Location: San Diego, CA
The history of the vintage historic Belmont Park dates back almost 90 years now, deep into the Roaring Twenties, when the park was first founded in the Mission Bay area of San Diego, California. Before the time of the 1920s, the Mission Bay area, nicknamed False Bay hundreds of years earlier by a Spanish explorer, was a tidal marsh that was often overlooked, being out-shined by the well-established nearby communities of Coronado and Pacific Beach. The area would slowly develop, but was always overlooked by most, except for John D. Spreckels.
Spreckels, the wealthiest man in San Diego at the time, who ruled over a sugar empire, began shaping the area. He began constructing the Union building and the Spreckels Theater, acquiring the Hotel del Coronado and North Island, and united two papers, the San Diego Union and the Tribune. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the area’s popularity would come in 1925, when he constructed the Mission Beach Amusement Center, now known as Belmont Park. When the park opened in 1925, it had two key attractions which would carry it through the good times, and the bad, and remain the parks only two original attractions still in operation today, the Plunge, and the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster. The coaster which has withstood the test of time, remains the parks star attraction to this day. The 2,600-foot long coaster was created by the legendary team of Prior and Church, and was built for $50,000 in less than two months. It also originally featured the single-bench Prior and Church trains that would later serve as the influence for Great Coasters International’s modern-day Millennium Flyers, and the Gravity Group’s new Timberliners.
While the park remained extremely popular throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, by the late 60s and 70s, the park began to fall into disrepair. Somewhere during this time, the park was home to a wooden wild mouse roller coaster called Wild Mouse, as well as a small wooden coaster called Kiddie Coaster which opened in 1955. Suddenly, in December 1976, the roller coaster and the park were closed, and the wooden coaster structure became what the city considered an “eyesore.” The city tried to force the owner to tear down the structure, but a group of coaster-loving citizens stepped up in protest. The group, “Save the Coaster Committee,” worked to save the Giant Dipper by having it declared a National Landmark, and requested to have the ride’s ownership transferred over to their group. Eventually, this attempt came to fruition, and through several business arrangements, were able to save the coaster from destruction.
For the 2010 season, the park introduced a SkyRopes obstacle course, a Moser Gyro Loop called “Control Freak,” and the first-of-its-kind Chance Unicoaster known as the “Octotron,” which is replacing the parks Chaos ride. While the small, vintage, historic park continues to operate, in November 2010, Wave house Belmont Park LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to an alleged 700% increase in rent owed to the City of San Diego, though Lochtefeld alleges the city breached its lease agreement in doing so. The park owner assured fans of the park that the bankruptcy would not affect any of the rides, many of which are under a separate lease protecting them.
In early 2011, Belmont finally unleashed Octotron, which was originally scheduled to open as the parks third “New for 2010” attraction, but missed its targeted December 18 date due to winter rains and minor mechanical issues. The Octotron is a prototype “Unicoaster” ride manufactured by Chance Morgan, which features seats that flip and rotate end-over-end while traversing a Himalaya-style track. Riders can spin themselves as crazy or mild as they want, utilizing a joystick on each set of seats. Belmont would be only the second park to receive one of these attractions, following Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America. By the end of the year, the park was once again facing a future of uncertainty. Lochtefeld, who ran the park since 2000, was forced to hand the keys to the park over to the bank, which he owed $17 million, but the park has been kept in operation, and Loctefeld continues to fight back. While the parks future is somewhat uncertain right now due to financial issues, its historied past and the support it has of the community bode well for the parks survival. Today the park supports 15 rides and includes the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster and Octotron. Next time you are in San Diego, head down to Mission Beach and try out this small but historic park.
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