The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Memoirs from a member of the team who saved a roller coaster
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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby hillflyer » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:39 pm

In July of 1981, I finally got word that the San Diego Public Park and Recreation board would decide which one of three commercial development proposals it would consider to build on the Belmont Park property. One of them was Evans’ previously unveiled “Coaster Village.” Another coaster-saving proposal was time-share condos by longtime Mission Beach resident Norman Starr. The third proposal came from Bryant Morris who envisioned keeping only one section of the Earthquake roller coaster to be used as a gateway to his waterpark.

There was a little controversy over turning public land over to a developer at the time, so there was a good chance the board would reject all three proposals.
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One of several proposals that would be considered for developing the vacated amusement park.

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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby hillflyer » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:43 pm

But I had this other vision in my head for a while and I thought it was a good time to draw it out and at least show it to somebody. My idea was using the space as a Family Fun Center type amusement park with a miniature golf course around and inside the Earthquake. Built up on the lower track paths would run go-karts that would use the station house for loading and unloading passengers. In the center of the north turn around I thought would be a fun place to have an activity jungle gym with rooms and tunnels inside the structure and two slides – one that goes down the first drop and a smaller one on the adjacent hill.

I was only trying to introduce a concept I thought was being overlooked. I presented large painted versions of my design (below are the first drafts) before the Public Facilities and Recreation board on August 5, 1981. I knew nothing about city politics and was surprised at how casual everyone was in their behavior. It was a long meeting with the topic of redeveloping Belmont Park not starting until well over an hour later. My memory is a little fuzzy but I guess all three proposals were displayed and explained by the developer.
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My idea was using the space as a Family Fun Center type amusement park with a miniature golf course around and inside the Earthquake. Build up on the lower track paths would run go-karts that would use the station house for loading and unloading passengers. In the center of the north turn around I thought would be a fun place to have an activity jungle gym with rooms and tunnels inside the structure and two slides – one that goes down the first drop and a smaller one on the adjacent hill.

Note: These drawings were done the exact same time the first mention of what is now called AIDS started making the news.

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The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby hillflyer » Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:14 pm

During public input, I , with 20 year-old legs as quivery as my voice, made my two-minute presentation. As I looked at the faces of the board members, I noticed I had more of everyone’s attention than did the previous presenters and they were all smiling – they were more amused than taking me seriously I’m sure. I had all my artwork displayed towards the council, and I remember Bill Evans coming up and around to look at the front of it.

I had done nothing like that before, but I was glad I did and it was a good experience watching a real council session.

Mission Beach councilman, Mike Gotch, after advising the council that just because there was no money until 1983 for park improvements doesn’t mean they should be in a hurry and have someone do it for them. He read a memo aloud that he authored to his colleagues, “No matter how well intentioned when conceived, the combined commercial/parkland must be stopped now. First and foremost, Mission Beach is public parkland, a rare oceanfront jewel with historical significance.”

The council made public apologies to the presenters after they rejected the idea putting of any commercial development on the property at all.
Gotch.jpg
Mike Gotch (1948 - 2008) Popular councilman whose district included his beloved roller coaster.
Last edited by hillflyer on Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:16 pm.

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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby hillflyer » Tue Apr 01, 2014 4:15 pm

The coaster was back at square one but that did little to shake my belief that somehow it could still be salvaged. I left the forum feeling pretty good that day. Not only was I proud of myself for having the courage to hold it all together before city officials, but I heard an unexpected proposal for the Earthquake.

After my presentation, a woman had gone up before the council and identified herself as Carol Lindemulder, former President of the Save Our Heritage Organization, (S.O.H.O). The group is synonymous with historic preservation in San Diego. She pointed out before the board that in case all three proposals are rejected, there could still be a chance to save the roller coaster.

She stated a few facts about what made the coaster unique. This is when I learned that the “Earthquake” once had another name, “Giant Dipper.” And who are Prior and Church? A “bobs” type of coaster? What’s that? An out and back versus a twister? Talk about excited!

Carol added that she received a letter from coaster owner Bill Evans quoting, “I’m willing to donate the roller coaster to a non-profit group for the purpose of its restoration.” All Evans asked for in return was to obtain a professional’s estimate of the coaster’s value so he could use it for a tax advantage. S.O.H.O. advised Carol that a separate committee would have to be formed for the exclusive purpose of restoring the ride.
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Founder and first President of the Save the Coaster Committee Carol Lindemulder (left)
Her successor, Judy Swink, on the right. 1982 photo by Tim Cole

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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby cal1br3tto » Tue Apr 01, 2014 6:39 pm

Keeps getting better and better, really an engaging read! Again, I'm enjoying the combination of personal stories and detailed historical information that might not come to light otherwise.

It's always sad to see a closed coaster standing, but I do think it would help ease the pain a little if the structure were used in a creative way, rather than being left to rot or used as mere decor. Interesting concepts.
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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby hillflyer » Thu Apr 03, 2014 4:37 pm

The Day That Changed My Life

The Public Facilities and Recreation Board voted on a continuance of the matter, scheduled on the docket for October 7th, 1981.
I forgot why I didn’t make a bee-line towards Carol when the meeting was over. I was probably more interested in press coverage out in the hallway. I was asked by a radio reporter about why the beach park meant so much for me to go through the trouble of designing and presenting my idea. Caught unprepared, whatever I said, I remember he lost interest right away.

The night prior to the October meeting, I once again climbed up the Giant Dipper’s lift hill and raised about 4 or 5 flags made from my Mom’s old curtains. With red and black magic marker, I wrote clever sayings that could barely be read on these tiny curtains 70’ up in the air. “We love our old Rollie”, “One Mission Beach, one coaster, please…” are a couple I remember. I’ll post pictures later if I can find them. (I FOUND THEM -SEE BELOW)

I was not prepared for how the last meeting ended with all three proposals being rejected so I wasn’t sure what to expect at this one. The topic of Mission Beach Roller Coaster came up about an hour into the program. Carol Lindemulder once again took center stage.

"The Save the Coaster Committee Inc. will be formed for the exclusive purpose of restoring the Giant Dipper roller coaster back to its original condition. Added will be a roller coaster museum focusing primarily on the history of the Giant Dipper while touching on the history of seaside roller coasters and their general role in the development of surrounding beach communities. Admission and donations collected in the museum would help with maintenance costs of the restored coaster."

A board of directors was coming together and important-sounding contacts had been made. I was all ears throughout the entire 10 minutes of her presentation and hung on every single word.

Impressed that there was a group of known names in both the political and historical aspects of the proposed project, the PF&R board voted to allow Carol 90 more days to establish a true committee. Obtaining ownership of the roller coaster, insurance, non-profit status, completing a fund-raising and rehabilitation schedule, and having the integrity of the structure analyzed were amongst the many tasks to be completed within that time.

Obtaining ownership of the coaster?? What's this??? At the end of that meeting I raced up to Carol and hastily introduced myself, and asked what can I do to help? She invited me to a board meeting sometime that month and gave me her card for Call Carol Interiors. My life changed on that day.
Belmont Fun Center.jpg
My painted version of my idea for a Belmont Fun Center presented before the Public Facilities and Recreation Board in 8/81
Belmont Flags.jpg
The night before the 8/5/81 meeting, I hung up flags made from Mom's old curtains, after she used them to make a dress..lol
Roller Rink.jpg
The first building completed was the Roller Rink. It opened its doors to the public at 2pm March 7th, 1925 - nearly three months before the rest of the center. Constructed by contractors and builders Trepte and Son of San Diego, the tile and stucco structure was 90’x150’ with a Spanish influence in design and a skating surface of carefully selected maple.
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After serving 40 years as a roller rink, it became a bumper car pavilion (1966)
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The midway barren. After moving the bumper cars to another location in the park, the roller rink became a "Spoof Safari". Electric cars took passengers through a haunted house type of attraction. The building was boarded up in 1977 right after the park closed. (1984)
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It was a home for the world's population of pigeons. I took this that weekend before it was torn down in March of 1987.
Last edited by hillflyer on Thu Apr 10, 2014 4:16 pm.

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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby hillflyer » Fri Apr 04, 2014 3:14 pm

Pictorial History of Mission Beach Amusement Center. PT 1.
Belmont 1925 aerial.jpg
The ocean and the sand are one of San Diego’s staples. What started as nothing but a sandbar was established as Mission Beach in 1914. Ten years later, construction started on what would become the Mission Beach Amusement Center. It was built by sugar magnate John. D. Spreckels for the purpose of attracting prospective land buyers for around the area.
Belmont Park Opening.jpg
Mission Beach Amusement Center opened to a throng of thousands on May 29th, 1925. The main attractions included a bathhouse and a dance casino, both boasting to having the latest and greatest amenities. The bathhouse, or, the Plunge, is the indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool that still serves swimmers today.

There was also a roller rink hall, a carousel, and a small thrills and spills area.
During the week of May 18th, 1925, a vacant lot next to the roller rink was cleared and prepared for the construction of a $50,000 roller coaster. While it’s likely the coaster’s debut was supposed to coincide with the Memorial Day weekend opening of the Amusement Center, the permit to start construction wasn’t issued until the first week in June.
Belmont Church.jpg
The team responsible for building the new roller coaster was Frank Prior and Fred Church. http://manchesterhistory.net/bellevue/church.html
In 1918, Thomas Prior passed away and Frank took over the presidency. They built several roller coasters all up and down the west coast, but it is Fred Church who patented many of the design features that contributed significantly to the roller coaster boom of the 1920’s.

The Mission Beach Coaster Company was formed to operate the ride and manage the business with George Barney as president.
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The erection of preassembled supports for the Giant Dipper (a common name for Prior and Church coasters) began immediately after the issuance of the building permit on June 8th, 1925. The two nine-car trains were manufactured in Prior and Church’s Venice plant. It took a construction team of 75 men one week to bring the roller coaster into take shape. The labor force was doubled at the start of the second week so that the deadline of July 4th could be met.

NOTE: The red marks indicate a possible VIP - I'd be guessing if one of them might be Barney and maybe Prior. The blue mark is definitely Fred Church.

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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby robbalvey » Sat Apr 05, 2014 5:38 am

Wow! What a fascinating read! I've moved it into the main forum so it can get a bit more exposure. Thanks for sharing your story. This is great and I look forward to more!

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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby Defcon62 » Sat Apr 05, 2014 6:17 am

Outstanding! Looking forward to the rest of the chapters!
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Re: The Giant Dipper and the Save the Coaster Committee

Postby Woodie Warrior » Sat Apr 05, 2014 9:13 am

This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing your amazing story with us :)
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