Why and How the Pacific Pinball Museum Matters
-- By Gordo
What if no one had thought to preserve Magic Lanterns -- the only form of image projection from the late 1600s until the 1890s? What if no one had bothered to hold on to examples of this “Father of motion pictures and Grandfather of television”?
What if no one took the trouble to rescue and restore the player and reproducing pianos that, from the 1880s until 1929, were a vital source of home entertainment prior to radio and TV?
What if no one had taken the time to carefully document the music of the Big Band era of the Thirties and Forties or the early Fifties’ history of the beginnings of Rock & Roll?
If none of these things had taken place we’d all be the poorer for it. A void in American popular culture would exist and no collective memory of these artifacts or events would survive to enrich our understanding of who we are today and where we came from.
Fortunately, passionate collectors and archivists preserved these popular culture treasures for our education and enjoyment.
That’s why I’m so passionate about the Pacific Pinball Museum (PPM) and their high-minded mission and objectives.
Located in Alameda, California, the museum seeks to preserve the finest examples of that quintessentially American device -- the pinball machine. They want to archive and illuminate the games’ history, celebrate its genre artwork and use the science and technology behind them as teaching tools! All of which made me decide that I wanted to do everything that I could to help them.
As a result, in June, 2009, I donated my entire, lifelong collection of 240 woodrail pinball machines to the PPM.
Of the 240 games I donated, the majority were made by D. Gottlieb & Company, considered by many to be the “Cadillac” of pinball manufacturers during that era. In fact, the Gottlieb portion of the collection included at least one restored or highly restorable example of every Gottlieb single-player machine from STAGE DOOR CANTEEN (November, 1945), through FOTO-FINISH (January, 1961).
The Woodrail, EM & Pioneering Games section of the Pacific Pinball Museum.
PPM Board of Directors President Larry Zartarian in the staging area of the PPM restoration, research & storage facility.
The 8 earliest post-war Gottlieb games, including STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, were all seldom seen, pre-flipper machines: SUPERLINER, BAFFLE CARD, MISS AMERICA, MAISIE, LUCKY STAR, MARJORIE, BOWLING LEAGUE and FLYING TRAPEZE.
In addition to all the single-player woodrail flipper games, Gottlieb’s first 4-player SUPER JUMBO and first 2-player DUETTE were included in the donated collection. Both standard and Deluxe cabinet models of Duette and standard and Deluxe models of the coveted single-player SLUGGIN’ CHAMP were also included.
While Gottlieb produced FLIPPER as well as FOTO-FINISH in both woodrail and steel rail cabinets I was never able to purchase woodrail examples of either. However, both games were represented in the collection housed in wedgehead cabinets.
In addition to a dozen notable 1950s Williams woodrails the collection also contained games from Chicago Coin, Exhibit, Genco, Marvel, Rockola, United and Victory.
Restored versions of rarely seen games like MERMAID, NIAGARA, BUFFALO BILL, SLUGGIN’ CHAMP, OLD FAITHFUL, JOKER and others from the collection have been among the 400-plus working games featured at the last several Pacific Pinball Museum Expositions, arguably the finest pinball shows ever to be staged.
A portion of the Woodrail section of the Pacific Pinball Museum Exposition VI.
Backbox of the PPM’s revolutionary Visible Pinball, repurposed from the Electromechanical FREEDOM originally manufactured by Bally in 1976. Credit: richyeephotography.com
Held annually in the beautiful Marin County town of San Rafael, just 10 minutes north of San Francisco, the show is staffed entirely by volunteers so that all of the revenue generated can be used to support museum operations, acquisitions and outreach programs.
The Pacific Pinball Museum has succeeded brilliantly in doing what I had once hoped to do on my own – open a working pinball museum with restored games available for play. For years, while living in a small Manhattan apartment, I had been collecting Gottlieb games from up and down the East Coast, the Mid-West, even re-importing them from Canada.
Due to sky-high New York City storage costs, I was making almost weekly 170 mile round trip runs from my Manhattan apartment to my Poughkeepsie, New York warehouses. (In actuality, to the small outlying town of LaGrangeville where Steve Young lives -- which, until I removed my collection, was the worldwide epicenter of woodrail pinball since my collection, as well as Steve’s huge joint collection with John Fetterman, were both stored!)
Once the collection was complete, I left my position as a Senior Vice President of a New York City advertising agency for the city of Orlando, Florida. Since Orlando was the tourism capital of the world, I reasoned it would be an excellent location for a museum. But reality quickly intruded on my pipe dream!
Disney, Universal and Sea World dominate the Orlando market while secondary and tertiary attractions struggle mightily for leftover crumbs. It became readily apparent that the economics of renting and properly dressing a location, moving the collection, restoring all the machines and paying for qualified employees exceeded my financial grasp. The barriers to successful entry were simply insurmountable.
Sadly, at that point, I was forced to deal with some harsh realizations. That my treasured collection was totally hidden from the world and nearly 1,200 miles away! Enter, the Pacific Pinball Museum.
My introduction to the PPM was through Gottlieb wedgehead and woodrail mega -collector Larry Zartarian, currently the President of the PPM’s Board of Directors. Larry and I had exchanged a number of emails relating to collectible games prior to our meeting. Then, based on the overwhelming success of the PPM’s first Exposition in 2007 and Larry’s encouragement, I attended and spoke at the second PPM Exposition in 2008.
What impressed me as much or more than the magnitude and professionalism of the show itself was the quality and character of the people who served as the PPM Board.
Ron Chan is a Silicon Valley marketing executive. Jim Dietrick is the owner of Pinball Revival in Novato, CA. Dan Fontes is a well known muralist. Brad Grant is a semi-retired Realtor and the previous owner and operator of successful night clubs and restaurants. Jem Gruber is an artist and musician. Melissa Harmon is both an artist and a Bay Area landlord. Helmut Jordt has a background in manufacturing and his wife DeAnna is a project manager with a marketing and promotion organization. Dan Miller is the managing director of a venture capital firm.
PPM Founder and Executive Director Michael Schiess is an artist, musician and a museum exhibit builder. Jim Strehlow is one of the “Founding Fathers” of the PPM and was instrumental, during the 1970s, in the effort to have pinball legalized in Alameda. A senior software developer, Jim is the grandson of the founder of Alameda’s Neptune Beach Amusement Park (1917-1939) known as the “Coney Island” of the West. Larry Zartarian, President of the PPM Board, is a portfolio manager for high-net-worth clients. Not surprisingly, virtually all of the PPM board members collect pinball machines and have proved competent at restoring them.
My positive experiences with members of the PPM Board and my attendance at PPM Exposition II were enough to convince me that my collection was meant to be placed in their capable hands -- that it belonged on the floor of the Pacific Pinball Museum and in the carefully organized confines of their Alameda research and restoration facility rather than suffering scorching summers and frigid winters, destined only for obscurity in upstate New York.
PPM Founder & Director Michael Schiess & PPM Board President & Director Larry Zartarian explain the museum’s long-term plans to attendees at PPM Exposition VI. Credit: richyeephotography.com
The Pacific Pinball Museum Board of Directors & Advisory Board Members. Bottom Row: Directors Helmut & DeAnna Jordt, Founder & Director Michael Schiess, Directors Melissa Harmon & Ron Chan.
Top Row: Directors Dan Fontes & Gem Gruber, Advisory Board Member Gordo, Directors Jim Dietrick & Dan Miller, Board of Directors’ President Larry Zartarian, Directors Jim Strehlow & Brad Grant, Advisory Board Member Chris Kuntz.
So, in June, 2009, the great move of the collection from the Hudson Valley in New York, suburban Philadelphia and Orlando, Florida took place. After two exhausting days of loading in Poughkeepsie, two packed-to-the-gills, 53-foot tractor trailers left for their 3,000 mile trek to Alameda, California carrying games from my storage units in Morrisville, Pennsylvania and LaGrangeville, New York.
In the meantime, Michael Schiess and I drove (actually Mike did all the driving) a rented Ryder truck 1,200 miles from Poughkeepsie to Central Florida to pick up games and parts stored at my home in Orlando. Jim Dietrick flew in from San Francisco to help us load and then he and Mike drove the 2,900 miles back to Alameda.
Almost from the time the games arrived at their destination the museum, as well as its storage, research and restoration spaces, have dramatically increased in size to accommodate my collection and a growing stream of donations from other collectors. In fact, the massive collection of Richard Conger, “Keeper of the Pinball Flame Since 1952” awaits adequate space to accommodate his intended, one-of-a-kind donation.
It’s important to recognize, that almost from its inception, the Pacific Pinball Museum has been a self-supporting, not-for-profit (501 c-3) corporation. Its success has been largely due to the dedication of the PPM Board and a fantastic and motivated cadre of more than 120 volunteers, who unselfishly donate their time, expertise, and often their money to the PPM because they believe strongly in its mission and in the resolve and integrity of its Board of Directors.
Their mission statement is clear and unequivocal…
“To inspire an interest in art, science and history through pinball and to preserve and promote this important part of American culture.”
In keeping with that mission, the Pacific Pinball Museum has achieved unqualified success in its current venue in Alameda. However, to achieve its full potential as a nationally recognized museum and destination attraction, and to more aggressively pursue its educational and community outreach goals, it must find appropriate space in a larger metropolitan market such as San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley.
At the moment, the potential exists for the PPM to relocate to the historic Palace of the Fine Arts in San Francisco when the world famous Exploratorium vacates those premises after 43 years of success.
The timing is critical as the Golden Gate Parks and Recreation Department will be putting out Requests for Proposals in anticipation of the Exploratorium leaving the building in spring of 2013. If the PPM can put together an adequate war chest along with their world-class and growing collection, they have a good shot at creating the most incredible museum of fun, learning and gaming in the world.
Others have entered the pinball museum arena - some with great success. This can only be good for pinball and its many proponents. What differentiates the Pacific Pinball Museum from other efforts working to promote pinball preservation and its rich history is a plan that includes a succession strategy.
While most of the current PPM Board members are just middle-aged they are already working to develop the managers and donors who will succeed them and carry on the proud tradition of the PPM.
They take their charge to become the “Smithsonian” of pinball seriously and that is why I urge all of my pinball friends to support them in any way that you can.
At the moment their most pressing need is for dollar donations. The “war chest” necessary to support the PPM’s successful application for occupancy of the Palace of Fine Arts is on the order of $1.5 million.
I know of at least a dozen collectors who could take a major slice out of that $1.5 million pie if they chose to step forward. And I know hundreds more who could help the PPM reach its goal if they used their social networks to approach family, friends and fellow pinball collectors and enthusiasts.
The Palace of Fine Art in San Francisco. Potential future home of the Pacific Pinball Museum.
If the Pacific Pinball Museum’s bold initiatives aren’t initially supported by the folks who have the most to gain from their success then all of the dreams, aspirations and plans for the future are certain to fall short of their rich potential.
If, on the other hand, the subscribers to PinGame Journal are willing to advocate for the PPM’s success and share this appeal with their pinball friends and contacts, there is no question that our collective efforts will result in the finest, most enduring pinball museum that the world has ever known.
DONATE TO THE PACIFIC PINBALL MUSEUM
To contribute to the PPM’s planned relocation fund please make your check payable to Pacific Pinball Museum and send it to:
Pacific Pinball Museum Business Office
1029 Central Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501-2305
VISIT THE PACIFIC PINBALL MUSEUM
If you’re in the neighborhood, please visit us and say hello to Michael, Melissa, Jem and our loyal group of volunteers:
Pacific Pinball Museum
1510 Webster Street
Alameda, CA 94501
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 2pm – 9pm
Friday: 2pm – 12 midnight
Saturday: 11am – 12 midnight
Sunday: 11am – 9pm
Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
Kids under 12: $7.50
Thank you in advance for being a friend of pinball and an advocate for preserving its rich history.
Copyright © 2012, Gordon A. Hasse, Jr. All rights reserved except for the PinGame Journal’s right of first publication. All other reproduction in any form without the express written consent of the author is prohibited.
(Photo Credit: PPM unless otherwise noted)
31937 Olde Franklin Drive, Farmington Hills, MI 48334-1731