It was a favorite spot for many a birthday and company party, but Little Tokyo Bowl closed without fanfare in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
The 7-year-old Little Tokyo Bowl, on the third floor of Yaohan Plaza at 3rd and Alameda streets, was the Downtown area's only bowling alley and drew bowlers from all over Los Angeles County.
Officials of Yaohan Plaza, which took over ownership of the 40-lane alley three years ago, would not give specific reasons for the closure, saying only that they have other plans for the space.
"We wanted to make the shopping center better," said General Manager Y. Watanabe. "We think there are other uses that will benefit the center."
Watanabe declined to disclose the future plans. "There are many ideas flying around right now," he said. "It's still in the planning stage."
Little Tokyo Bowl was home to more than a dozen bowling leagues and a favorite after-work gathering spot for many Downtown workers.
"I think it's terrible to close it down, because everybody in Downtown Los Angeles, Monterey Park, Glendale, came here," said Kim Oishi, a San Gabriel resident and Little Tokyo Bowl employee since its opening.
"This is my second home," Tommy Sato, an East Los Angeles resident, said. "Everyone knew one another."
Anticipating this week's closure, most of the regular bowlers had joined leagues in Alhambra, Montebello and San Gabriel. Little Tokyo Bowl thus looked like a ghost town last week; one evening, only two lanes were in use by two pairs of bowlers.
Opening a bowling alley in Little Tokyo was the brainchild of developer Al Taira, who built the shopping center in 1985 and sold it to Yaohan three years ago. "The original concept was to bring people into the area, especially young people," he said. "You have to create attractions other than shops."
Taira recalled that many thought a bowling alley would fail because of costs and bowling's decline in popularity. Little Tokyo Bowl never became a "profit machine," but from the beginning it drew people to the shopping center, which helped the stores and restaurants there, he said.
Taira said he hates to see Little Tokyo Bowl go, but he trusts Yaohan Plaza's judgment. "I'm not opposed to them closing it . . . a company has the individual right to do what they want with their property," he said.
Taira left open the possibility of opening another bowling alley or other recreational facility himself in Little Tokyo: "Bowling is one of the few sports anyone can participate in. You don't have to be a 6-foot, 240-pound giant to play. Who knows? If people really want it, maybe I'll open up another one."