Community Reflects on Memories of Plaza Lanes

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  "I am 60 (years old) today, thank you very much," said Sheri Thompson, owner of Plaza Lanes. "Yes, I'm as old as the building."

A fire that destroyed her and her husband's business was not the birthday present Sheri Thompson was hoping for.

"My sister-in-law was knocking on our door this morning, and when I answered the door, she says, 'the bowling alley's on fire, let's go now.' So we headed here and saw the flames billowing and it was like, wow, 60 years down the drain."

Plaza Lanes was built in November of 1957, and the so-called "man on the roof" sign on top of the bowling alley was iconic. Channel 13's cameras captured the sign's final moments.

"He was put up there by my father in 1957," said Randy Thompson, another owner of Plaza Lanes. "And I asked my dad who built him, so he showed me the plan. Norm Cox, Neon Signs, who has since passed on built him, and he built one arm after another swinging, along with the balls as they moved down the lanes and struck the pins."

Randy Thompson says the sign was unique, even by today's standards, and will be tough to replace.

"He was still up there until the end," said Thompson. "It cost my dad $40,000 to put him up there (in 1957)."

13Raw: Footage of the Plaza Lanes fire captured by Drone13

What does remain are the memories of a bowling alley that was a fixture in the community for six decades.

"I've been in Des Moines 25 years, raised three small children just a few blocks from Plaza Lanes," said Betsy Blackford of Des Moines. "We had a lot of birthday parties here, brought home some of the pins that were retired from the lanes."

"I was actually a participant in the last state bowling competition here at Plaza Lanes," said Krissy Weir. "I'm from Waverly, Iowa, and I'm from the Waverly-Shell Rock bowling team, and last year I was the captain of the team."

Sheri Thompson says she and her husband have joked that they could write a book about Plaza Lanes several times over because of all of the people that have come through over the years--people they consider family. The Thompsons say they're grateful none of their employees were in the building during the fire and no one was injured.