Glendale's arcade problem: A glitch in the city's game room

The storage units look like arcade graveyards. The machines are unplugged, lined up against the wall and the marquees that once flashed, inviting people to play Ms. Pacman or Galaga, now look more like gravestone inscriptions, dusty and scratched.

The city of Glendale has owned the roughly 50 arcade machines for nearly three years and officials want to get rid of them. The problem is, they can't because of a state law.

When Glendale bought the building that housed Video West Arcade across from the Americana at Brand three years ago for the proposed Museum of Neon Art, the former owner sold them everything for about $1 million — the building, the arcade machines, cashier equipment, even a gumball machine and a microwave oven.

“He just wanted a clean break,” said Mark Berry, a project manager for the city who has been keeping tabs on the machines.

The former owner, Andranik Shahinian, initially didn't want to sell the building to the city, preferring to close the arcade and bring in a retail chain, but those plans never came to fruition. There were talks of eminent domain and actor Zachary Quinto, known for portraying Spock in “Star Trek” movies in 2009 and 2013, hosted a Save the Arcade event there in 2009.

In the end, however, Shahinian handed over the keys.

At first, city officials left all of the equipment inside the arcade building in the 200 block of Brand Boulevard. However, about two months ago, movers hauled them to a storage facility as construction began on the Museum of Neon Art, which is set to move in next year.

City officials had played with the idea of selling the arcade machines as a fundraiser for local youth service organizations, but about a year after taking ownership of the machines, talk started brewing about a new state law that would put a wrinkle in Glendale's plan to get rid of them.

The machines — and the arcade — were bought at the end of 2010 with money from the city's former redevelopment agency, which was formed by a state law that redirected property taxes to spur economic development and build affordable housing in blighted areas.

In 2011, though, state lawmakers dissolved California's roughly 400 redevelopment agencies and after a series of legal battles, the agencies were officially closed the next year.

That froze all of the city's redevelopment assets — even the arcade machines. The other property owned by the former redevelopment agency includes the Alex Theatre and the open space at the Americana at Brand.

Glendale will eventually have to sell the machines —and some other former redevelopment properties — and send the profits to Sacramento. But officials have to wait for the California Department of Finance to give them the green light for a sale, and they don't know when that might be.

The games and other equipment left at Video West have a total fair market value of $108,780, according to a city report.

The machines themselves have a wide range of values. A two-seat, sit-down racing game by Sega, called Initial D Arcade Stage Version 3, was valued at $9,000, while an original Galaga, a space shooter game that Berry remembers playing in high school, was valued at $1,400.

When Gene Lewin, owner of Vintage Arcade Superstore in Glendale, heard about Glendale's collection, he was interested in snapping up some of the classic games. He stores arcade machines in the same facility that the city does.

“Some of the games are very hard to find,” Lewin said, adding that people across the country buy arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s from him because of the nostalgia factor.

But Berry told him his hands are tied until state officials give the go-ahead, asking that he check back every month for an update.

“When these go up for sale, people are going to buy them,” Berry said.

Other arcade games the city owns:

Medieval Madness

Attack from Mars

Dance Dance Revolution

Scared Stiff pinball

Crazy Taxi


Extreme Hunting 2

Street Fighter

Tekken 4

Alien v. Predator

Area 51/Maximum Force

Time Crisis 3

Blood Brothers

Virtua Cop 2

NBA Hang Time


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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