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Posted on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 12:49 p.m.

A look at Ann Arbor pinball history

By Edward Vielmetti

I came to Ann Arbor for the first time in 1976 and played a few games of pinball at Mickey Rat's, and then spent a lot of quarters during college playing pinball around town from 1985 to 1995.    Here's a partial timeline of pinball in Ann Arbor with some personal memories mixed in. It's missing a lot of details; please fill in what I'm missing below in the comments, and I'll work the edits in to complete the story.  

A vacant pinball parlor on South University, once the home of Campus Pinball and later Pinball Pete's, burned last Saturday. The neighbors had said that loitering and vagrancy were a problem at the building which had been boarded up for some number of years. The building, owned by the Tice Family Partnership, had once been on the market, but in 2004 there were no takers for the asking price of $1.2 million.

Feel free to tell us about your favorite memories of pinball in Ann Arbor and Pinball Pete's in the comments. If you've got old photos of Pinball Pete's, Mickey Rat's, Focus, Double Focus, the Dragon Inn, Simulation Station, Great Escape, Pinball Alley, Arcade Five or the Cross-Eyed Moose that you'd like to share, email them to me at

Pinball in Ann Arbor: A partial timeline

1942: An advertisement in the Nov. 28, 1942 Billboard Magazine by a Chicago area amusement supply company advertises ball bearings manufactured by Hoover Ball and Bearing of Ann Arbor, MI for use in pinball games.

1954: Pinball is illegal in Michigan and many other states; this review and roundup of state laws by Billboard Magazine is part of their ongoing coverage of the coin-operated amusement industry.

June 14th, 1967: The Who plays The Fifth Dimension Club, in Ann Arbor, MI, the second stop on their United States tour. I don't have a set list, but this is about the time that they wrote "Pinball Wizard", later part of their rock opera "Tommy".

1971: This photo of Pinball Alley at 330 Maynard St. is from 1971. A 1972 Billboard Magazine story lists Ray Ohannes as the owner. (Photo: Ann Arbor Historical Photos collection)


1973: Michigan Alumnus writes "Until three years ago, however, there was hardly a pinball machine to be found in Ann Arbor. What initiated the present craze is anyone's guess."

1976: MickeyRat's. The entry to Mickey Rat's is in an alley off Maynard St. in this 1976 photo. (Photo: Ann Arbor Historical Signs collection, Ann Arbor District Library)


1977: Campus Pinball. The entrance to Campus Pinball at 1217 S. University in 1977 displays a concert poster for Jeff Beck playing at Crisler Arena. (Photo: Ann Arbor Historical Signs collection)


1991: A review on I wrote:

     "the past (and current) state of ann arbor pinball...

there used to be mickey rat's (on william), now replaced with a pinball pete's in the same place. upstairs, grungy floor, currently has 6 or 7 pins in good condition. current selection includes whirlwind, fire, earthshaker, pinbot, rollergames, simpsons. pinball pete knocked down a lot of walls to put in more machines.

another pinball pete's on south u., this in an old house; used to be called something else. 5 or 6 pins also in good condition though some of the places they put them have non-level floors (so it seems). includes diner, elvira, another whirlwind, another simpsons, taxi. i think pete knocked down some walls here too.

in the vid craze of the early 80's, a lot of arcades sprung up. among them were "focus" and "double focus". well focus closed but double focus lives on, corner state & packard. 4 or 5 pins in sort of creaky shape, not really worth a visit. uses tokens (not quarters) which  increases the minimum investment.

used to be pins in a real grungy part of the michigan union, in the basement upstairs from the bowling alley. the bowling alley is now a computer center and the pin room is replaced by a suburbanized sort of mall thing with travel agents, a ripoff bookstore, greasy quasi-dorm food. the arcade has perhaps two pins, usually in medium bad shape. crowded, brightly lit, big screen tv, movie rentals. bleah.

detroit metro airport has a few pins, old electromechs in really abysmally horribly bad condition. like a gorgar with flippers so weak you can't get to the top of the playfield, sigh.  i would gladly pay 50/75/$1 for gorgar if the machine was in top condition.

by the way, pinball pete is memorialized on the elvira pin (look at the stack of pizzas on the right hand side by the plunger)."

1997: The Ann Arbor City Council hears complaints in public comment time regarding youths being hassled at Pinball Pete's.

2008: The Pinball Hall of Fame is featured in Spirit Magazine. It is a non-profit museum in Las Vegas with an enormous pinball collection. Pinball Pete's founder Tim Arnold owns and maintains the machines.

Edward Vielmetti plays pinball for  His favorite pinball movie scene is from Anatomy of a Murder, where Laura Manion (Lee Remick) is quizzed by Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) about her pinball playing at the Thunder Bay Inn: "When did you finally wrench yourself away from the hypnosis of pinball?"



Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:09 p.m.

I suppose one should point out that PINBALL PETE's moved across the street from the location that burned down, YEARS before. There is still quite an array of pinball machines at pinball pete's. :)


Fri, May 21, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

"Player's Choice on Cross Street? I was advised never to go in there, we called it "Crack Choice." Players Choice was owned by the already mentioned Tony Hadad....who I believe had an arcade by the same name in Northville. Tony bought double focus On packard From, I believe, Brad Seward. Who had bought it from the original owner who woned 'Focus Photo;" hence the Double Focus name. Little late on this story I guess :)

rolando daz-prez

Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 12:17 a.m.

Very fond memories of guzzling 40oz. green bottles of Mickey's Malt Liquor ("Gets you there quicker")and heading down to The Halfway Inn (aka the "Half-ass"), in the basement of East Quad, to play "Joker Poker" and "Supersonic," ca. 1984-85...Those were hard to tilt machines, God bless 'em! Wonderful, eclectic jukebox, too!


Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 11:17 a.m.

Man, to bad about the whale being beached where it is. Countless kids in the 70's and 80's enjoyed playing on it, and you know the parents enjoyed that too.


Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 12:03 a.m.

I worked at Pete's from the summer of 1988 through fall of 1990. Also worked at Little Caesars across the street on South U. Caesars sold High Life for a while so there was a time in college when I got free beer, pizza and video games! Good times.


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 11:53 p.m.

How about Arcade 5 on Church St across from The Blue Frog?


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 10:14 p.m.

@treetowncartel - I was told that the Arborland Whale is now a lawn decoration at someone's house in Dexter.

Britain W.

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 8:39 p.m.

Nice, @victor -- forgot to mention the free popcorn before. Also, the 25c "MONSTER DRINK" at Pete's. Can we take a moment to catalog the Ypsi pin places? Eastern always had a couple of pins in the black-light arcade in the basement of the Union, not to mention a few at DC2 [Eastern Eateries, the "food court" dining commons]. Putt-Putt on Washtenaw always had Addams Family and two or three of whatever the hot new pins were. Player's Choice on Cross Street? I was advised never to go in there, we called it "Crack Choice." Oh, and there was a garish circus-themed arcade in the JC Penney wing at Briarwood for a while in the 90s, called "Fun Factory." After it closed, I happened to visit Universal Mall in Warren one day and found many of its machines at a Fun Factory there. Uni Mall was torn down last year to build a Super Target or something, and I think Fun Factory closed most or all of their continental locations and concentrated on Hawaii.


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 7:21 p.m.

So no one remembers Electronic Playground on the south side of Washtenaw near Pittsfield Village? It was there for a short time in the mid-1970's, in the location where Subway is now. There were only ever one or two pinball games there mixed in with the videos, but contrary to the practice then the machines were set up for five balls per game rather than three.


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 5:28 p.m.

Bombay also had free popping corn! My parents took me to The Imagination Station once to ride the "Amazin' Blue", but it was out of order and so we left. Of them all, though, I miss Double Focus the most.


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 12:04 p.m.

@ Ed, Alladins Castle sounds right, it was there in the days when Best Products, Service Merchandise and Marshall's were the Anchor Stores at Arborland. I also think the the Pinball Pete location that recently burned was called Flipper McGeees for a while. I remember the name, but am not sure about the location.

Britain W.

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 11:55 a.m.

There was another arcade on South U in the mid-90s. It was called something like "The Bombay," no relation to the chain restaurant or the defunct home-furnishings chain. It used to be a ladies' shoe store; I think it is now either Panchero's or Nogginz. They had several pins. It would be part of our weekend-evening circuit, including Pete's, Tower Records, and Not Another Cafe. I vividly remember playing Earthshaker and Whitewater. I think Indiana Jones and High Speed 2 too. That would date this memory to around... 1994? I wish I could get linebreaks going in these


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 9:47 a.m.

I think there may have been an arcade in Arborland for a short while in the mid to late 80's too, back when it was an indoor malll. anyone know what happened to that green stone whale that used to be on the east side of Arborland's court yard?


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 9:39 a.m.

There was an arcade (I forget the name, dang it) in the Plymouth Mall around 1979-80-81 time period in the corner where Arbor Hills Animal Clinic is now. I remember sometimes skipping school at Clague and heading over for some fun (probably on my way to see Empire Strikes Back down at the Campus theatre). Mostly video games, but there were a couple pinball machines too. There was also a cool gaming store there where I bough my first Dungeons and Dragons and Traveler game sets! My first job as a dishwasher was at the Epicurean Italian restaurant/bakery there too. Memories of a misspent youth!


Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 7:42 a.m.

In 1972-73 there was a parlor on Liberty near the Michigan Theater called the Crossed eyed Moose. It lasted a couple years. It was a nice place. It even had the Playboy machine featuring Patty McGuire aka Mrs. Jimmy Connor.


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 9:18 p.m.

Does anybody else remember when Pinball Pete's operated a low-power radio station out of the South U. location that burned the other night? In other words, the rock music that they blasted throughout the building was also available on an FM frequency that could be heard for about 1 block from the arcade. I remember seeing some good quality turntables in the office plus a record library, and I think there was a sign on the outside of the building that said something like "Listen to Pinball Pete's Radio" and listed the frequency. I thought it was a cool idea, considering the population density of the area. The station had a pretty large potential audience with University Towers right next door and all of the restaurants and stores along South U. that could get the station. This would have been in the late seventies.


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 8:24 p.m.

There was a Weather Report Mr. Gone poster in Mickey Rats. I remember staring at it while tripping on acid when I was in Jr. High at Slauson. Not a care in the world. Those were the days


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 7:07 p.m.

And a couple of articles from the Michigan Daily: and some video (I haven't watched them completely so I hope there's nothing offensive in here):


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 4:11 p.m.

The excellent Warren Buffet biography, "The Snowball," published last year, details the small pinball empire Buffet built in Washington, DC when he was a teenager in the 1940s. Like Tim Arnold, he discovered he could make a lot of money fast. He and a friend bought used machines, installed them in soda shops and bars, and split the take with the shop owners. He ran into some shady characters but it was one of his early successes!


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 3:59 p.m.

Other venues for pinball included local bowling alleys and bars.


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 1:51 p.m.

Closer to home than Las Vegas' Pinball Hall of Fame is Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills,


Mon, Oct 26, 2009 : 1:45 p.m.

Here are a couple gaps, in the 80's there was an arcade at the SE corner of Pacakard and Platt, it was called SideDoor, situated in the back of the building where the Little Ceaser's is now. Also, on Packard road at Anderson there was a place called Shelly's that served ice cream and had some video and pinball games, circa 80's too. Then there was also an Arcade at Briarwood, in Sears I believe. Frozen cokes!