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Hold On to Your Seats--Giant Dipper Roller Coaster to Reopen in August

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The historic Giant Dipper roller coaster, surviving years of demolition threats from the city, will reopen in Mission Beach in August.

“Most people retire at age 65, but, when the roller coaster turns 65, it will come out of retirement,” said Tim Cole, president of the Save the Coaster Committee. The coaster first opened July 4, 1925, as a key attraction of 33-acre Belmont Park.

Over the years, the coaster had its ups and downs as the amusement park changed hands, and the deteriorating wooden ride was shut down in 1976. It was saved from demolition by the committee, which received it as a donation in 1981 from the late William Evans, owner of the nearby Bahia Hotel.

The group performed some of the cosmetic rehabilitation through donated labor, goods and services. It raised $300,000, including a $150,000 grant from the state Office of Historic Preservation, to put up lights, paint the coaster and keep the site clean. But work remained to be done.

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The 70-foot-tall coaster, built by San Diego land mogul John Spreckels, seemed destined for demolition as late as 1982, but the committee won a three-year lease of the land from the city to renovate it. But, when the group fell behind schedule because of lack of funds, the city’s labor relations manager recommended giving the lease to someone else.

The Santa Cruz Seaside Co., a Northern California-based roller coaster operator, formed a joint venture with an amusement-equipment manufacturer to obtain a 31-year lease to manage the ride.

In 1987, company officials inspected the Giant Dipper to see if it could be renovated, and the San Diego Seaside Co. was formed to handle the job. Cole is also assistant manager of the San Diego company.

“Every bolt and one-third of the lumber will be replaced,” he said.

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The $1.2-million project will provide a new track and track bed, new bolts and new cars. The ride will contain a 24-passenger train, instead of the original 18-passenger. The site will also feature a re-creation of an old-time carousel, as well as a 600-square-foot roller coaster museum.

The coaster will open the first week in August, Cole said. On July 4, a ceremony will be held in Belmont Park to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the National Historic Landmark, which was once known as the Earthquake.

During summer months, the ride will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, Cole said.


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