By John Liu
Driving past the Burger King and 7-11 on Rainier Ave, it is easy to pass Imperial Lanes day after day on your commute from the International District to Beacon Hill. Sadly, Imperial Lanes is closing on May 31.
Imperial Lanes and Lounge opened in Seattle’s Rainier Valley in 1959 and was run by Fred Takagi for 30 years.
As a result, many young Japanese Americans chose Imperial Lanes as their hangout. Imperial Lanes was sold to AMC in 1992. Louise Ono, daughter of Fred Takagi, said “Imperial Lanes was the hub of the Japanese and Chinese community. After the war, everyone needed a place to go and socialize. This is the end of an era.” Louise still bowls in the Nisei League, which will be moving to Skyway Park and Bowl.
Even though I did not go to Imperial Lanes often. I do remember my mom suggesting the entire family to go on Mother’s day three years ago. We had a great time. I had to experience Imperial Lanes one last time. There were around 30 people there last Monday. It was actually $1 Mondays after 8p.m. Had I had known that, I would have gone many more times since I live in the proximity. I played two games and finished my last frame with a strike – the perfect way to say goodbye.
I asked some former patrons to tell me their fondest memories of Imperial Lanes.
“In our younger days Imperial Lanes was a second home to Ernie. He worked there on Saturday nights, bowled in pot games till the wee hours of the night, and bowled in several leagues. Although he spent more time at Imperial than with me, we made many friends and bowled with many old friends. It is sad that Imperial will be gone but we still have many fond memories.”
— Ernie and Sunnie Nagai
“Imperial Lanes opened their doors when Frank and I were in high school and it quickly became our “hangout.” One incident I vividly recall took place not inside Imperial Lanes but outside in their parking lot where I threw the “going steady” ring that Frank gave me out of the car window…..(obviously mad over something or another). But by the end of the day, the issue was resolved, we found the ring AND NOW Frank and I have been married for 48 years! Good bye Imperial Lanes…thanks for the memories. You will be missed, but never forgotten.”
— Frank and Penny Fukui
“In the 60’s when you said bowling alley, you meant Imperial Lanes. I even bowled in a handicap league (the only way I could get in since I rarely broke 100). After bowling we’d go out for a bite to eat and drink (in those days you couldn’t drink alcohol on Sunday, so the lights would go on in the Four Seas bar announcing ten minutes to closing). One Friday night I was out and my date said let’s go to the bowling alley and see what’s going on (evidently I wasn’t good date night company).”
— Kiku Hayashi
“Imperial Lanes was the Beacon Haller. It was the place to go to if you live on Beacon Hill. It’s the thing to go to if you go to Franklin High School, bowl and play video games. I was a member of the women’s league. People went there to meet people.”
— Lisa Noji