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Community Commentary: Fun Zone museum is a good idea but in the wrong location

November 16, 2011

When the discussions about the replacement of the Balboa Fun Zone with ExplorOcean first appeared in the Daily Pilot, my wife and I followed it with interest, but I didn't feel compelled to write until I read the Sunday editorial, "Museum should pay homage to old Fun Zone."

My wife, Shirley, and I designed the renovated Fun Zone while living in a garage-over apartment on Sapphire Avenue on Balboa Island in the early 1980s. We took the ferry across to site meetings. It was a magical time for us.

In designing the Fun Zone, history and context were key design elements. The way we viewed it, the Balboa district was a beautiful L, with the Balboa Pier an anchor at one end, the Fun Zone and ferry at the other, the Balboa Pavilion a queen in the middle, holding court at the end of Main Street.

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There the pavilion stood when people rode the train to enjoy the beach dressed in dark suits, ankle-length dresses and broad-brimmed hats. There she stands reflected in the bay in beautiful watercolor paintings by Ruth Hinds and other renowned Newport artists.

To pay homage to this historical and carnival boardwalk context — and to the good times the Fun Zone meant to so many — we dressed her in Americana colors: red brick, white trim, blue awnings. We gave her some carnie facepaint, and a tiara arch with Tivoli lights and her name on it. The awnings and colors are changed, the tiara gone, but it's still the Fun Zone.

Joe Tunstall and Bob Speth provided the carousel and Ferris wheel rides. Joe bought the carousel from Santa's Village in the Santa Cruz Mountains and completely refurbished it.

Both Joe and Bob, a retired firefighter from Fountain Valley, worked at the Fun Zone as kids. They made a pact then that some day they would own the Fun Zone. As luck would have it, they did own it for quite awhile, filling it full of fun rides and arcades.

When I saw the colored rendering of the proposed ExplorOcean project in the Pilot, it looked to me like a very impressive complex, but it ignores its context. The scale of the project dwarfs the pavilion and the surrounding boardwalk businesses.

The contemporary styling is better suited to a different location that doesn't represent so much history. It's hard to imagine swimsuits and sandy feet being welcomed here.

In the rendering, the Ferris wheel has been replaced by an even bigger Ferris wheel, as if to say that bigger is better. Not necessarily. For that, there is Magic Mountain.

The ExplorOcean leaders, city leaders and perhaps even the Balboa merchants may be hoping this project will do for Balboa what the Monterey Aquarium did for Cannery Row. Here is the difference: The aquarium designers were careful not to detract from the craggy, lovable character of Cannery Row.

ExplorOcean has not treated the quaint and lovable character of Balboa with the same sensitivity.

The high school students who protested recently against the end of the Fun Zone did an admirable job. Not only did they conduct themselves in a positive manner, they articulated the issue very well.

The ExplorOcean project would be a wonderful addition to Newport Beach. This is just not the right place for it.

Rick Dayton

Newport Beach

The writer is an architect with Dayton Associates-Architects Inc. in Newport Beach.

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