Once upon a time — way back in the 20th century — kids did not play video games in their basements or bedrooms.
There were no Wiis, no Kinects, no big screens or joysticks. In the early 1980s, FIFA 2011 was 2 decades in the future.
But Westport had Arnie Kaye. And no history of video games would be complete without him.
Arnie Kaye was larger than life — literally. A hulk of a man — 350 pounds is charitable — he wanted to build a video arcade on the Post Road. The site was the current location of Balducci’s.
In October 1981, the Planning & Zoning Commission rejected his initial proposal. They cited insufficient tree plantings and buffer space, and lack of parking.
A battle royale ensued between the town (and Green’s Farms Association), and Arnie Kaye. It reached the state Supreme Court — but not before Arnie Kaye chained himself to Town Hall. (He was unchained and arrested 10 minutes later.)
Arnie’s Place opened on June 14, 1982. Three weeks later, a Superior Court judge ordered it closed. But within a month it reopened, with a zoning permit allowing up to 50 video games.
Arnie Kaye installed 80. The fight continued.
For the next 10 years, Arnie’s Place was — depending on who you talked to — either the greatest place in town, or the symbol of everything wrong with teenagers, Westport and America. It was glitzy. It was gaudy. It was — gasp! — a video game arcade.
There was more, of course — pool tables, foosball and air hockey — but the video games were the centerpiece. Each standing alone in a wood and copper cabinet, they’ve been described as “seven rows of teenaged nirvana.”
Young kids flocked to Arnie’s — some with their parents’ blessing, some without. An adjacent ice cream parlor — Georgie Porgie’s — attracted plenty of families. Others boycotted the place.
Arnie loved the controversy — and fanned its flames. Thumbing his nose at the town that had done the same to him, he threatened at times to turn Arnie’s Place over to Hell’s Angels — and to make it a porn theater.
Finally, on September 18, 1994 — done in by changing tastes as well as a decade of litigation — Arnie’s Place closed.
I know all this not because I was an Arnie’s Place fan — I never set foot in the place — but because Peter Caylor has created an online tribute to the video game emporium of his youth.
“Welcome to Arnie’s Place” is a website whose appeal is narrow but deep. The relatively small number of kids growing up in Westport in the 1980s who hung out there will enjoy it. Video game history savants will probably appreciate it. If you’re interested in the history of Westport, you might glance at it.
Yet what visitors find is intriguing.
There’s a brief history, which I have stolen liberally from (above).
There’s a comprehensive list of games. Apparently, Arnie’s was “about the only place in Connecticut (for) unusual titles like Krull or Journey.” There was also “plenty of room for sit down or cockpit games like Turbo.”
The list of games “verified” by more than 1 person, or a photo, runs alphabetically from APB to Wizard fo Wor. The “need to verify” list starts with 720, and ends with Vs. Super Mario Bros.
The goal is to create a 3-D model of Arnie’s Place — complete with playable games. It’s a work in progress.
Wandering through the site, it’s hard to imagine how something as innocuous as a video game arcade could have so consumed the town’s time, energy — and legal resources — for over a decade.
It did not turn Westport’s tweens and teens into derelicts, or juvenile delinquents. Kids who hung out at Arnie’s stayed in school, graduated, and had real lives for themselves. One even created a clever website about the place.
Kind of puts today’s debates about teenage texting, Facebook use and — yes — video game playing in context. Right?
Gosh…remember all those letters to the editor???
correct me if I am wrong, but I thought Arnie’s Place was where Antropologie is now and Balducci’ was where Arnie’s International Deli was
You are correct… Plus the mirrors on the right when you walked in were two way mirrors so Arnie could keep an eye over who walked in.
I loved that place,for birthdays or holidays all I wanted was Arnie money to play games and win prizes. it was a great SAFE place for kids to hang out.
Alan Phillips sent this along:
For those nostalgic about Arnie’s place
Feel free to visit Game Zone at SportsCenter of Connecticut.
We have a state of the art video arcade, with prizes and family fun. More games than Arnie’s, in a clean and beautiful surrounding — just like Arnie’s.
No deli though!
You are correct, it was a different generation and a different stimuli. When I would visit this fine town during my exodus to Texas, I would bring my son to Arnie’s. He was 12 and fascinated by the environment. And I am here to tell you after the seven year plan at University of Texas, my son still holds many pinball and video game records at bars on 6th Street in Austin! It all began (or ended!) at Arnie’s!!!
I recall the Arnie’s Place controversy vividly and will attest that it brought out the worst in town officials and Arnie Kaye.
It might be easy to criticize the P&Z and the Greens Farms Association, but they did not have an easy time trying to enforce zoning regulations when the applicant was a rich bully. Arnie was loud and obnoxious and enjoyed his cat-and-mouse game with the town. Remember when he tried to pay his tax bill in pennies?
Like everyone, Arnie had his good and bad sides. He would stop at nothing and no cost would prevent him from getting his way.
However, he also allowed town employees to fish in the stream behind his McMansion on Easton Road. Let’s also not forget that he adopted or became the legal guardian of a teenaged boy (or was he in his 20s by then?).
The thing with Arnie was that his good was really, really good and his bad was really, really bad. It was hard to determine which was dominent, which made his motives questionable.
He sounds like a real character, what happened to him? Is he still in the area?
Is this him?
No. He was even heavier.
Plus he’s dead.
Does anyone remember that Arnie shot and killed an intruder in his Easton Road home? That certainly added to his already questionable image in Westport.
Did he move away just prior to death? I think it was Salem, NY. Correct me if I’m wrong.
He was a life-long bachelor, a tee-totaler and an all-around nice guy.
At least it wasn’t a bank.
Arnie was a mensch.
He’d let my kids use his phone to call me to pick them up. When I arrived, invariably, my sons Tom or Brian, would not be there at the desk because Arnie had given them tokens to play games while they waited for me. No way could I get them to stop playing while they had FREE tokens, so Arnie and I spent lots of time talking about Queens, where we both grew up.
His was a fascinating story… a very smart man.
Another time I was walking towards the entrance and I heard a commotion at the rear of the parking lot. Arnie, who was huge, had two good sized kids held in each hand by their shirt collars 5 feet off the ground and was shaking them while their friends looked on. Apparently, he had just broken up a fight. In a booming voice, he told them there would be no fighting at Arnie’s Place, and that if they ever wanted to come back, they would shake hands and be friends. Being banished was the worst punishment in Westport at the time, so they shook hands and he let them back in.
When I asked “What was that all about?” Arnie said: “Just kids being kids.”
His beautiful flower plantings in front of his place set the standard for beautification on the Post Road.
What a colorful guy…
Thank you, Tom. I’m glad no one is bashing him here. Except for the “moron” comment, it doesn’t really count as it is not specifically addressed.
I first heard about Arnie’s when I interviewed Pat Laffaye, a world record holder for Frogger living in Westport. It was Arnie’s got him hooked on games.
God bless you Arnie….where ever you are and for ever RIP. You reamain the greatest and we will always miss you. Westport will always need an Arnie.
A GREAT MAN WITH A GREAT HEART
THANK YOU FOR ALL THE GREAT TIMES
REMEMBER HIS WORDS IF YOU LOOK FOR GOOD IN SOMEONE YOU WILL FIND IT AND IF YOU LOOK FOR BAD YOU ALSO WILL FIND IT…
I so VERY vividly remember Arnie’s Place! Matter of fact, that is *ME* in the photograph that features the baby in the stroller! I’m wearing a green shirt and white pants, playing Robotron! (I “owned” that machine! One quarter lasted me 2 hours, each time!) My “High Score” on the machine read, “Flash is awesome”. Any time I saw a Robotron without that moniker (and I had 2 hours to kill) I would make sure it had it, along with the maximum possible score, 9,999,975 on it! LOL! When I played Robotron, I didn’t care about the score, because I always had to stop at that number, else it would “roll over” to zero! So, to gauge how well I did on a game, I counted how many times I had to crash to end it! My record: 81 times! LOL! 🙂 (I generally averaged in the 20’s)
Wow… 1984 seems like a whole different lifetime to me, now! On a more serious note, I really do think that if a place similar to Arnie’s (as it was in 1984) were to open, it would do well! Especially with the folks (like me) who remember when and what a GOOD arcade was like! (No question, Arnie’s was unmatched!) A very good, but distant second, was Spanky’s Arcade in Bridgeport. I actually worked there for the first few months after it opened. Fun times.
I remember Spanky’s really well. I can still remember spending all my hard-earned cash at that place. I don’t suppose you have any pictures of it, inside or out? As I recall, it was over on the corner of Boston Ave and North Ave, where the car dealership is now. Good stuff!
Unfortunately, no, I don’t have any pictures. I remember it in my head, tho. When you walked in, you faced an aisle with machines on the left and right. The left side had another row of machines, with a wall of windows behind you, if you were playing the machines. On the right, that row faced another room, which was down one step. There were a few more machines there, but that area was mostly pinball machines. The change machine was in the back/right corner of the main room.
I knew Arnie Kaye from our days at Forest Hills HS class of ’59 in Queens, NY. He was from an affluent family. He wasn’t a great student but was intelligent, witty and has the most wonderful personality. He could spin a yarn and have you hanging on to the edge of your seat waiting for the finish.
Arnie was President of our HS fraternity. It may not sound like much but we were a chapter of a National HS fraternity that was founded in 1917. Arnie was known all over the country even while still in his teens.
He didn’t drink, do drugs or gamble. He was always busy running fraternity events. We had many parties in his family’s home. What a generous and great guy to be around. He was a very big guy even then. His weight contributed to some health issues which he overcame.
We lost touch for decades. In the late 1990’s as the internet was becoming more developed we found each other. We emailed, talked by telephone and finally met for dinner at the Plaza hotel in NYC. There were six of us there that night. Six that I was able to find to get together after almost forty years since high school graduation. We sat at a round table in the dining room and Arnie took center stage and had us all spellbound for hours. It was a night that I will never forget. That was in the Spring of 2001. Arnie passed away less than a year later. I will never forget him, his generosity and the way he helped so many people throughout his life.
I had spoken with his secretary Nancy a few days after he died. She told me of all the wonderful deeds, the kindness and generosity that he showed to many who he befriended when they were in need. He was a very complex individual who didn’t take crap from anyone. A real stand up guy but down deep a pussycat.
He told me that there was talk of a play written around the story of his life and that Dom Delouise was being considered for the lead. He would have been perfect to portray Arnie Kaye.
He is easily one of the most incredible people that I have ever known.
RIP Arnie Kaye aka Arnold Kalodner