpeted in blue and purple with images of bowling pins orbiting bowling balls and clad with wood-panelled walls featuring images of leagues and kids in Halloween costumes, the 74-year-old Johnston flipped through photo albums. They included shots of her league-mates, her granddaughters' bowling escapades and the annual spring banquets where alley owner Ken Hayden dons a native headdress and leads the young and old in performing the Village People's 1979 hit "YMCA."
"It'll just be a huge loss in our lives," she said. "People my age, I mean what do you do? It's nice to have housing for people but this is something kids can do, middle-aged people can do, seniors, anybody... It's here, we can do it, we can get to it. When you get to our age they start taking your driver's licences away and you just can't go to things because they're too far away."
Landowner Cressey (Ridge) Development wants to construct a five-storey building with space intended for a grocery store at ground level, two townhouses and 50 condos on the site of the development that was constructed in the early 1950s. A hard-surface public space would replace the parking spots off Arbutus and the development would include underground parking.
Johnston's daughter Margot and her husband Barry Tchir, have bowled on leagues at Varsity since 1997.
Their three daughters all bowled at Varsity and their second eldest bowled weekly from age 4 to 19. She now bowls on an adult league and works at the alley twice a week.
"My family of five are opposed to any development plan that does not include the retention of the Varsity Ridge bowling lanes and its iconic giant bowling pin," the Tchir parents wrote the city.
More than 700 bowlers play in leagues at Varsity on a weekly basis, according to Hayden. More than 250 individuals are registered in Varsity's Golden Age program for bowlers aged 60 to 95. Eighty youth bowlers play in youth leagues on a weekly basis from September until the end of March and 60 Special Olympic athletes bowl at the alley every Friday night from September to April. Varsity hosts thousands of youth each year in physical education classes and birthday parties. Hayden chairs B.C. Bowls for Kids, which raises money for Variety to help children with special needs, and he chairs the CKNW Orphans' Fund bowling league.
The 68-year-old Hayden will retire if redevelopment eradicates the alley but he'd prefer to keep rolling. "It's the last thing I ever wanted to happen," he said. "I don't think there's anywhere else in this city where you can move and obtain 14,000 square feet at a reasonable lease rate, so that will probably force me to retire. I love doing this job."
Bowling alleys in Vancouver include Grandview Lanes on Commercial Drive, Town 'n Country Bowl inside the Super 8 Motel at Fraser and Southeast Marine Drive and the Commodore Lanes downtown.
Hayden and alley patrons want Varsity and The Ridge movie theatre, which sits atop seven of the alley's 15 lanes, to be preserved. A petition has been started.
"As Joni [Mitchell] has always said 'they take paradise and put up a parking lot,' the Tchirs wrote the city. "Let's not allow that practice to continue, not here in our community."
The development application is slated to go before the city's Urban Design Panel June 6 and the Development Permit Board July 30.
Hayden says the lease agreements of all of the tenants at 16th and Arbutus include a nine-month demolition clause.
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