Pinball History Flanks Bay

Two pinball art shows are on display through April, one in Alameda and one at SFO.

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Josh Keppel
Pinball Art can be seen, and touched this month in Alemeda, and at SFO.
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Two pinball shows are on display in the Bay Area right now through April, 2010. This one is inside the International Terminal at SFO.
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The exhibit is called Pinball: From Bagatelle to Twilight Zone and it covers the history of pinball. On the left is an example of what is being called the first ever pinball machine, a miniature version of a French table game called bagatelle. British inventor Montague Redgrave created the game after moving to the US in 1869.
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The 1931 Whiffle Board game on the left is considered to be the first modern pinball machine with a slot for coins, a glass cover, and a ball-lift mechanism to return balls to the start position. Ballyhoo, on the right, was one of the most popular games in pinball history, and it kicked off Bally, a major pinball manufacturing company through the twentieth century.
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A look at an early pinball.
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Most of the objects on display were from The Silver Ball Ranch, Collection of Richard and Val Conger of Sebastopol, CA, and from the collections of the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, CA. Thanks guys!
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This machine had a view of the Chicago skyline for the World's Fair showing "A Century of Progress" from 1833 - 1933. As you scored points and progressed through the game, the pictures of the city would become visible.
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Bumper came out in 1937 with numerous game advancements and inventions, most notably the coiled springs called "bumpers" that the player would hit the ball into by gently nudging the cabinet to score points.
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Pinball backglass art was also on display at SFO including this "Golden Gate" backglass from 1939, celebrating the span two years after it was opened to the public.
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An accidental invention of "flipper bumpers" on 1947's Humpty Dumpty turned pinball into a game of skill rather than one of chance. 6,500 of these machines were sold which was a record held until the 1970s.
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During World War II, older machines were transformed into new games just by changing the art, which usually consisted of US war propaganda like 1944's Sky Raider.
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Until the 1950s, the artwork on most pinball machine cabinets consisted of abstract designs unrelated to the theme of the game. In 1953 pinball artist George Molentin started extending his backglass and playfield artwork onto the sides of the cabinets, as seen in this Grand Champion game where the prize winning steer stands under the lights.
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40 machines are on display in the middle of the International Terminal of SFO. This 1951 Control Tower backglass image is perfect for the show.
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There are two large display cases filled with machines, backglasses and parts. They are organized chronologically from the first machine to later ones from the 1990s.
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In the 1960s scoring changed to these rotating score reels giving games more scoring options.
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Flipper was one of the first to use the new scoring reels in 1960. It also changed the free games of previous machines (banned in some areas as gambling devices), to free balls that would extend the game but not give "value" keeping pinball wholesome for the kids. Aw...
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"Since 1980, the San Francisco Airport Museums (SFAM) has presented the traveling public with exhibitions exploring art, history, anthropology, scenic, aviation and popular culture in galleries throughout SFO's terminals." http://www.flysfo.com
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Unfortunately, none of the machines were available to play, but across the bay in Alameda there is another art show surrounded by dozens of machines you can get your hands on. More info on that in a few pictures...
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The Who put pinball on center stage with their 1975 pinball-themed rock opera "Tommy." In the film, Roger Daltrey's title character played Kings & Queens (center) while the pinball tournament showdown at the end of the film was played on Buckaroo, backglass seen here on the right.
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When playing, you usually only see the top of the targets sticking out above the playfield, but here you can see the whole apparatus.
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El Dorado came out in 1975 with four flippers instead of the usual two. Evel Knievel was one of the first celebrities to have his likeness immortalized on a pinball backglass.
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Gottlieb's Haunted House came out in 1982 but was way ahead of its time, with three levels of play, eight flippers, and Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor playing throughout the game. This marked the beginning of machines getting more and more elaborate in the 1980s and 1990s.
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The Addams Family pinball machine reached a new high in design and remains the best-selling flipper game of all time. TV and Movie themed games are the norm today. Chances are games will become less and less complex in the future to lower their prices as Stern, the only manufacturing company left in world, struggles to stay alive.
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Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball is a documentary released in 2008 by a local Bay Area pinball fan and filmmaker Greg Maletic and it was playing with captions on a monitor as part of the display at the airport.
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Across the Bay, on Webster Street in Alemeda, sits the Pacific Pinball Museum, where $15 buys you a fun night of playing over 100 machines set on free play.
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Most of the machines in the museum are of the older variety, but there are a few from the 1980s and 1990s.
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Large reproductions of interesting backglasses like Sky Raider are hanging on the walls, and are available for sale to help spice up your game room (hope your ceilings are high).
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In a corner room, Pinball Art: Fine Art is a show curated by Melissa Harmon and on display until April 2, 2010 where machines like this custom designed and painted Hellacopters game can be played.
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San Franciscian artist and rock poster designer Dirty Donny made this Hellacopters backglass artwork that can but purchased as a glass, or giclee print like this one here.
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"Dirty" Donny Gillies, Wade Karause and Tanio Klyce collaborated to create an original pinball machine called "Metallica" as a commission for singer James Hetfield to be set up at Metallica Headquarters in San Rafael.
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Here's what the backglass looks like backlit without a flash. The machine was set up at the Pacific Pinball Expo for fans to play before heading to Metallica HQ.
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A number of pinball related art pieces are on display for the show at the Pacific Pinball Museum, like these three pieces from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.
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Much of the art show was showing fliers for other pinball art shows from the past, like this one from 1972 at the John Berggruen Gallery on Grant Ave. in San Francisco.
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Luther's Vendetta by Brian Holderman was my favorite piece in the show.
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"Punball: Only One Earth" is a playfield and backglass designed by William Wiley that takes a 1964 Northstar machine and artistically turns it on its head.
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Punball: Only One Earth backglass.
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In July of 2009 the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA celebrated the art of pinball with a show called "Funland." These pictures are from that night.
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This is one show I really wish I hadn't missed... Broads, Boobs, And Buckles: The Pinball Art of Dave Christensen at the Kristi Engle Gallery in L.A.
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The entrance to The Lucky Ju Ju is a small door in a parking lot off Webster St. in Alemeda. This used to be the only entrance into the museum before the Pacific Pinball Museum took over the Webster St. storefront, adding 40 more machines to the experience. For info check here: http://www.ujuju.com/
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The museum is available to rent for parties, and the night I was there Violet was happily celebrating a birthday milestone with her closest friends, and a bunch of pinball machines.
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The room with the art show is also the room where groups can take over with food, drinks, and fun party hats.
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Even after the current show heads out, The Lucky Ju Ju has a permanent collection of pinball art pieces on display like this Visible Pinball Machine by Michael Schiess, curator of the Pacific Pinball Museum.
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This machine is also usually on display at the Pacific Pinball Exposition, a gathering of pinball machines and aficionados held this year on October 1-3, 2010 in San Rafael.
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Pinball isn't just fun for boys, this room had the girls outnumbering the guys seven-to-four. For my tastes there are few things cuter than a girl hugging a pinball cabinet.
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Here's a look at the Pacific Pinball Museum room off Webster St. in Alameda.
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Each machine in the museum has a descriptive card above the game acknowledging the designer, artist and key elements in the game.
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The Lucky Ju Ju has a bunch of other cool, unique pinball machines to have fun with.
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Pinball is fun for the whole family. Next time you see a machine, give it a go and help keep this 140-year-old tradition alive.
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