For 85 years, a prime spot for fun has been The Fun Zone, an old-fashioned amusement area located along the waterfront in downtown Balboa near the Balboa Pavilion.
Originally built in 1936 by Al Anderson on the site of an old boat yard, the Fun Zone quickly became the place to go in Newport Beach.
Families flocked to the iconic Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, kiddy rides, arcade games, hot dog and ice cream stands (the famed Balboa Bar supposedly originated here), and souvenir shops. Sailboat and motorboat rentals have been popular for many years, as have sightseeing cruises of the harbor.
The Fun Zone was stuck in time for decades, until the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum moved from its home on the Pride of Newport riverboat replica to the Fun Zone a decade ago.
Renamed ExplorOcean, the interactive educational facility closed some of the Fun Zone’s dated rides to create a K-12 STEM education facility open to the public.
Despite their good intentions, ExplorOcean never quite caught on. It was taken over by Discovery Cube science center in Santa Ana and renamed OceanQuest in 2016.
During this time, some of the fun left the fun zone. A vintage arcade closed as did a handful of other elements that probably left visitors wondering where the fun was.
True, the iconic Ferris wheel remained virtually untouched, Harborside and Newport Landing restaurants continued to offer waterfront dining, the Catalina Flyer continued to take passengers to Catalina Island, and Davey’s Locker remained a prime source for sports fishing. However, overall foot traffic decreased, some shops and restaurants closed, and even a merchant’s association’s efforts to revitalize the fun zone experienced challenges.
However, the fun may finally be returning to the fun zone.
On June 1, Discovery Cube announced the sale of the OceanQuest property – namely the Balboa Fun Zone – to Chartwell Real Estate Development.
The new owners are said to be longtime residents of Newport Beach and plan to restore the historic landmark and continue to operate the property as the Balboa Fun Zone.
According to information provide in a press release by Discovery Cube, they announced its decision to sell the Balboa Fun Zone in December of 2020 as “a result of Covid-19 related financial constraints and sought a new owner who appreciates the history and significance of the beloved property for not only local residents but all who visit the Fun Zone every year.”
Chartwell’s Operating Partner is Henry Pyle, who led the acquisition on behalf of the Pyle family, Newport Beach residents since the 1960’s.
“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 Joe Adams, CEO of Discovery Cube, in a statement.
In the agreement, Chartwell has reportedly provided for the museum’s education vessel, the Dylan Ayres, to continue to dock at the Fun Zone. The block-long waterfront property includes the existing buildings and a boardwalk which is home to the Ferris wheel and adjacent marina.
“We are excited and honored to assume stewardship of the Balboa Fun Zone and look forward to working with the city and community of Newport Beach to restore this historic 80-year-old landmark,” said Pyle in a statement. “We are grateful to the Museum’s Board of Trustees for entrusting Chartwell with the preservation and restoration of the Fun Zone.”
Adams noted that Discovery Cube would resume educational voyages on the Dylan Ayres in the fall, and that the science center would introduce new ocean education and conservation exhibits at the Cube in Santa Ana.
“I am thrilled to have a local family lead the revitalization of the Fun Zone for our local residents, business owners and visitors and look forward to working with Henry and Chartwell as they develop their plans,” said Newport Beach City Councilwoman Diane Dixon, whose district includes the Balboa Fun Zone.