KU Memorial Unions and Student Union Activities opened the doors Sept. 3 for the Jay, a new, 4,200-square foot event space in the former Jaybowl site.
Jessie Pringle, student body president; Lauren Arney, KU Memorial Unions Corporation board president; and Kassandra Valles, Student Union Activities president, performed the ribbon-cutting as David Mucci, KU Memorial Unions director, welcomed students, faculty and staff into the renovated space.
“I think you’re going to like what you see,” Mucci said, “and there will be more to come.”
Among the ceremony participants were U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, c’99, l’02, past president of the KU Memorial Unions board, and Dan Sabatini, a’86, whose architecture firm, Sabatini Architects, designed the renovation.
“We maintained some of the Jaybowl’s original character,” Sabatini says. “The ceilings still have the black lights, and those special projectors for cosmic bowling are still here.”
Fans of the old Jaybowl, which closed its doors May 9, will also find memorabilia and photographs of the 62-year-old campus fixture displayed in cases outside the entrance of the new Jay.
Since 1953, the Jaybowl has been a constant on campus, surviving countless renovations to Kansas Union, most recently in 2000, when plans for a cyber-cafe were changed after student protests, and the Jaybowl was, ahem, spared.
This time around, neither student sentiment nor nostalgia could make up for average annual losses of $17,000 per year, as reported in the Lawrence Journal-World. The decline in usage and the opportunity to add new programming space during the next renovation (slated to begin this summer) made the decision a game changer.
Alumni will remember the Jaybowl as a safe haven for weary students looking to blow off steam in the fifties and sixties by bowling a few lanes or playing billiards. In the seventies and eighties, pinball wizards took advantage of arcade games while the sounds of Pac-Man and Space Invaders joined the jukebox playing Led Zeppelin and the Steve Miller Band. Some Jaybowl visitors even had a chance to imbibe while beer was served briefly on campus until 1998. Lately, however, Cosmic bowling under black lights, birthday parties and other promotional efforts proved not enough to save it.
The Jaybowl leaves behind a legacy, serving as the home of the KU bowling team and the 1963 and 2004 intercollegiate bowling national champions. The notoriety, and bowling classes, helped attract students to the sport, including KU basketball and future NBA star Julian Wright, who famously picked up bowling as a hobby to relax, a practice he continues to this day.
The Kansas Union announced plans for a farewell celebration to be held this week on May 9, with games and activities before a final ceremonial last strike at 12:55 a.m. on May 10. Memorabilia, including bowling pins and shoes, will be for sale at the Jaybowl counter starting today until they’re gone. Pick up a pair–and maybe one last spare–while they last.
The Jaybowl, the Kansas Memorial Union bowling alley that has been a campus fixture since 1953, will close May 9 and its first-floor space will be converted to a venue for live entertainment.
Kansas Memorial Unions announced the move in an April 13 media release, citing “growing losses, escalating down time and new space needs” as the reason for the decision.
“We’ve had decreased usage, because the world has changed,” said Claudia Larkin, g’00, director of marketing for KU Memorial Unions. “Ten years ago, usage was around 35,000 annually; now it’s at approximately 21,000. We haven’t been able to break even when we average our expenses over the last five years.” The Jaybowl has lost an average of $17,000 per year over that period, Larkin said.
KU Memorial Unions, a non-profit affiliate of KU, and its Memorial Unions Corporation Board, composed of KU student leaders, faculty members, alumni and Union staff members, in fall 2013 began looking into a project that would extensively redesign large portions of the Kansas Union. A committee composed of student members of the Corporation Board conducted focus groups involving 89 students and 59 faculty and staff members to gauge potential changes. Among renovations discussed to several floors of the Union is a proposal to convert the Jaybowl space to a pub and grill, according to Larkin. Those plans—which could include a proposal to serve alcohol—“will of course have to go through University channels for approvals,” she said.
KU Memorial Unions is currently targeting fiscal 2018 as the start date of that larger renovation, but declining usage and financial losses contributed to the decision to close the Jaybowl now rather than later.
“That, with the student input on the kinds of things they’d like to see out of the Union, is creating the change,” Larkin said.
Kyle Rosberg, president of the KU bowling team, challenged the notion that student interest in bowling has declined.
“Go up to Royal Crest Lanes on Sunday night,” Rosberg said. “They have a Sunday fun day and it’s packed with college students.”
A senior who has competed for the KU bowling team for four years, he said the Jaybowl’s small size, antiquated equipment and a limited snack bar that doesn’t serve alcohol put it at a competitive disadvantage with larger alleys like Royal Crest.
“There you can eat, drink, bowl and have a good time,” Rosberg said. “Here you’ve got limited options on what you can do.”
A 2004 renovation that upgraded the Jaybowl did little to address issues with aging equipment. Both Larkin and Rosberg noted that nearly half the alley’s 12 lanes might be out of order at one time. That ongoing state of disrepair, Rosberg said, not student disinterest, is the reason for declining usage.
“If you go bowl and halfway through your game you have to move to a different lane because yours turned off, less and less people will go back,” he said. “But to fix it up would not be cheap, because the lanes are pretty bad from a competitive bowler’s standpoint. They’d need to do a lot of work on lanes and machines.”
Indeed, the Jaybowl’s pinsetter equipment was purchased used in the early 1960s, Larkin noted. “It’s difficult to maintain those lanes because the pieces and parts to that very nostalgic bowling alley aren’t available,” she said.
Current members and alumni of the KU bowling team, which won a national championship in 2004, are disappointed they weren’t consulted in the decision to close the Jaybowl, Rosberg says. “We have alumni who pretty much spent their four years of college between class, Jaybowl and home. They’re really saddened that it’s gone.” But the team’s future, he notes, is secure. They may have lost their on-campus home, but they plan to field a full team and play a full tournament schedule next year.
“Our main concern right now is there’s a lot of team trophies there, stuff like that,” Rosberg said. “We just want to make sure that all gets taken care of, not lost or thrown away somehow.”
The summer renovation plans call for mounting display cases outside the Jaybowl entrance for a commemorative tribute. An interior space now used as a party room will be renamed the Spare Room and will be decorated with bowling mementoes, Larkin said, including bowling team trophies and other Jaybowl memorabilia.
The Jaybowl’s final frame May 9 will feature a private gathering of KU bowling team players and alumni from 1 to 4 p.m.; a farewell fling from 8 to 10 p.m. with free bowling and free hotdogs, popcorn and soda; and cosmic bowling starting at 10 p.m. The Jaybowl’s 62-year run will end with a ceremonial “last strike” sendoff at 12:55 a.m. Pins will be set on all lanes, according to the KU Memorial Unions release, “and brushed into eternity by a sequential sweep of the pins starting on lane 1 and ending on lane 12.”
Anyone wanting a piece of the campus alley can buy bowling shoes, shirts and pins at the Jaybowl counter from May 4 to 9, or until supplies run out.