What is the Fun Zone, really?

The charm of the Balboa Fun Zone is an elusive concept, and for years people have been lamenting its loss.

When the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum recently unveiled plans for its Fun Zone property, those feelings were stoked anew.

People protested and claimed ExplorOcean would wipe out the 1930s-era mini amusement park atmosphere, while others said that the allure had long faded. Some wanted to recreate the historic Fun Zone, and others were just concerned about what exactly might change.

"It was the epicenter of the Newport experience for so many generations," said Gordy Grundy, president of the Newport Beach Historical Society. "So many peoples' memories of Newport Beach are tied to the Fun Zone itself."

In the discussion about the area's future, people stopped to ask, "What exactly is the Fun Zone?"

Most consider it to be the three or so blocks between the Balboa Island Ferry landing and the Balboa Pavilion. The museum's property, which is elevated and marked by signs that say "Fun Zone," takes up a large portion of that area.

ExplorOcean, an ocean-themed education and entertainment center, would replace buildings with an arcade, pizza shop, candy store and the museum's galleries. Within those buildings, kids used to ride the bumper cars and the Scary Dark Ride, but those rides have been gone for years. The merry-go-round left in September.

A major landlord, the Nautical Museum let their leases expire to make room for galleries and events.

The surrounding buildings and attractions, though, would remain. Those include Pizza Pete's, the frozen banana stand, a psychic and some boat charters.

Museum officials say they will be honoring the Fun Zone's history of family entertainment — they plan on having a Ferris wheel, a maze and rides such as submarine simulators — but they contend that the carnival element is not vital. Besides, peoples' memories of the Fun Zone are idealized, officials say, and the area has actually been declining for a while.

"People are thinking back of when the Fun Zone was busy," said Anne Warde, spokeswoman for ExplorOcean, "and that's just not the case anymore."

Some old-timers and teenagers won't let go. High school students protested the museum's plans last weekend. They remembered riding the carousel as a kid, eating Balboa Bars and slices of pizza.

Protest organizer James Pobog, 60, said he knew that some of the buildings would stay, but ExplorOcean's plans are so large, and centrally located, that they would completely change the area.

"The Fun Zone ceases to be a continuous entity," Pobog said.


Twitter: @mreicher

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