By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Charles Martin has always had a passion for pinball.
Now, after a lifetime of enjoying the game, he is sharing his passion with the rest of the Northwest by opening the Seattle Pinball Museum.
Located at 508 Maynard Ave. S. in the International District (ID), the museum’s grand opening was on Sept. 4.
With a collection of pinball machines from different eras, the museum currently boasts about 20 machines — the largest publicly available collection in the state — and four Japanese pachinko machines. The pinball machines are displayed chronologically with the oldest (from 1936) at the front of the museum and the newest (from 1992) at the back. This way, the visitors can see how the game has evolved through history.
“The machines have gotten really sophisticated,” Martin said.
For $5, visitors gain entry into the museum. They receive unlimited game play with all the machines — four of which are from Martin’s personal collection of about 10. Most of the remaining machines have been loaned to the museum by private collectors who, like Martin, want to share their love of the game with others.
Martin owns and operates the museum with his wife Cindy Martin, who also loves pinball.
“[Charles] kind of got me into it, too,” she said.
Cindy said that when her husband had a dream this summer about opening a pinball museum, they applied for the Storefronts Seattle program to try and make the dream come true.
Storefronts Seattle is a community-driven project composed of the combined efforts of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, Shunpike, Seattle Department of Planning and Development, Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, and the Seattle Chinatown-International District Preservation and Development Authority.
The project’s goal is to help revitalize the ID and Pioneer Square by bringing activity to vacant spaces in the neighborhoods. This is done by displaying original works by local artists in storefront windows and providing support for creative enterprises such as the Seattle Pinball Museum.
Charles said about 140 proposals for creative enterprises were turned in for the project and the museum was among 10 that were chosen. The chosen applicants are located throughout the two neighborhoods.
Their first one, three, or six months in their respective buildings are rent free. As a result, they can focus solely on gaining business.
“The goal of the project was to bring people in,” Charles said.
And that is just what the museum has done, since most visitors have come from outside the ID. This being the case, the Martins do their best to encourage local residents to come in and explore the museum, especially the elderly who often peak inside, curious about the new business. Charles said the elderly were initially skeptical, but since the Martins are always there with a friendly smile, the locals are beginning to warm up to the couple.
“We really like to be a good neighbor first and a business second,” he said.
It is this neighborly approach that prompted the Martins, who live in Federal Way, to choose the ID for the museum’s location. Charles said a sizeable number of people live there and the businesses are secondary to the residents.
“We’ve moved into a family neighborhood. We recognize people,” he said. “It’s like being in a residential area.”
Since they came to the ID in late August, the Martins have immersed themselves. They visit the local businesses, attend local events and public meetings, and do what they can to help revitalize the neighborhood.
“We’re here to help the community, whether it’s buying food at the local businesses or bringing people in,” Charles said.
In addition to bringing business to the ID, he opened the Seattle Pinball Museum to get more people interested in the game. James Edes, from Milton, and Larry Dvorak, from Lacey, share this line of thinking, which is why they have loaned machines to the museum.
Edes has loaned four machines, including the oldest and newest in the museum. Like Charles, Edes grew up playing pinball. He owns between 80 and 90 machines. He said that having a place where people can see and play different incarnations of the game is great, especially with the older machines, since those are difficult to find on location.
“I think [the museum is] a worthy cause. The more places people can play pinball, the better,” Edes said. “And it frees up space for me.”
Dvorak, who loaned the Martins a machine from 1962, did so because he wanted people to see a machine from that era. With a collection of about 70 machines, Dvorak may loan more of his machines to the museum — particularly from the 1940s or 1950s since the museum does not have any from those eras.
Due to limited space, the museum will regularly display 20 to 25 pinball machines. However, Charles wishes to display machines from all eras. Because of this, he plans on switching machines out as he acquires more, so people can find something different every time they visit.
“Our goal is to display a historical exhibit. The display will be constantly changing to display different machines,” he said. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.