McLean museum features pinball games

2013-04-20T17:30:00Z 2013-04-20T18:52:17Z McLean museum features pinball gamesSteve Smedley The (Bloomington) Pantagraph
April 20, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

MCLEAN, Ill. | John Yates' teen years in Normal were, well, normal: He spent time at the pool and the parks, chased girls, typical kid stuff.

But he was deprived of pinball games during family outings for pizza or shopping. "My parents thought it was a huge waste of money," he said. "They just thought it was a waste of my time."

So Yates watched, but rarely played, when other kids hit the arcade at the old College Hills Mall — and that led back to the future for Yates, now 44 and a self-described entrepreneur living in Atlanta.

"I built up this unfulfilled desire which just drove me," he said. "Whatever you are told not to do, you want to do it."

So, in 1985, he rebelled by starting a collection of arcade games. His first was a Star Trek game manufactured by Sega.

And in September 2009, after nine months of work, he opened Arcadia, America's Playable Arcade Museum, on the downtown square in McLean, about 12 miles southwest of Bloomington, Ill. Seventy coin-operated games fill the 2,000-square-foot, turn-of-the-century brick building that once housed a pool hall.

"I did all the work on the building myself — the brick, electrical duct work, the ceiling. When I stripped the floor, you could still see where the pool tables once stood, so I left that," said Yates, a married father of three girls. "The building has kind of returned to its roots.

"I love games and I love seeing games appreciated, so other than watching them sit and collect dust in my warehouse, I thought, 'Why not at least do something with them?'"

His museum has drawn visitors through word of mouth and the Internet. On a recent Friday night, college students from Springfield and Normal, a family from Heyworth and grandparents from Normal fed quarters into machines named Space Mission, The Addams Family, Black Knight, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and His Friends and Pac-Man.

Cody Lebovitz and girlfriend, Sarena Adair, of Normal, shuffled their feet as the floor flashed brightly in front of the Dance Dance Revolution Solo 2000.

"It's a jewel in the middle of cornfields," said Kevin Bolton, of Atlanta, who visits the museum weekly.

Yates said the museum has taken on a life of its own. "I really don't have as many breaking down as I thought I would," despite the age of some machines. "It's been a success."

Chicago used to be home to all the major arcade manufacturers, he said, rattling off Williams, Bally, Chicago Coin and Stern as a pinball machine clacked in the background.

But those companies either closed or made more money when they switched to casino and gambling machines.

"I have a lot of ideas. I never really think, 'Will this make money?' I don't really worry about that," he said.

"I'm not as much of a historian as just someone who likes to see them being used. I love games and I love seeing games being used."

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