Balboa Fun Zone sold to Costa Mesa real estate firm

Visitors at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
Visitors at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach on Wednesday. The Discovery Cube announced Tuesday that it would be selling its property to Chartwell Real Estate Development, a real estate firm in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Balboa Fun Zone is now under new ownership.

Discovery Cube, a nonprofit that oversees the children’s museum and science centers in Santa Ana and Sylmar, announced Tuesday that it intended to sell the Balboa Fun Zone property — where its marine educational facility, Ocean Quest, is located — to Costa Mesa real estate firm Chartwell Real Estate Development.

The museum initially announced its intention to sell the property in December last year due to the financial impacts of COVID-19. Henry Pyle, an operating partner at Chartwell, said the firm moved to make an offer almost as soon as it was announced that Discovery Cube was looking for buyers.

Pyle, who led the acquisition on the behalf of the Pyle family, said in an interview Wednesday that the decision was personal.

“The [Balboa] Fun Zone is definitely probably one of the most iconic landmarks in Newport Beach and, for sure, on Newport Harbor,” said Pyle. “My dad grew up in the 1960s on Balboa Island, going to the Fun Zone. Then, I grew up on Balboa Island ... in the ‘90s.”

“It has an incredibly special place in our hearts and incredible historic relevance for the city of Newport Beach,” said Pyle.

Visitors at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
Visitors at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach on Wednesday. Its owners intend to sell the property.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“We really just jumped on the opportunity to be able to take part in such an iconic landmark, and we’re really looking forward to being good stewards of the Balboa Fun Zone legacy,” he added.

The Balboa Fun Zone was built in 1936 by Al Anderson on an old boatyard and has exchanged owners in the years since. Visit Newport Beach, the city’s tourism arm, describes it as one of the oldest and “last great coastal amusement areas” in Southern California.

Anderson would later sell the property in 1972. It would then be sold to Jordan Wank in 1985 after changing hands between lending institutions. Wank then bulldozed down the old Balboa Fun Zone and by 1986 rebuilt it into what currently stands on the Balboa Peninsula, according to the Balboa Fun Zone’s website.

It would change hands again to Balboa Fun Zone Rides, Inc. in 1994 before eventually being purchased by the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum in 2005. The Discovery Cube acquired the property after merging with local nonprofit ExplorOcean in 2016.

“Selling the Fun Zone was a difficult decision for the museum, but we were fortunate to partner with Chartwell and the Pyle family who value the historic elements of the Fun Zone and are focused on bringing new life to this iconic local landmark,” said Discovery Cube Chief Executive Officer Joe Adams in a statement.

Visitors at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The deal is expected to be finalized later in the coming months, and details as to what would be the final price for the property were not confirmed to press as of Wednesday. Officials from both organizations confirmed, however, that the Balboa Fun Zone will continue operating this summer through the change in ownership.

As part of the agreement, the real estate firm is allowing the Discovery Cube’s marine education vessel, the Dylan Ayres, to continue docking at the Balboa Fun Zone.

Pyle said future plans for the block-long waterfront property are still up in the air for potential future improvements, but the family intends on preserving the Balboa Fun Zone while attempting to renovate and breathe new life into the area where possible.

Pyle said he felt both Chartwell and the Pyle family were honored being entrusted with this next chapter of the Fun Zone’s history.

“When we’re looking at real estate in our backyard like this and at the places where we grew up, it’s just that they’re very inherently important to us, just as kind of local, iconic landmarks ... we truly believe that it can be a sustainable and great property just being the Fun Zone,” said Pyle on Wednesday.

Discovery Cube Tuesday announced the sale of Discovery Cube's Ocean Quest property.
Discovery Cube Tuesday announced the sale of Discovery Cube’s Ocean Quest property, the iconic Balboa Fun Zone, to Chartwell Real Estate Development.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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