Fun Finale: The last days of the Redondo Beach Fun Factory
by David Mendez
It’s about 8:40 on Sunday night — well after when the Redondo Fun Factory was scheduled to close its barn doors to the public for the last time. Bob McCann was exhausted. He’d been running the horse race game (think Del Mar by way of skee-ball) for much of the evening, and you could see the exhaustion, owing to playing race-track emcee/gaming referee.
But just as he was about to walk away from his post, a family of five walked up, the three kids asking for a go. McCann hesitated for a moment, looked around, then gave in.
“Okay, one more game,” he said to them as he settled back over to the microphone, held to its stand with fraying duct tape. “Last game.”
The Redondo Fun Factory shuttered for good on Sunday, following a sudden announcement made by owner Steve Shoemaker two days earlier.
“I’ve been fighting with the City of Redondo for almost 50 years, and I’m just tired. It’s sort of like — you raise your daughter, she’s leaving home and it comes that time where you just say ‘hey, have fun!’ That’s where I am,” Shoemaker said in an interview on Friday.
The Redondo Fun Factory is a drafty, cavernous space that’s part carnival midway (complete with ticket redemption area), part arcade and part flea-market (the ticket redemption prizes). It’s always buzzing, too — kids, couples and people with too many quarters in their pockets are drawn to the legion of video games and quarter-sinking skill-games of Shoemaker’s own design.
But Sunday saw the largest crowds anyone had seen at the waterfront arcade in years.The Fun Factory’s 29,000 square feet were stuffed with nostalgic patrons.
“I had no idea we’d have this kind of turnout,” Shoemaker said. “It was packed with people who said they’ve been coming since they were three, in 1975, introducing their grandkids. It was amazing. It made me feel very sad and very good.”
In recent months, the outspoken Shoemaker had publicly lobbied City Hall to work with his company, Redondo Fisherman’s Cove Company (the actual leaseholder), on establishing a new lease agreement for the arcade. That, he hoped, would allow him to keep it open on a month-to-month basis, while maintaining the terms of his $9 million buy-out agreement approved by the City Council in 2017. (The buy-out was to have dovetailed with the now-defunct CenterCal waterfront redevelopment project.) Shoemaker saw a chance to have his cake and eat some too, but was rebuffed by the City. His deadline to leave and still receive his payout is January 2020.
Since April, Shoemaker changed his mind several times about the closure date as he became reenergized in his fight against the City. This time it stuck. Redondo has closed multiple floors of the parking structure above the Fun Factory until January to repair the pier infrastructure, and he was feeling the pinch.
“The building looks like a tent, and our business was off by 50 percent,” Shoemaker said. “If we were open another [summer] season, I’d stay open indefinitely, but we’d lose money every week until they stop building.”
Shoemaker’s partnership with the City went adversarial almost as soon as the ink dried on his original lease in 1972.
The business opened as the Sea Inn, a drafty bar overlooking the fishing boats of King Harbor’s Basin 3. But when Shoemaker realized he was making better money from video games than he was beer sales, he pivoted into the arcade business.
Redondo Fisherman’s Cove Company’s original lease at the base of Redondo’s Pier Parking Structure cost him a minimum of $1,125 per month, plus a percentage of monthly gross sales, for approximately 16,659 square feet, growing to about 29,000 square feet in 1974. (In the most recent deal with the City, RFCC paid a base monthly rate of $8,325.)
Shoemaker’s feud with Redondo’s elected officials started when then-Mayor Bill Czuleger argued against Shoemaker’s 1974 lease extension (Shoemaker cheekily responded by calling his place “The Czu”). The two sides continued to war over the years, reaching a peak in 2003, when Shoemaker — who owned a moderation-free image hosting website during the Wild West days of the Internet — was found guilty on misdemeanor child pornography charges after illegal images were found on his server.
The 82-year-old Shoemaker is tired of fighting, and said he’s giving up without a grudge.
“They wanted an attraction, which I gave them. And the City’s been wonderful to me — I had my ups and downs…but I don’t hold any body responsible for that. It’s just part of life,” Shoemaker said.
In announcing his closing, Shoemaker told folks to make him an offer — anything and everything in the Fun Factory was up for sale, from the games to the rides to the signs, pennants and tires hanging off of the walls.
Brittney Harden was one of hundreds of people who walked away from the Fun Factory over the weekend, carrying away memories. In the bed of her truck, she had a Greenwich Village street sign, an advertisement for California Custom Rods and a neon karaoke sign.
“I’m weirdly attached to this place. I don’t know why. It’s a weird place; it’s tacky, it’s trashy, it’s awesome,” Harden said. She’s a Redondoan by right, with family pictures of her “stuffing her face” on the International Boardwalk at 3 years old.
“It feels like so much has gone a completely different direction. It doesn’t exist for people who saw this place before all of the photos and Instagram and sunshine and money,” Harden said. “Nothing against money, nothing against high-end, but this place holds a lot of character and a lot of history. There’s something to be said for that.”
Gary McAulay knows history. He’s the President of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society, and at the moment, he was struck by one of the dozens of old campaign signs stuck to the Fun Factory’s walls: “Elect Jerry Goddard, City Council Dist. 1,” the sign read.
Gary and his wife, Jennifer, were students of Goddard at Redondo Union High School. The two met at RUHS, graduating in the Class of 1972, and married years later. But their walk through the Fun Factory was largely to his benefit. Gary and his friends would visit the Fun Factory each week to take in the latest and greatest games.
“We used to come here every Friday night. Of course, you don’t meet a lot of girls that way,” Gary said. (His wife agreed.)
“It was all we could do — we could just barely afford to come here and spend a few quarters,” Gary said, smiling. At that time, games were just starting to take off: Pong, Tank and Asteroids were among the first games Gary remembered playing there, though he loved the Fireball pinball machine. Unfortunately for him, Fireball looked to be long gone — the Fun Factory has been largely digital for quite some time.
The McAuleys, with friends, were bathing in nostalgia. For good measure, Gary popped up his phone to take a selfie with his old teacher’s campaign sign.
Hours earlier, Councilman Nils Nehrenheim strolled down that same hallway, pausing to look at a sign marking the redevelopment of the pier in the 1970s. And though he had a feeling that he may not have been the most welcome person in the building, Nehrenheim was drinking in the Fun Factory’s last hours all the same.
“I’m so saddened by the historical loss of this piece of Redondo,” Nehrenheim said. “Every successful waterfront in a modern California coastline has an arcade like this. I think any future waterfront redevelopment has to have something like this included.”
When he’s there, Nehrenheim usually hits the air hockey table, visits the shooting gallery, plays skee ball. But he lamented that he never got a chance to take his “niblings” — his nieces and nephews — to the arcade.
“It’s something that you just don’t expect that’s here,” Nehrenheim said. “Most people in Redondo haven’t been here and don’t realize it’s here.”
Nehrenheim wasn’t on the City Council when Redondo passed its deal to buy out the Fun Factory lease. He was swept into office months later, in large part due to his support of Measure C, a rezoning effort that effectively blocked CenterCal from building its waterfront redevelopment project.
Shoemaker, for all his bluster, was a fan of the CenterCal redevelopment — he hoped to operate the carousel he always dreamed of. Now the pier’s future is unclear. The name most associated with whatever happens to the Redondo waterfront is Leo Pustilnikov, a Los Angeles-based developer who is finalizing the purchase of Redondo’s AES power plant. Pustilnikov also recently purchased the master lease to the Monstad Pier, a quiet corner of the old timber pier that holds the former Maison Riz restaurant alongside coffee and bait shops, and has repeatedly popped up on the City Council’s private session agenda as party to real estate negotiations for other waterfront-area leases.
“I’ve met him, had lunch, and had a very nice time. He’s a hell of a guy,” Shoemaker said. “What I think the big problem is, if you put together a big deal, you’re looking at a 50 or 100 year lease. The tide line is supposed to go up five or six feet, and I’m not sure how you cope with that…but that’s his problem.”
Shoemaker’s guess is that the City will “tear out” the Fun Factory and put in parking, which he says will destroy the neighboring International Boardwalk, a collection of funky shops and restaurants built into former storage garages.
According to Mayor Bill Brand, the City “has no future plans for the site at this time.”
“There was a lot of good family fun, and I hate to see him go early. It wasn’t my idea,” Brand said. Then-Councilman Brand was on the losing side of the 2017 buyout vote, futilely urging the City to hold off. “I’m disappointed that we had to cobble together $9 million so he could leave seven years early, all for a project that blew up. I’m sad to have paid that $9 million for no reason, but I was in the minority, so that’s how it washed out.”
So there the Fun Factory was, with hundreds of people taking in its last hours. Maky Peters thanked Shoemaker for his years in business, and walked away with a poster; Josh Kent and Christina Cabal came away with pennants, a riding horse and stories behind the signs on the arcade’s walls; Raul Linares reminisced about his weekends out with his 27-year-old autistic son; young father Armando Andrade wondered where he would take his kids, and their kids, on his beach days trips out from the Inland Empire.
Shoemaker remembers the early days of the Fun Factory: building the original beer taps for the Sea Inn, the walk-in cooler for the bar; the Wedges and Ledges quarter game, the Challenger crane and his subsequent fights to make them legal in California; then building the horse racing game itself, buying the plywood, carving the horses and designing the mechanism that makes the game run.
Shoemaker is still taking offers on everything in the arcade. He plans to hold an auction in November for all that hasn’t sold. And though he plans to hang onto a few items for sentimental reasons, he’s made his peace with the Fun Factory, after a weekend of pictures, autographs and happy stories.
Sunday, he said, was one of the best days of his life.
“It blocks out the memory of everything else,” Shoemaker said. “It was a great day.” ER