Restoration of the "Earthquake" roller coaster in Belmont Park has been put on track with a $150,000 grant from the state Office of Historic Preservation.
The grant will enable the roller coaster, which has had its share of ups and downs since the park's closure in 1977, to come a step closer to complete restoration. However, a stipulation in the grant requires that the Save the Coaster Committee, the nonprofit organization that saved the coaster from the wrecking ball, match the grant amount.
The state is to issue its first check June 1, according to Carol Lindemulder, founder, past president and currently a member of the Save the Coaster group's board of directors. Meanwhile, the group is negotiating with the state over how much of the matching funds must be in actual cash.
Because donations of the in-kind variety may be immediately converted into the restoration, about 50 members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts participated in a "paint-a-thon" Saturday to improve the image of the coaster.
Initial estimates put the cost of restoration of the 1925-era roller coaster at $700,000. The local group has performed much of the needed rehabilitation through donations of labor, goods and services but the state grant is the largest cash donation in the group's three-year history.
"The grant's a real boost in the arm," Lindemulder said. She said it will allow the group to purchase the lumber and professional labor needed to conquer one of the biggest stumbling blocks the group has encountered thus far.
"The labor and the lumber have been the real stickler," she said.
The "Earthquake," or "Giant Dipper," as it also is called, is the only roller coaster on the National List of Historic Landmarks. It won that place in 1979 with the help of San Diego architect Tony Ciani. The listing was a crucial tool in initial negotiations between the Save the Coaster Committee and the City Council, Lindemulder said. "That gave us the potential to negotiate."
Lindemulder said the group hopes to have running lights installed and operating along the tracks of the roller coaster by the 50th anniversary of the roller coaster's opening next July 4.