Palm Springs-based Internet entrepreneur John Weeks is also the founder and Executive Director of The Museum of Pinball, a 501c3 nonprofit event space dedicated to the preservation of Pinball, Video Arcades, and other playable art forms. The Museum of Pinball is located on 18 acres in Banning, California (20 minutes from Palm Springs) and is the world’s largest museum of pinball, with over 800 vintage and modern pinball and arcade games in 40,000 square feet.
Kate Buckley: John, you’ve said that establishing a venue for young and old to gather to experience the “magic” of pinball and arcade games has been a lifelong dream. That’s a pretty unique dream! What led you to founding the Museum of Pinball?
John Weeks: Just that: Magic—a sparkle, the quest to take our guests back in time.
This has been a dream of mine since I was seventeen, and did not happen overnight—knowing the extent of what I had in mind. I wish I had started years ago, however due to finances it was not within my means to do so till this year. I then discovered our 18-acre campus in Banning while driving through the neighborhood, and knew at once it was the right location.
The museum opened January of this year and your first event broke a Guinness World Record. Tell us about that.
Our Inaugural Arcade Expo 2015 launched the opening of the Museum of Pinball. On on that opening day, Saturday, January 17, 2015, the Museum of Pinball set a Guinness World Record for the most people playing pinball simultaneously. All 331 participants launched their first ball simultaneously and continued playing until they had completed a set. It was quite exciting!
Your next event, “Twin Galaxies,” is slated for October. What does that event entail? Can we expect any more records to be broken?
Twin Galaxies Entertainment Festival will be held October 2 – 4, 2015. Join us for three days of freeplay on over 800 modern and vintage arcade games and pinball machines! This is a world player competitive event, and should be a very exciting weekend.
In addition to your work with the museum, you’re a serial Internet entrepreneur. How did you get your start?
I started as a child parlaying the money I made at the swap meet into my next venture—and so on and so forth. My drive and creative thinking has kept me motivated, and keeps me moving into new ventures.
Is it true that, while living out of an ice cream truck, you spent your last $500 on an instruction manual for RTML programming?
That is correct; that is how I learned to create an online store for some of the businesses I have today. I have always been inventive and I continue creating and moving in new ventures today.
Essentially, you saw an opportunity and grabbed it. Do you see parallels between your online entrepreneurship and your current endeavors with the museum?
Absolutely. I wanted to grab this opportunity (the Museum) much earlier, but only this year was able to marshal the resources to make it happen. We currently are working on several active projects, with more in pipeline. I am happy where we are, and with where the Museum is heading.
You live with your family in Palm Springs, and have said you have a passion for Mid Century Modern architecture and design. Would it be fair to say you’re inspired by things from the past? Why?
Yes. Primarily, the unique style of Mid Century Modern architecture—the design and craftsmanship seems to have been of better quality back then.
I bet a lot of people will be drawn to the museum seeking nostalgia—coming to revisit their youth, to play the games they played as a kid. Do you think that’s true? Have you seen that born out by the average age of your visitors?
People are amazed coming through the Museum; first they can’t believe how many pinball machines and arcade games we have; then they continue to walk around and are even more amazed at the world we have created—even down to the custom-designed light fixtures. Yes, I absolutely I agree with you that many of our visitors (and we have a lot of visitors in their 40s and 50s) come seeking nostalgia. And it’s so fun to see their faces light up—and you can see the kids they must have been years ago. It’s pretty amazing.
That can be a valuable benefit to society—in one study at Harvard University, people who were placed in an environment that resembled their youth—with movies, music and memorabilia from the past—experienced marked improvements in their memory, vision, happiness level and overall health. Are there other aspects to the museum that harken back to days gone by?
Yes; not only the rows of pinball machines (over 600 machines), but also the graphics that will start you remembering (machines from the 1960s on), then, on the other side of building, all the classic arcade games. The custom-designed interiors as well as our vintage food truck from the 1960s will also spark nostalgia from times gone by. There is also a 5-acre park with children’s play stations from the 1960s. It’s an incredibly special retreat, and a great asset to the Greater Palm Springs area.
John Weeks, what do you love most about Palm Springs?
Once again, I must say that Mid Century Modern Architecture is something I love the most here in Palm Springs. Art and architecture is very important to me—and this is reflected in our Museum.
And of course there’s the incomparable Palm Springs’ sunsets, the way the town looks against the mountains, the many great restaurants and eateries, and the culture of the Desert Modern people—these are just a few of the many reasons I love Palm Springs.