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From old to new

As the Balboa Fun Zone celebrated its 75th anniversary Saturday, the property's owner has ambitious plans for the future. But some old-timers can't imagine the new ideas succeeding.

September 24, 2011|By Mike Reicher
(KEVIN CHANG, )

A grandfather shoved quarters into the boy's hand, demanding he try a game of skee-ball.

"I don't want to play," the boy, about 10, whined to his father, who held his hand and blocked an escape to the video games. "I don't know what it is."

Three generations stood in front of the archaic arcade game, and the oldest was clearly the most excited.

After each roll, the boy jumped nervously, waiting to see which hole the ball reached. But as soon as the wooden balls ran out, he squirmed away for flashier machines. His grandpa popped in another quarter for himself. One more, for old-time's sake.

So went the story of the Fun Zone's 75th anniversary Saturday.

It was a celebration of the mini-amusement area, but it was also a point of departure. The Fun Zone's largest landowner evicted the merry-go-round earlier this month, and has revealed plans to demolish its surrounding buildings. Instead, plans call for a $35-million high-tech entertainment complex with a maritime educational theme.

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The mechanical ponies and cotton candy are making way for simulated submarine rides.

"I'm trying not to think of it as a wake," said Patrick Moore, who for 22 years has operated the carousel and nearby Ferris wheel.

He and his wife, co-owners of the attractions, will begin deconstructing the carousel Tuesday, though they have 25 years left on their Ferris wheel lease. Their landlord, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, has incorporated the iconic wheel into its designs.

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AMBITIOUS PLANS

Museum officials showed a few elements of designs for their ExplorOcean center on Thursday to a group of local residents and business owners.

They flashed artful drawings of kids climbing on the deck of a clipper ship replica, toying with nets and lines. Some Disney and Universal Studios designers have joined to help the non-profit group. One marquee exhibit would be an "ocean observatory" with live video feeds coming from ships at sea.

"Everybody thinks the Fun Zone is going away," said Jim Salomon, a member of the museum's board of trustees. "It's not. It's getting better."

The Nautical Museum purchased the property in 2005 for a reported $14 million. At the time, it was backed by Roy Disney, an avid sailor who has since died. Now they have an $8 million endowment, much of which has come from a local family, said Executive Director Rita Stenlund.

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