Giant Dipper (Belmont Park)
Roller coaster in Belmont Park
Mission Beach Roller Coaster
Site in U.S. state of California
|Location||3000 Mission Boulevard, San Diego, California|
|Area||2.8 acres (1.1 ha)|
|Architect||Thomas Frank Prior, Fredrick A. Church|
|Architectural style||"Bobs"-type coaster|
|NRHP Reference #||78000753|
|Added to NRHP||December 27, 1978|
|Designated NHL||February 27, 1987|
|Designated SDHL||December 7, 1973|
|Opening date||July 4, 1925|
|Manufacturer||Frank Prior, Fredrick Church|
|Designer||Frank Prior, Fredrick Church|
|Track layout||8 layers of laminated wood strips topped with a 1/4" x3" wide steel rail.|
|Lift/launch system||Chain lift hill|
|Height||70 ft (21 m)|
|Drop||60 ft (18 m)|
|Length||2,600 ft (790 m)|
|Speed||55 mph (89 km/h)|
|Max vertical angle||40 degrees at the bottom of first drop°|
|Height restriction||50 in (127 cm)|
|Giant Dipper at RCDB
Pictures of Giant Dipper at RCDB
The Giant Dipper, also known as the Mission Beach Roller Coaster, is a wooden roller coaster, built in 1925. The Giant Dipper is in Belmont Park, right on Mission Beach in San Diego. The coaster along with its near twin at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are the only remaining coasters on the West Coast built by noted coaster builders Prior and Church.
- 1 History
- 2 Giant Dipper Opens
- 3 The New Belmont Park
- 4 The Fire of 1955
- 5 Dipper Condemned
- 6 Mission Beach, Not Miami Beach
- 7 The Earthquake
- 8 Belmont Park Closes its Gates
- 9 Save the Coaster Committee
- 10 Belmont Park: The New Shopping Center
- 11 San Diego Seaside Company
- 12 A National Monument is Born Again
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Originally the idea of John D. Spreckels, the Giant Dipper coaster was to be the centerpiece of his new seaside Mission Beach Amusement Center (now known as Belmont Park) that opened on May 29, 1925. San Diego’s newest attraction featured a state of the art natatorium, dance casino, roller rink, and a Luna Park area with rides and fun-houses. Construction of the Dipper started the week after the park’s opening. It was built by an experienced crew of 75 to 150 and took just under four weeks to complete. It reportedly cost $50,000 to build including the two 18 passenger trains and 2,600 feet (792 m) of track. The Mission Beach Coaster Company owned and operated the attraction with George Barney as president. The Dipper’s trains were made up of 9 single-bench cars that sat two people each. The chassis was steel and the coach was constructed of wood. Each car had two flanged wheels  under the seat and a ball in the front that hitched inside a socket located under the seat of the car in front.
Giant Dipper Opens
It opened for business on July 4, 1925. In its first 10 days of operation, the newest Mission Beach attraction received more patronage than any other Prior and Church roller coaster premier. Hundreds of patrons waited in long lines for the advertised 1 minute 45 second long “ride through the clouds”.
A few days after the premier, a huge electric “Giant Dipper” sign was placed on the front of the loading station roof. A 50’ wide pathway was carved out through the center of the coaster, giving the public a shortcut from the parking lot to the beach. At the same time, steady-burning light bulbs were hung from wires over the coaster’s rails, brilliantly outlining structure at night. A couple of months later the entire framework was painted white.
The only recorded death on the Giant Dipper happened on its first anniversary in 1926. According to a July 5 article in the San Diego Union, a 19-year-old groom-to-be was thrown from the train as he was foolishly attempting to switch cars during the ride’s second drop. Through its history the rest of the amusement center had many operators and went through several decade-long cycles going from decay to spruced-up and back to decay again. The roller coaster was a good indicator of how things were going in the park.
The New Belmont Park
The one operator who made the brightest impact on the park was well-known carnival designer Jack Ray. He took over operations of the park in 1954. He planned to turn the park into a more attractive place for families and added several new rides and picnic areas in time for the 1955 season. All attractions had a futuristic space theme using colorful skyward spires and circles. He even changed the name to Belmont Park. The “New Belmont Park” opened the 1955 season without the Giant Dipper in the game.
The Fire of 1955
Earlier that year on February 2, 1955 the roller coaster inexplicably caught fire inside the engine room. While firefighters were investigating the damage, they discovered the body of Walter T. Barney, 59, president of the Mission Beach Coaster Company handed down to him from his father. Barney operated the coaster since 1948. Firefighters believe the blaze started in the motor room where Barney must have been trapped while working.
A highly visible but crippled attraction concerned Jack Ray because he knew the coaster was his main draw for his park. After two years, the uninsured Mission Beach Coaster Company was unable to come up with the funds to repair the coaster and filed for bankruptcy. The ride was almost demolished based on public testimony before Ray was able to take over its ownership and operation. Freshly painted and restored, the ride opened in the summer of 1957, with a new look and the name “Roller Coaster”. In 1963 Jack Ray died and his widow, Eleanor, continued park operations.
Just at the height of the 1968 summer season on July 8, the roller coaster failed a city safety inspection and was condemned. More specifically, the trusses over the pedestrian shortcut were sagging and needed to be shored up. The roller coaster reopened on August 23, 1968 after passing the next inspection.
Mission Beach, Not Miami Beach
Eleanor Ray sold the remainder of her lease to hotelier Williams Evans in 1969. His original idea was to run the park and roller coaster until the lease expired on January 31, 1974. He then planned to raze the park and put up a hotel. Too much public opposition prevented him from developing that idea, and he was left with an amusement park operation 
After 5 years, Evans renewed his Belmont lease on year to year terms under the condition he invest more money towards public improvements and upkeep. Evans complied and he also invested a lot in advertising. In 1976, a local radio station B-100 promoted a contest called Name the Belmont Park Roller Coaster. The original Giant Dipper moniker was a long faded memory since the coaster’s 1955 fire. Since then, the billboard over the red, white, and blue station house labeled the ride only as “Roller Coaster”. Contestants submitted entry slips at 7-11 convenience stores and within days the park received several thousands of suggestions. The song “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players  just came off the #1 spot on the charts, and thus counted for most of the suggestions. On May 19, 1976 it was announced in the local Mission Beach paper that the roller coaster would be renamed “Earthquake”. It was an appropriate description as the roller coaster was known for being visually rickety.
Belmont Park Closes its Gates
Evans failed to get back the return on his improvements investment, stating that beach parking lots were always filled long before the park’s noon opening. By the end of 1976, Evans owed to the city $100,000 in back rent. The City of San Diego shut the park and the roller coaster down. All the rides and attractions were removed except for the roller coaster which Evans still owned. For the next few years the former Giant Dipper (a.k.a. Earthquake) sat neglected and was a prominent eyesore in the neighborhood. On October 27, 1978, San Diego Historical Architect Toni Cianni, had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places in hopes of keeping the bulldozers at bay. A demolition permit was posted on the fence anyway. Vagrants were often chased off the property, one even set it on fire twice (February 27 and March 18, 1981). A 22-year old drifter from Canada was arrested. The fire was unfortunately timed as it happened to coincide with the time frame the city gave developers to come up with proposals for the former park property, and not all of them included the roller coaster. The brain-child to initially preserve the coaster was no other than the ride’s owner, Bill Evans. At a meeting that would have put the final stamp on the coaster's demolition permit, Bill Evans proposed the roller coaster be kept as a riderless scenic sculpture sitting atop a market center he called “Coaster Village”. The city turned down Evan's proposal and all other commercial development ideas in August if 1981, citing that the land should remain as dedicated parkland. The fate of the roller coaster was back at square one.
Save the Coaster Committee
Bill Evans didn’t want to tear down his roller coaster be it for sentiment or expense. He reacted to the plea of the more liberal beach voices, led by beach poet Eddie Forrey, and contacted the Save Our Heritage Organization, (S.O.H.O.) with the proposal to donate the coaster to a non-profit group for its preservation. The Save the Coaster Committee was officially recognized as an organized non-profit group on October 7, 1981. Some of the original board members included Carol Lindemulder (local artist and former president of S.O.H.O.), Norman Starr, (Mission Beach resident, contractor, owner of the Merin Hotel, located in the Gas Lamp District, 5th Avenue, and local entrepreneur) and Timothy Cole (21 year old student and roller coaster enthusiast), and Donald Reeves, Historical Architect, (Owner of the Louis Bank of Commerce Building, located in the Gas Lamp District, 5th Avenue.). A three-year plan was submitted and approved by the city council on August 18, 1982. The initial task of cleaning up the property and scraping paint off the wood was done by the California Conservation Corp. The Save the Coaster committee hosted Fundraisers and weekly volunteer work parties. The group would use a white oil-based stain donated by Frazee Paint, San Diego but had very little capital other than volunteers and donated paint to work on the coaster structure. August 1985 came and the group had made only a dent towards the renovation, mostly limited to replacing a few wood members and painting small portions of the structure. Almost no real renovation work was done, most of it was too subtle to catch the public’s eye. In spite of that, the group was allowed to continue for 2 more years so long as they received a $150,000 pending grant. The gift was received and on July 4, 1986, the coaster was lit with 600+ chasing light bulbs strung over the top. The group had the idea of saving the coaster but no expertise or funds to do it with. Norm Starr had one of the old roller coaster cars sitting in the front window of his Merin Hotel, located on 5th Avenue, in the hopes to restore the cars as well as the structure. Don Reeves submitted a "Report of Structural Survey" to the Building Department, hoping to get the report approved and start with the reconstruction. The Building Department never approved the report, because the report consisted no more than a few sketches of the vertical "bents" in key locations. It never provided a full plan, with keyed structural elements, showing the conditions of all the members, overall structures and mechanical systems. Time and again, Don Reeves attempted to get approval from the building department, for his Report of Structural Survey, but it was never accepted by the City. Dieter Haschke was the City Structural Plan Checker in Charge of Permitting Historic Structures for the Building Department at the time. Dieter Haschke had family in Santa Cruz and made yearly extended trips to Santa Cruz during this time. On one of the trips, in the early 80s, in frustration, Dieter Haschke knowing that the Santa Cruz roller coaster was the sister coaster of the San Diego coaster, called the Santa Cruz Roller Coaster Company, explained the situation in San Diego, and obtained a personal tour. The Santa Cruz Roller Coaster Company explained that Santa Cruz at that time was on its 6th generation cars which cost $100,000 per line and they had several line of cars. Also Santa Cruz had a saw mill set up to cut full dimensioned lumber, the breaking system was totally replaced several times from the start, their coaster was set on a concrete foundation (not sitting free on wood pilings with no base connections, was braced with a bracing system in the turns, and their coaster had been in continual operation with no shut downs for any period of time. Not like the San Diego coaster which had been abandoned for multiple years. After obtaining the contact names and telephone numbers, taking photographs of the Santa Cruz coaster foundations, breaking system, cars, bracing system, etc. Dieter Haschke returned to San Diego and informed the City of San Diego Planning Department and Redevelopment, in order for San Diego to save their coaster, should contact the Santa Cruz Roller Coaster Company for renovation and operation. Subsequently, the Santa Cruz Roller Coaster Company performed the work and operated the coaster. The original structure was so badly deteriorated at specific locations, all of the bolting due to the sea air had rusted through or almost non-existent at that time, in addition to many of the wood members had rotted out, and the curves were temporarily braced by Bill Evans, using steel cable wrapped around the vertical bents which were cutting into the vertical wood members from the movement instead of a designed bracing system. Also, mechanically, the coaster was inoperable, especially the old cars which would never have been made to function safely. The Santa Cruz Roller Coaster Company had to make major purchases and a major renovation commitment to make the coaster operational again.
Belmont Park: The New Shopping Center
In that same year, the San Diego City Council allowed the permit to turn the rest of the abandoned park in to a commercial shopping center in spite of the great outcry of protests. Most people thought that spelled doom for the coaster, ironically the opposite was true. The developers, Thoryk and McCutchin and Belmont Park Associates, knew an operating coaster would lure in potential customers and they even helped pay for replacing the pedestrian shortcut. But they were impatient with the slow progress the Save the Coaster group was making. Even though the coaster was freshly painted and at a casual glace looked operable, it was far from it. It was, however, declared a National Landmark (National Register Number 78000753). by the National Park Service. The developers intended to take over the coaster committee’s lease when it expired in 1987 and fix the coaster themselves.
San Diego Seaside Company
The shopping center opened July 4, 1988 and developers had already begun preliminary talks with Ed Hutton, the General Manager of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk about fixing the coaster. Hutton contacted a former work partner, Dana Morgan, of Morgan Manufacturing, designers and builders of circle rides and roller coaster vehicles. In 1989 Morgan engineers inspected the coaster and found it to be in better shape than expected. Morgan and Hutton formed the partnership, San Diego Seaside Corp with the intent on fully restoring and operating the coaster as a profitable business. On September 1, 1989 the ownership of the coaster transferred to the City of San Diego, who in turn granted a 31-year long lease of the coaster and property to San Diego Seaside.
A National Monument is Born Again
On July 4, 1990, a ceremony was held to officially recognize the Dipper as being a National Historical Monument. On August 11, 1990 the Giant Dipper reopened to the public. The ride’s new train was produced by Morgan Manufacturing. High demand suggested a second train would be helpful and one was added the next year. Giant Dipper has celebrated many occasions and seen a lot of history, including several noteworthy events that have rejoiced in its restoration. In 1997, local radio station Star 100.7 staged a coaster riding marathon, "Whirl Til You Hurl." After eleven days of riding the coaster for more than 12 hours a day, three winners each received a new car. The radio station arranged a second marathon in 1998, which was eventually won by five contestants who split a $50,000 cash prize after riding the coaster for 70 days.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- "California Historical Landmark: San Diego County". Office of Historic Preservation. California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
- "Historical Landmarks Designated by the San Diego Historical Resources Board". City of San Diego.
- "Mission Beach Roller Coaster". National Historic Landmarks Quioklinks. National Park Service. Retrieved March 2012.
- Charleton, James H. (October 30. 1984). "Mission Beach Roller Coaster" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places - Inventory Nomination Form. National Park Service. Retrieved May 2012.
- Cole, Tim. "Flanged Wheel". Retrieved 10/07/2013.
- Cole, Tim (7/5/26). "Man Falls From Roller Coaster". San Diego Union.
- Cole, Tim (June 19, 1969). "$8 Million Hotel Proposed for Belmont Park". San Diego Union.
- "Ohio Players". Wikipedia.
- "White oil-based stain".
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