The Museum of Pinball is a place you may not have heard of, for the simple reason that it is rarely open to the public. Located east of Los Angeles on an 18 acre plot, the facility plays host to over 1,100 pinball and video arcade games from the classic and modern eras.
The amassed cabinets represent the complete collection of founder John Weeks, and together with a slew of tech volunteers, he operates a non-profit organisation that aims to show young people that games don’t just appear on a screen, but can have a physical presence too. And of course, for those people who remember growing up with arcades, the facility is a great way to reignite their passion for pinball and video games.
Now having heard about this place, I made a promise to myself that should an opportunity arise, I’d make the trip over to California to check it out. Only a handful of events take place each year at the Museum of Pinball, one being Arcade Expo. Now in its fourth year, the expo runs across three days, with all ticket sales going towards the upkeep and maintenance of the museum itself. What better opportunity to not only contribute to this great charitable organisation, but to also to get hands-on with a large chunk of arcade releases dating right back through the last few decades?
This years event took place between 16-18 March, and the dates coincided with a trip I was planning to California, so I had no excuse not to stop by! Arriving in the town of Banning, I was immediately taken by the incredible views – the town is surrounded by hills – you really feel a million miles from the bustle of LA, which is just an hour’s drive away.
The museum is split into two distinct areas – pinball and video games. Enter the facility and turn left, and you are greeted with this breathtaking sight:
The volunteers I mentioned earlier were on hand doing a great job at keeping everything working. When something broke down, they were quick to get on the case:
There were plenty of interesting pinballs scattered around – here’s some highlights:
I made a walk-through video of the pinball area which you can watch here:
If over 600 pinball machines under one roof wasn’t enough to keep visitors occupied, there was plenty more to see and play in the video game area. More than 500 cabinets were on display, and barring a few that were down while I was there (to be expected under the circumstances!), all were playable:
The best thing about the layout was that machines were largely grouped by manufacturer:
A few more highlights:
On the far right hand corner of the video game section was this year’s Kong Off competition. Hosted by Richie Knucklez, the event draws some of the best top-flight DK players from around the world such as Robbie Lakeman, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe:
Here’s my walk-through video of the video game area:
There was much more to do at the expo – dealers were out in the lot, as well as live music and good food. There were more surprises to be found too. Located on the property was this shed area, filled with Electro-mechanical shooting games!
Sadly, I literally had just four hours to take a look around and capture what was there, before I had to hit the road, but I can say that in terms of the sheer numbers of cabinets there, this is the most impressive arcade event I’ve been to – can’t wait to see what new stuff Arcade Expo bring up next year. For now, I was able to pick up a t-shirt to support the Museum of Pinball, and said my goodbyes. If you get the chance to go to this 40,000 square ft arcade treasure trove, don’t hesitate!
Many thanks to John Weeks for opening up his doors to the marauding public (I was able to talk with John for a couple of minutes – nice guy), and to the myriad of volunteers who made it all happen – the logistics involved in getting these machines ready for the event must be mind-boggling. I really enjoyed my afternoon in Banning.
Keep an eye on the Museum of Pinball website for updates on upcoming events.
Thanks for reading this week.