Tag Archives: Arnie Kaye

Virginia Wong Supports Arnie’s Place

Virginia Wong

Virginia Wong has enjoyed a wonderful career in fashion.

Today she manages digital strategy and local emerging markets for Louis Vuitton Americas. She also spent 5 years on the advisory strategy team for L Brands’ CEO.

Growing up though, she felt surrounded by social pressures. Even her main hobby — tennis — was competitive.

She found solace at Arnie’s Place. The video game arcade — it’s Ulta today, next to Balducci’s — offered a “true, pressure-free escape.” Virginia roamed the vast space without supervision or worry. The lights and noises were “transporting.” Everyone was having a great time playing games; there was little social friction.

Arnie’s Place, 1984.

She was more into Skee-Ball, Ms. Pac-Man and the claw machine than true video games, but it was a fantastic time anyway. She finds it hard to imagine kids having a similar experience today.

Later, whenever she returned to Connecticut, she decompressed by driving around. She’d go to the beach, get a hot dog at Rawley’s, cruise past the Athena Diner. Those rituals felt “right.”

Every time Viriginia drove by what was then Anthropologie, she thought of Arnie’s.

When she did that recently, she remembered Arnie Kaye’s fight against “the power.” Parents worried that a video arcade would somehow corrupt their kids. Politicians followed their lead.

Arnie Kaye, in 1994.

During his battle to open, Arnie hired someone to dress as Pac-Man, and hand out money to anyone wearing an “I support Arnie’s Place” t-shirt.

A popular pro-Arnie’s bumper sticker.

Virginia wanted to memorialize it. And she still had an Arnie’s Place t-shirt, with cut-off sleeves.

She decided to make a couple of new ones. A friend who is head of graphics for American Eagle helped her get the design right — including the back with a very ’80s-style design, and Arnie’s iconic “token” logo on the front.

Screen printed on Gildan heavy cotton in small batches, they’re available through Virginia’s Instagram and Etsy accounts. She’s branded those pages “Class Trip,” a tribute to the significant backdrops of her youth.

As anyone who grew up at Arnie’s Place in its heyday knows: It was quite a trip!

Arnie’s Place

A few weeks ago, “06880” highlighted 157 Easton Road. The 7-bedroom, 10-bath, 6-car garage, 2.75-acre property on the Aspetuck River — with a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths and stone bridges — was on the market.

The story focused on the home’s history. It was the longtime residence of Leopold Godowsky Jr. (a concert violinist with a passion for photography who set up a lab there, and helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome) and his wife, Frankie Gershwin (who in addition to being a noted painter and singer was also George and Ira’s younger sister). The Godowskys hosted guests like Richard Rodgers, John Hersey, Maureen O’Sullivan and Mia Farrow there.

157 Easton Road

157 Easton Road

That was intriguing enough. But a number of commenters noted that the house later belonged to another famous Westporter. Arnie Kaye was the larger-than-life (literally and metaphorically) owner of Arnie’s Place, a pioneering and legendary 1970s/’80s video arcade. Arnie also owned an ice cream parlor and delicatessen, regularly battled town officials, paid his taxes in pennies, and killed an intruder on his land.

157 Easton Road has finally been sold. The figure is eye-popping — and not in a good way.

It was listed at $3,599,000. The price — at auction — was $1,800,000.

Someone got Arnie’s place for a song.

And I don’t mean a Gershwin tune.

(Click here for the full real estate listing of this property.)

Friday Flashback #12

A recent “06880” story about Leopold and Frankie Godowsky’s Easton Road home — he helped develop Kodachrome; she was George and Ira Gershwin’s younger sister — moved commenters to note that in later years, that same house was owned by Arnie Kaye.

A larger-than-life figure — and he was pretty large to begin with — Arnie was known for many things. He killed an intruder on his property. He paid his taxes in pennies. He owned a delicatessen and ice cream parlor.

He was best known, however, for his Arnie’s Place video arcade. Located where Balducci’s Anthropologie is now, and one of the first of its kind in an American suburb like Westport, it became a home-away-from-home for countless kids in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Despite plenty of opposition at the start — lots of adults thought a video arcade heralded The End of the World — he ran an operation that parents soon happily dumped their kids at. Arnie looked out for them, providing a safe place to play (and spend mom and dad’s money).

Pretty soon, every child in Westport had his birthday party at Arnie’s.

Las Vegas? Foxwoods? Nope -- Arnie's Place.

Las Vegas? Foxwoods? Nope — Arnie’s Place.

Most of our Friday Flashbacks flash back many decades. This one will be remembered fondly by folks who wish their own children today — the same age they were then — could have their own video arcade to go to, with other kids.

Instead of playing those damn games all alone, on a stupid cellphone.

Arnie’s Place

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.

This was Arnie's Place -- Vegas and teenage nirvana, Westport style. Note the baby in the stroller, hopefully unharmed by early exposure to video games. This photo ran in the November 1984 edition of Electronic Games Magazine, and is now on ArniesPlaceArcade.com.

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 Kaye outfitted kids in town with t-shirts during his legal battles. Many parents were no doubt horrified at what their children wore.

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.

Brett, Aiden, Chris and Jesse play Gauntlet during Brett's birthday party in 1988. Arnie's was a favorite place for SOME birthday parties.

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?