Ann Arbor Pinball Museum History.
The Ann Arbor Pinball Museum (aka Vintage Flipper World) is a very unique situation. Originally it was designed as a pinball workshop for Clay Harrell’s incredible pinball collection – a place to keep the games, restore them, and set them up. After all, what’s the point of a pinball collection if the machines aren’t set up?
The short story is the Ann Arbor pinball museum has become the coolest dedicated pinball facility in North America. Because all set up games work and are restored, this is unlike most other large collections. That is we are not a storage facility to just warehouse machines like cord wood. We are there continually restoring, playing, and tuning them. Even though we are only open to the public a few times a year, every week our team of pinball professionals play and tweak the games, to make sure they are exercised and in great playing condition. That is we don’t ignore them through the year, hoping they will work for the few times a year the public gets to play them. This is important because to keep machines fully working, they need to be exercised (wow they almost sound human!)
But the back story is this… The first hurdle to opening the museum was to find property. We had rented warehouse space before, but that wasn’t really working out, as rented warehouses have limitations. It’s better to own property for this usage. So the Harrell’s found the old Hamburg, Michigan VFW (veterans foreign wars) for sale in Green Oak Township on a real estate web site. But since the VFW had been there since 1946 (in some form), the township changed around it. The property was now zoned R2 (residential), yet the VFW was basically an operating bar for Veterans, that got grandfathered commercial zoning. With the new ownership (Clay bought the VFW in August 2013), the R2 zoning was creating a problem.
The township wanted someone living there. As long as it was a residence of some kind on the property, they were OK with the whole pinball agenda. But this just wasn’t in the cards… Until someone at the township said, “you know with R2 zoning a museum is legal.” Well there’s the answer, be a “private” museum. Interesting idea, but kind of silly being a museum that is never open, and that no one could attend!
Since the property was going to be “special use” of some sort, we had to go in front of the town’s monthly meeting to get approval. As part of this process, we managed to get the township to agree to allow the museum to be open to the public up to four weekends a year. So there was the answer. The museum is open to the public a few weekends a year. .. With the big opening as the annual May Ann Arbor Pinball Museum Showcase, starting in May 2014. (The other weekend the museum is open is Black Friday, for a charity food gathering event.)
So that’s how the Ann Arbor pinball museum came about. Note a lot of people ask about the name. No we aren’t really in Ann Arbor proper… but calling it the Green Oaks Township Pinball Museum just doesn’t have the same ring! So we went with the “Ann Arbor Pinball Museum” instead (we’re only a three miles north of the Ann Arbor border.)