Pinball museum raising funds for San Francisco move

Pinball museum raising funds for San Francisco move

Michele Ellson
Photo courtesy of Pacific Pinbal Museum

The founders of the Pacific Pinball Museum on Webster Street are raising money to move to a new location – in San Francisco.

They’ve set up an online campaign in an attempt to raise $1.5 million to fund a move to the Exploratorium’s soon-to-be-vacated space at the Palace of Fine Arts, in which they’re hoping to further their goal of preserving the art and science of pinball and of allowing the full history of the game – from its birth as Bagatelle to its life in the digital era – to unfold.

Museum board member Melissa Harmon said its managers need a larger, more permanent space to display all of its machines and games, and the museum could take advantage of the high profile the Exploratorium’s current San Francisco spot offers.

“We have other collectors who have committed to donating their work,” Harmon said. “But we want to be able to show the machines, not just store them. So that’s one of our big motivators.”

The nonprofit museum got its start as Lucky Juju, a one-room pinball hall where friends gathered to play museum founder Michael Schiess’ games. It expanded into an adjacent storefront space at 1510 Webster Street and became the Pacific Pinball Museum in 2009, after other collectors began donating their machines.

The museum’s current iteration offers 90 machines from several collections that can be viewed for free or played for a flat fee, along with rotating art. But it has 500 games restored and ready for display and a warehoused collection of 2,000 games, according to September 5 piece in Pinball Magazine.

For six years, its managers have put on the Pacific Pinball Exposition, which they’ve billed as the world’s largest pinball show; this year’s iteration, which was held last weekend at the Marin County Civic Center, included seminars, films and tournament play, plus a display of 400 machines. The museum has also offered satellite exhibitions, including a “History of Pinball” show at the San Francisco International Airport Museum, “Pinball Oddity” at Rhythmix Cultural Works and a traveling “Lil Juju” portable pinball museum.

In addition to offering its collection, the museum’s managers want to create exhibits about the art, history and science of pinball and to showcase a curriculum they’ve developed around pinball, which debuted in grade school classrooms this year.

The “nest egg” the museum’s managers are working to raise would aid their negotiations with the City of San Francisco for the Exploratorium space and pay for the additional staff the new museum would need plus moving and maintenance costs. It could also help cover the cost of new exhibits and signage for a new space.

The Exploratorium is preparing for a spring 2013 move to Piers 15 and 17 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. And the city’s parks department will be seeking someone else to fill the 110,000-square-foot Palace of Fine Arts space once they’ve left.

Harmon said the pinball museum’s managers have been interested in the San Francisco space for the past few years and recently started talking with the city; she said the Exploratorium’s managers have “shown some interest” in having the Pacific Pinball Museum in their old space. With five days to go on Wednesday, their online campaign had raised close to $15,000, and Harmon said the museum has gotten additional donations offline.

“If we don’t reach our entire goal, your funding could still provide all these aspects in a different location in the Bay Area,” the museum’s managers wrote in the Pinball Magazine piece. “The Exploratorium’s soon-to-be vacated site at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is what we really want.”

Commenters on the story expressed frustration about the museum’s plans to move out of Alameda and asked whether they might consider looking for another space on-Island or preserving a presence here in town.

“Yikes! Don’t move to SF! You are a big part of what makes the west end of Alameda unique,” a commenter named Kristen wrote. “If you need a bigger space, fine, but please keep a satellite location on Webster. The neighborhood needs you.”

Harmon said the museum’s managers like Alameda and are planning to maintain a presence here on the Island.

“We like it here too,” Harmon said. “We like the smaller town atmosphere and the people enjoy coming with their kids.”