Location: 1512 Webster Street, Alameda, CA 94501, USA.
Report by Dave Santi
Editor's note: In July of 2009 we published Ron Chan's excellent report on the PPM/Lucky Ju Ju in Alameda, California. In that article Ron told how the premises would soon be expanded with the purchase of the former record store at the front of the building. This would greatly increase the space available, provide a street-front entrance and allow the Ju Ju to become the Pacific Pinball Museum. Well, that happened as Ron anticipated and now Dave Santi has visited the enlarged facility so he can tell us all about it. Over to you, Dave.
Wow! Somebody finally did it! They made a real pinball museum!
When I walked into the Pacific Pinball Museum on Webster Street in Alameda, California, I was prepared for an incredible pinball experience… and I wasn’t disappointed!
The first thing you see as you walk in the front door are four EM pins for sale that also serve as window dressing. These are available for play free to anyone walking in as kind of a teaser. The current lineup is a Bally “Magic Circle”, Gottlieb’s “Pro Football”, a Gottlieb “Buccaneer” and a Williams “Big Ben”.
After a quick game on “Magic Circle” and a longer one on “Buccaneer”, I took a look at the gift shop and all the goodies inside. They had quite an assortment of pinball photos, fridge magnets, hats, T Shirts, bumper cap nightlights, DVDs, even some repair books and the “Pinball Encyclopedia - Volumes 1 and 2”.
On the other side of the display cases is where you will find Melissa Harmon or Jem Gruber, the main staff of the Museum and also PPM board members. Here is where you pay your $15 and get a wristband as proof of admission, allowing you to spend as much time as you want playing pinball, learning about it, or just looking and listening to all the fantastic objets d'art.
The museum experience starts off with a highly enlightening exhibit of panels depicting the history of pinball, and continues with some very early examples of rare pinballs such as Montegue Redgrave’s 1898 “Parlour Bagatelle”, a seldom-seen “Whiffle Ball”, “Bingo” and the machine that started it all, Gottlieb’s 1930 “Baffle Ball”. These are on loan from PPM board member Dan Miller and collector and pinball historian Gordon A. Hasse Jr.
On the opposite side is a 1938 Stoner “Ritz” donated from the Michael Sands Museum, an interesting 5 ball predecessor to the bingo games of the 40’s and 50’s. And appropriately, next to it, is a gorgeous 1955 United “Manhattan” 2 card bingo from the Hasse collection, both on free play.
Back to the entrance side, a beautifully restored 1936 Bally “Bumper” is the first game that is available for play. This is the founder of the museum, Michael Schiess’s, favorite game. “It has a rich local history”, explains Schiess as he introduces me to the early world of the silver ball. “It was confiscated by the Oakland cops in 1936. Instead of ending up destroyed like many other gambling devices, it ended up in the hands of an Alameda cop and stayed in his garage for over 70 years”. Schiess continues, “It is a very pure game to play. It’s all about gravity, bounce and the skill shot.”
And indeed, I find myself playing a few games on a machine from 1936 that was a flipperless gambling device destroyed by many cities across the nation. After spending 15 minutes on it, I had to pull myself away - as there was an entire room full of buzzing, chiming machines.
The first things you see when you walk in to the main room besides all the beautiful machines lined up on each side, are the colorful room-length murals up above them. The giant graphics are amazing as they call out “100,000 points, bumpers, targets, specials”! and they set a fantastic ambiance for all the games before you.
As I found out later, these were the brainchild of PPM board member Dan Fontes, done with help from volunteers including Ed Cassel, another muralist. At the very end of the main room is a 10’ x 8’ mural of the very rare Gottlieb woodrail “Mermaid” that presides over the scene.
The next installment is a Gottlieb lover’s dream come true. The 1950-era woodrails on the right and the 1960s wedgeheads on the left. An incredible array of beautifully restored Gottliebs from “Joker” to “World Champ”, and “Foto Finish” to “Astro”.
In all, there are 20 wedgeheads and 20 woodrails, including rare titles such as “Cyclone”, “Wild West”, “Mystic Marvel”, “Grand Slam” and “Sweet Add A Line” from the 1950s, and “Flipper Cowboy”, “Central Park”, “Cross Town” and “Majorettes” from the 1960s.
Many of these were provided by PPM board member, Larry Zartarian, who has a thing for Gottlieb games in particular. As Larry said, “Gottlieb was considered the Cadillac of the pinball industry during its heyday from the late 1940s to the end of the 1960s. To me, that 20 year period was the Golden Age of pinball, and I am happy to make many of these games available for the general public to play and enjoy today.”
These are the games that are introducing pinball to a new generation of pinheads in the world. One of the goals of the PPM, according to Schiess, is to not only entertain but to educate the next generation of future pinball fans. Towards that end, a lot of families come through here and many of the kids enjoy playing the older games, which is pretty cool.
Every machine has a “Topper” on the head. It is a bent plastic holder for an information card highlighting interesting characteristics about each machine. It is an educational experience for sure. And a good time!
The Art Gallery. The first show is “Pinball as Fine Art” by Melissa Harmon. Melissa has done an exceptional job curating the exhibits.. Informative and beautiful to look at! And the exhibition is also.
Pinball Art: Fine Art is an overview of exhibitions and artwork about pinball from 1972-2010. It is a collection of exhibition posters and artists’ creations, with commentary about historic shows in which pinball art and fine art intersect. The show features original works by Dirty Donnie, Brian Holderman, Wade Krause, Mike Schiess, and William Wiley who have re-themed pinball machines, removing the old artwork, and replacing it with their own. There are pages from Melissa Harmon’s book in progress Fashion in Pinball.
The next room is a curious mix of interesting pinball and various arcade games. There is the Visible Pinball, which is actually made of the inner workings of a 1976 Gottlieb “Surf Champ”, placed into a clear cabinet so that one can witness the internal workings of the game while it is being played.
There is also a 1960 Bally “Circus”, a “Surf Queens”, and a very unusual Bally “Spinner”, which features colored balls that up to four players need to land in 5 different holes – very challenging and addictive!
Out into the main hallway, there is the original Lucky Ju Ju on the left with mid '60s and '70s electromechanical games (EMs), all together 19 pinball machines all set on free play.
There's an AMI jukebox, Model H., with a very eclectic mix of tunes on it, free. A 10’ x 8’ mural by Dan Fontes of Gottlieb’s “Majorettes” is perfect at the end of the room.
The next room to the right is the late '70s, to '80s room. Solid state or digital pinball with ramps, faster play and memory. It has an appropriate solid state jukebox, a Seeburg LPC1 with more modern selections and a few oldies to round it out.
The room in the very back has newer machines; usually 9 of them. When I was there, you could play a game on Creature from the Black Lagoon, Indiana Jones, Fun House, and a host of other games. The even had a Stern CSI! And in every room that you go into throughout the museum, there is a hand-painted mural on the wall of a backglass from an EM pinball, just to balance it all out.
7 years ago, Schiess started his effort with what was known as the “Lucky Ju Ju” pinball arcade and art gallery, which featured 30-35 machines – mostly EMs – and a rotating gallery of pinball-related artworks.
Over the years, the “Lucky Ju Ju” evolved into the “Neptune Beach Amusement Museum”, named after a nearby amusement park in Alameda that operated from the early 1920s to the early 1930s that was once referred to as the “Coney Island of the West”.
In an attempt to broaden the appeal of the enterprise, Schiess formed a Board of Directors which now has a dozen members, and re-named the effort “Pacific Pinball Museum”.
Not satisfied with having recently doubled the size of their current space to approx. 4,500 square feet, the PPM is searching for a permanent home for its collection of over 650 individual pinball machines. The ultimate home would be at least 40,000 square feet; large enough to house not only the PPM’s collection, but to also have room for a classroom where folks can learn about the art, science and history of pinball, restoration techniques, a restaurant, oral history section, an extensive paper, advertising and flyer collection, and a repair facility. In short, “we want to be the Smithsonian of pinball”, says Schiess.
From my recent visit, I’d say they are well on their way!
Along with a larger space, the PPM also expanded its hours of operation and is now open 6 days a week (Tuesday to Sunday) from 2pm to 9pm and until midnight on Saturday and Sunday. The PPM is also available for private parties and would make an ideal place for special celebrations.
The Pacific Pinball Museum is located at 1510 Webster Street, Alameda, CA.
Telephone them at: (510) 205-6959.
Visit them on the web at: www.pacificpinball.org
© Pinball News 2010