Fun Zone History
In 1906, Fred Lewis owned a tract of land on the waterfront in old Balboa. For years, he operated a boat yard there, storing and repainting boats for many of the locals. By 1936 his business had dwindled so he leased the land to Al Anderson. The boat yard was torn down. Construction began and the Original Balboa Fun Zone was born.
The old Fun Zone was run by families, much like it is today. Al Anderson, known for his love of gambling (during World War II there were secret poker games in his upstairs apartment on the Fun Zone grounds) owned the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel: a used 1918, 45-foot version bought from a Seattle company. Harold Hannaford owned and operated the remaining kiddy rides, the boats, the cars, the Bird Cage Ferris wheel and the arcade zone that housed such fondly remembered favorites as Punk Rack and Spill the Milk.
In 1948, after more than a decade of leasing the property on which the Fun Zone was located, Anderson purchased it from Lewis. By that time, it had become an attraction that beckoned kids of all ages from near and far. If you were going to Newport, you went to the Fun Zone. And if you were a kid that lived any where nearby, you wanted to work there.
Joe Tunstall and Bob Speth did exactly that. In 1951 they started working at the Fun Zone, odd jobs at first like picking up papers and blowing up balloons. "We were only 13 and still in the eighth grade," says Tunstall. They worked there until they graduated from Newport Harbor High, then Joe went off to join the U.S. Navy and Bob joined the Coast Guard. In 1956, Bob bought the Fun Zone Ferris wheel, a venture that lasted until he sold it in 1964.
Anderson owned the Fun Zone until 1972 when a lawsuit over a diving accident on a platform along its beach forced him to sell. After that, the property was passed from lending institution to lending institution until Jordan Wank purchased it in 1985. Wanting to refurbish the landmark. Wank obtained a permit from the city to bulldoze it and rebuild.
A year later, the new Fun Zone opened, once again beckoning kids of all ages to its bayside rides and arcades. This time around, two men who had worked there as boys were once again a part of the place they loved. Bob Speth and Joe Tunstall formed Balboa Fun Zone Rides, inc. and signed a 25-year lease to operate the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round.
Things changed again in 1988 when Doo & Sons, a Japanese investment group, bought the property from Wank. Deciding that the Fun Zone would be a prime spot to build condominiums, they began accumulating empty spaces as tenant leases expired. When occupancy was down, they went before the City Council and proposed the project. When it was turned down, Doo & Sons, stopped making payments on the property and it went into receivership.
"During that time I'd call every few months to see who we were supposed to send our rent check to,"says Tunstall. "The bank just didn't know what to do with the Fun Zone. Finally, one day they said, "Why don't you just buy this thing" So we did."
Bringing it all full circle, Balboa Fun Zone Rides, Inc. became the owners of the Balboa Fun Zone in 1994.
"The six-block area hasn't changed much over the years," says Tunstall with pride. "Everything is still owned and operated by a small group of families and friends." As you stroll the boardwalk, listening to the laughter of children and the music of the merry-go-round, that is exactly the feel you get a feel of days gone by, of popcorn and cotton candy and corn dogs, a sense of being a kid again, of what it used to be like long ago.
In 2005, the property was purchased by the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum. Keeping the rides in the family, longtime manager Patrick Moore and his wife, Lisa, now operate the Ferris Wheel. In 2011, the Merry Go Round lease was terminated, bringing an end to 75 years of spinning horses. You can still catch an incredible Ferris Wheel ride, giving you breathtaking views during one of the longer rides you've ever had.
Our newest change comes with a merger at the Fun Zone. In 2016, ExplorOcean merged with Discovery Cube Orange County to form Ocean Quest. They wasted no time in injecting some needed life into the Fun Zone. With a complete facelift of the property, they have also added several new attractions.