Switch to full style
Discuss theme parks, roller coasters, and mules!
Post a reply

The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:41 pm


All ACE members, watch for the summer issue of Roller Coaster! magazine. The San Diego Mission Beach roller coaster had one close brush with the wrecking ball after another since it the park went into decline as early as the 40's. My cover story will feature an article about the trials and tribulations and eventual success of the Save the Coaster Committee and our efforts keeping the Giant Dipper guarded from one wrecking ball after another.

Here is a much longer and detailed version (I still need to finish):

Hi Everyone, Tim Cole reminiscing...

For those of you who are a little behind on your roller coaster history, let me tell you about a 1925- built Prior and Church roller coaster located in Mission Beach, San Diego, California.

The 70’ tall all-wooden seaside attraction, originally named “The Giant Dipper” opened on July 4th, 1925 as part of the new Mission Beach Amusement Center. Between 1925 and 1976, there was a steady rotation of owners and operators of the amusement area and surrounding facilities.

The condition of the park over the decades went back and forth, from being freshly rehabilitated to showing signs of neglect. A fatal fire caused the coaster to shut down for 2 years in the 50’s and it was almost demolished. Late in the 60’s the coaster was condemned for six weeks in the middle of the summer until sufficient repairs were made to some sagging trusses.

In November of 1976, Belmont Park (as it was renamed in the 50’s) closed its gates due to too much costly upkeep required by the city to keep the park profitable.

The park closed and the rides and attractions where sold or demolished within a year. The coaster was actually slated for demolition in 1980 and was on its way to getting the final permit when at the 11th hour, a viable interest was proposed that would keep the coaster around for a while longer.

Soon after, a community group called “The Save the Coaster Committee” was formed for the purpose of restoring this ride. I was a member of that group.

On August 11th, 1990, the Giant Dipper opened to the public resulting in quite an interesting preservation story.

This photo journal will take you through a brief history of the coaster with most photos taken by me during the Save the Coaster years. After all, what good are they sitting in a shoe-box?

Keep checking back every so often for additions to this crazy, dramatic story.

Feel free to comment or ask questions, it's all part of the process.

I hope you enjoy strolling down the memory midway with me...holding hands.

~Tim Cole~
Belmont longshot.jpg
Belmont longshot.jpg (142.97 KiB) Viewed 9888 times
Last edited by hillflyer on Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:38 am.

Re: Mission Beach Giant Dipper Restoration Project.

Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:44 pm

Giant Dipper under construction circa June 1925. Photo courtesy of San Diego Historical Society

Re: Mission Beach Giant Dipper Restoration Project.

Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:18 am

Still arguably the most effective enthusiast restoration project in history. Looking forward to the photos!

Re: Mission Beach Giant Dipper Restoration Project.

Thu Mar 13, 2014 4:02 pm

As a San Diego local, I'm really intrigued about this thread. I can't wait to see more information about this.

Re: Mission Beach Giant Dipper Restoration Project.

Fri Mar 14, 2014 2:36 pm

FOREWARD – by Tim Cole

I'm not sure if my family’s 9-year absence from San Diego makes me a TOTAL native although I was born here. My Dad was in the Navy and I was 5 when we moved to the bland lifeless mountains of Adak, Alaska. For the latter five, we lived in Honolulu, Hawaii where my love for carnival rides began to germinate.

The first coaster I ever rode was a Mad Mouse in 1973 at the 50th State Fair. My love for roller coasters really started when I saw the Brady Bunch kids riding the Racer at King’s Island on the “Cincinnati Kids” episode of the Brady Bunch in 1973.

I was 13 when we returned to San Diego on May 15, 1974. By the time we arrived back in California, I had already developed quite an appetite for carnival rides and the new ones that were introduced to me over-filled my stomach, pardon the pun. There was the Turbo, the Toboggan, the Zipper, and the Sky Diver all at a small carnival in an empty lot in Chula Vista. Then I went and peeked under the canvas tents to see the poor abnormally-formed livestock. Roller coasters were my favorite and I got to enjoy Disneyland’s Matterhorn and the Del Mar Fair’s High Miler before cutting my tooth on a wood coaster.

My first trip to Belmont Park was on May 10th, 1975 while on a school field trip. We departed from Chula Vista Jr. High at 11am late one foggy morning. As we crested the bridge over the San Diego river, I caught my first glimpse of the roller coaster, looming afar like a dinosaur through the marine layer. There were not yet trees in the surrounding Mission Bay Park, so I could not take my eyes off if it as the bus pulled up to the parking space.
Belmont Park bus 1966.jpg
Taken in the mid 50's The Belmont sign was placed there in 1954 after the park changed over from Mission Beach Amusement Center. Note the light standards holding the lights high above the tracks.
Belmont Park Coaster Elot.jpg
Mid 60's - the light standards were taken down with bulbs being relocated to just below the handrail. Watch for the Prior and Church coaster train!
Last edited by hillflyer on Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:16 pm.

Re: Mission Beach Giant Dipper Restoration Project.

Fri Mar 14, 2014 6:17 pm

Very interesting--I've already learned new things about the coaster and park, and I like the personal storytelling as well. Great photos, especially that construction one that makes it look so twisty.

I'm not the one to ask, but I feel like this would be right at home in the main forum?

Re: Mission Beach Giant Dipper Restoration Project.

Mon Mar 17, 2014 4:27 pm

Belmont Memorys

I rode about 5 or 6 flat rides before I mustered up the courage to ride the roller coaster. I remember clearly, being very nervous when we ran up the station house ramp and then very VERY nervous when I slid into my well-cushioned seat and saw there was only a fixed grab bar and no seatbelt! I remember the first time I rode it (with classmate Michael Wong) and how I bonked the left side of my head against the high rounded handle bars attached to the sides of the car as we went over the top. It was a rough and tumble kind of ride, I never got up the courage to ride in the front seat of the open front car, but I did get as close as the second.

Other than an involuntary symptom of puberty, the Belmont roller coaster was my first woodie. I believe I rode it 5 times that first day.

Have you ever had post-park letdown the day after a park outing? Oh, I hated it. Even though the park was 15.2 miles north from our apartment, it seemed worlds away because of strict parents who worried too much about their only child going anywhere on his own.

Since that trip to Belmont, I channeled my coaster frustration using my HO-scale train set to make this Mad Mouse-type coaster. It was a rainy afternoon while the radio played the newly-released “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John. I just remember that, I don’t know why.

The parents always showed little to no interest in wasteful things like carnivals and parks so it took a good amount of pleading to get them to take me to Belmont Park for my 15th birthday. So we and some friends of the family took a three-hour visit to the park where I remember riding the coaster multiple times in a row. Still never did get the courage to ride in the front. That October 4th of 1975 would be my final day at Belmont Park which had become my favorite spot on earth, even more so than Disneyland.
One of 9 coaches from the coaster train. Note the fixed lap bar and the ball in the front that hitched to the socket under the seat.
Taken around the time I first visted Belmont Park in 1975. Note the Orange, purple, and mustard yellow colors of the station house.
Taken in 1976. 1 - looking east toward the entrance. 2- looking north west towards the entrance. 3 - looking north up the midway, roller coaster is at far end. 4 - looking northwest towards the coaster. 5- Looking south down the midway. Note the station house is red white and blue for the bicentennial.
Last edited by hillflyer on Tue Mar 18, 2014 4:23 pm.

Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Tue Mar 18, 2014 3:42 pm


I wasn’t shattered when I heard of Belmont Park’s closure in November of 1976. Nobody was really clear as to whether or not it was going to ever open again so I remained optimistic. It wasn’t until the late spring of 1977 when I learned the closure was permanent. I didn’t think much about it for there were many other diversions that were holding my attention.

Model building has always been a passion of mine. In high school I was taking drafting classes and I wanted to work in Hollywood making miniatures. Roller coasters were stored on my shelf at the time I was building a model of Hollywood’s iconic Capitol Records building when I discovered Gary Kyriazi’s book, The Great American Amusement Park.

Suddenly I had school trips to Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm coming up and I was really excited about a summer trip to Magic Mountain. My high school band played at a competition parade in Long Beach and the awards ceremony was at the arena there. I had NO idea there was an amusement park right next door - The Pike. I was so excited about roller coasters that I began designing what was to be an operational model of the Revolution, but I never got beyond making the train.

And let’s not forget that summer’s release of Universal Studio’s thriller, Rollercoaster! My rekindled love for roller coasters went over the top at this point, so much so that in photographs, I tried to reenact the opening scene from the movie (out take in lower right corner).

After weeks of grueling yard work, I earned my second visit to (pre-Six Flags) Magic Mountain on June 30th, 1977. As we entered the park I saw, on the main plaza, an astonishing scale model of their next upcoming attraction, Colossus! The sign boasted this would be the largest twin racing coaster in the world. The model fascinated me as well as the ride stats so getting to ride this was all I could think about for one entire year.

Here is a picture I took the moment I thought, “Forget building the Revolution, I want to build a model of the Belmont Park coaster!”
A 1/8th scale of the newly introduced Colossus. By Tim Cole - 1977
Belmont Drafting.jpg
My High School Drafting Class. My desk is in the forefront.
The top two are my first attempt at making a roller coaster train (Magic Mountain's Revolution). It rolled pretty good! BL: Models I built in high school including Hollywood's Capitol Records tower that functioned as storage for cassettes, 45's and LPs. BR: The only photo I can find of my "Rollercoaster" opening sequence in photos. By Tim Cole (1978)
Last edited by hillflyer on Thu Apr 10, 2014 3:58 pm.

Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Wed Mar 19, 2014 4:29 pm

Maybe it was a discouraging news report I heard on TV about the coaster because on one rainy day in March 1978, I did something I’d never done before. I ditched school so that I could take the bus to Belmont Park and take some pictures of the roller coaster while I could. When I arrived, I was heart-wretched when I saw all the rides gone. Only the roller coaster, former roller skating rink, the Plunge indoor swimming pool and a few colorful vestiges remained. I watched workmen demolishing the Enchantedland section of the park for a while, with a guard dog standing watch at the gate. Using my pocket instamatic, I took a series of photos from end to end of the coaster making a panoramic view when taped together.

With only a few amateur photos, I remember thinking they would be a good enough reference to see if I really could build a model of the coaster for historical posterity. This is also when I learned the roller coaster had a name, Earthquake, as it was painted in big bold letters on the station's billboard.

My first day of summer break and it was a gorgeous June day. I - now brandishing a new driver’s license, drove my Dad’s Cadillac down to Mission Beach and look more at the Earthquake. Here is when I first gained illegal access to the roller coaster property. Once through a hole in the wooden fence, I found myself in a forest of 6” x 6” weathered posts all around me with 2”x6” boards going every which way. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I had NO idea where to begin exploring. I thought maybe I should start at the beginning so with a camera, tape measure, a scale ruler, and some vellum paper to sketch notes on, I headed for the station house. Below are the photos I took the first day I stepped foot inside.
1) The outside of the faded station house. 2) At one time this was one of many free entrances into the park. Once the POP policy was adopted in 1971, a fence with one entrance gate went up all around the park. 3) Inside the station house. The 50's added drop celing towards the front became home for half the world's pigeon population. 4) Looking at the back of the station. The queue rails over on the left were also part of the 50's renovation.
1) Inside the North turnaround looking south. That is the tunnel in the middle with the brake tunnel up on the right. 4) The last photo shows the wooden fence that went up around the coaster some time in the 50's.
Belmont Gate..jpg
Belmont Park and its closed front gates.
Belmont Gate..jpg (35.39 KiB) Viewed 9569 times
Last edited by hillflyer on Sun Apr 06, 2014 2:28 am.

Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Thu Mar 20, 2014 2:21 pm

During the early part of 1979, the demise of the abandoned Earthquake roller coaster looked more certain with every passing news report. Around this time, I learned that the owner of the roller coaster was Hotelier Bill Evans, operator of Belmont Park since 1969. His abandoned roller coaster was sitting on city property and beach residents were actively working on having it removed. Belmont Park was the favorite playground for his two teens and he didn’t want to pay for the demolition if only for sentiment. Questions over who should have to pay for the demolition delayed the process.

In the interest of keeping the bulldozers away, San Diego City Architect Consultant, Anthony Ciani, succeeded in having the Mission Beach Earthquake placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1978. That designation happily hampered Evans' attempts to get a demolition permit as ordered because now there were extra legal hurdles to jump over. In frustration, the city went ahead and stapled “Intent to Demolish” notices to the coaster’s surrounding wood fence. They were going to simply rip down the coaster and charge it to Evans. Threatened with the possibility of losing federal funds by tearing down a recognized landmark, that motion was not passed by the San Diego City Council.

I was taking a film class my senior year and my final project was a stop-motion ride on the Earthquake. My classmate, Howard Washburn, and I negotiated our way around the entire track, inches by inches, manually clicking the shutter on my new super 8mm movie camera. It took three afternoons. To this day, I think the resulting animation is impressive considering the circumstances. I got an A on the film and it was shown in part, on the local news!
Barren Belmont Park in 1979. The old roller rink aka bumpercars aka Spoof Safari is in the foreground with the "Earthquake" roller coaster behind. Hard to believe the Earthquake would stand like this for 11 more years.
Last edited by hillflyer on Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:34 am.
Post a reply