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Posted on Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 10:45 a.m.

Blaze guts former Pinball Pete's near the University of Michigan campus

By Staff


Ann Arbor firefighters walk along the roofline of the old Campus Pinball building on South University Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

Lon Horwedel |

This story was updated at 11:25 a.m. Sunday.

The vacant Pinball Pete's near the University of Michigan campus was destroyed Saturday night in a large blaze that forced evacuations and drew a massive crowd.

The fire was reported at about 10:13 p.m., and flames were still visible until about 12:40 a.m. in the area of South University Avenue and Church Street.

Related: Neighbors say loitering was a problem in vacant Pinball Pete's building gutted by fire

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski said when firefighters arrived after receiving several 911 calls, they found flames shooting from the back side of the University Towers.

Dziubinski said the Pinball Pete's building was vacant and hadn't had gas or electric service for some time. The building on South University Avenue, next to Momo Tea, is in close proximity to the current Pinball Pete's at 1214 S. University Ave.

The roof of the old Pinball Pete's collapsed, and aerial trucks from several fire departments were being used to spray water on the blaze. At times, water bounced off the structures and into the large crowd, which cheered in response.


An Ann Arbor firefighter tries to get close to the flames shooting out of the roof.

Lon Horwedel |

Dziubinski said the cause of the blaze isn't known, and no injuries have been reported. Fire investigators and police detectives were inside the building at about 2 a.m. to begin investigating how the fire started.

The large fire forced evacuations of nearby buildings, including the high-rise University Towers. Dziubinski said more than 600 U-M students were evacuated, and four apartments had heavy smoke and water damage.

U-M junior Carlene Zhang, 19, lives in University Towers and said she was in her room on the fifth floor when a friend came to alert her that Pinball Pete's was on fire. She and others said several floors of University Towers were filled with smoke.

Steve Thompson, who lives on the 11th floor of University Towers, said he heard fire trucks arriving just before the fire alarms activated in the building. He described the evacuation as calm and orderly.

"By the time we got outside, it seemed like they had a good response, and it wasn't an inferno or anything," he said.

By 1:20 a.m., fire officials were letting some residents back inside the towers. University housing officials and the Washtenaw County chapter of the American Red Cross also responded to the scene to assist students and residents.


University of Michigan students cover up from the smoke that was pouring down South University Avenue.

Lon Horwedel |

South University Avenue from Church to Forest streets was blocked off. About 45 firefighters were on the scene and were expected to be there most of the night, officials said.

Aaron Hein and his fiancee drove to the scene from their home on the city's west side after hearing about the fire from a friend. Hein worked at Pinball Pete's in 1998.

The two said the building was an important landmark for them. They watched the blaze for more than an hour, and Hein's fiancee cried as flames shot from both sides of the structure.

"It's sad to watch a piece of my childhood go," Hein said.

- Reporting at the scene by David Jesse and Stefanie Murray; written by Amalie Nash.

If you have photos, videos or information about the fire, you can e-mail us at

More photos from the scene sent in by readers:


Photo by Emma Bumstead

Thumbnail image for fire_pinballs.jpg

Photo by Kristen Oltersdorf


• Flickr slideshow by Christiane Evaskis.

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Tue, Oct 27, 2009 : 8:42 a.m.

Before pinball, wasn't this building the Student Book Service (related to Ned's in Ypsi), which sold books below the prices of the bookstore oligopoly of the late 60's?


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 8:26 p.m.

My brother worked at its first incarnation, Pinball Alley, in the mid-70s. This meant he had a key to the "back room" and thus was very popular. The smoke was thick. I remember it being my favorite place to play because of the many rooms, and the upstairs. I also liked Cross-Eyed Moose on Liberty, which used to post the records on index cards on each machine. Also Tommy's on Packard and State in the early 80s was cool. Long hot summers in Ann Arbor when pinball was king!


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 6:40 p.m.

I just remember going to the location at the corner of Williams and Maynard from 83' to 87'. Can't recall if at that time it was called Pinball Pete's or Mickey Rats but I really did enjoy myself there then. Nothing like a cold drink in the middle of the summer for only a quarter. Great memories!


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 6:03 p.m.

The place looked like a fire trap. Wonder if there's a possibility of arson or if vagrants were living in the building.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 4:36 p.m.

How did the fire start?


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 4:27 p.m.

@Inside The Hall... I'm sure you haven't volunteered to be crosstrained to do anything at all besides push whatever paper it is you push! Your brilliant plan is for people who work 24 or 48 hour shifts to work all of those hours straight with no rest, to be away from their stations/fire trucks so they cannot respond to emergency calls immediately, thereby increasing response times to fires, heart attack victims, car accident scenes, etc. You my friend are brilliant and I think we should put you in charge of everything. OR, better yet, lets start budget cuts with your job, I'm sure you wouldn't mind helping contain the budget and losing YOUR JOB? Since you don't mind 14 other people losing theirs?


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 4:09 p.m.

Don't forget Simulation Station


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 3:39 p.m.

I worked there for six years, before the opening of the current Pinball Pete's. We had three locations: S. University, E. William and Packard. And being a kid from the 80s, I recall Cross-Eyed Moose, Micky Rats and Double Focus in those locations before Pinball Pete's, respectively. Wasn't the best of jobs, but having a job in high school and afterwards was good by me. You work at on PP, you worked at all of them. See ya, S. U. Pete's.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 3:19 p.m.

@Bear - I could have sworn I was using body english on the pinball machines in the 70's at Pinball Pete's on William, but perhaps I was confused. I do remember playing pinball on William and then going across the street to Cottage Inn before it was redecorated - it was just a little diner, and we drank cokes all afternoon until the manager sent us out so he could have our booth for the dinner rush.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 2:07 p.m.

All of you trash talkers haven't a clue. You rant about something like the know-nothings you are. This fire was contained and the situation was handled. No one died, no one was injured, the firefighters responded professionally and did a good job. I don't see where you get the idea that at any time "none of us are no longer safe" (sic). Get off your soapboxes. The fire is over.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 2:01 p.m.

The building that burned was originally known as Pinball Alley in the 70's back in the real heyday of pinball when you could use body english and had rotating wheels to mark score and could turn the score over and also it cost a quarter for 4 games. Then in the 80's it became Campus Pinball. Pinball petes took it over in the 90's and expanded to the William st. location before consolidating to it's present location, across from where the fire occurred at the old Campus Theater location, which was rebuilt into the mall-like configuration that it is today. Another part of my childhood up in smoke.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 1:40 p.m.

I have been here in town so long, I thought the former Pinball Pete's was on William across from Cottage Inn. So glad to have on-line news with blogs and political mud slinging instead of local journalism with facts checked!


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 12:44 p.m.

They want to lay off more firefighters and something like this happens to prove to the Mayor he needs to admit that he is a Republican in disguise, what if his home was engulfed in flames and there was not enough firefighters to put out his fire? Bet, the firefighter would all be back! This is a SIN as this stupid new budget cut is a sentence for death of the very people these Mayor is sworn to protect. Keep our Firefighters and get rid of the so-called Mayor because none of us are no longer safe.

Phil Dokas

Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 12:31 p.m.

My favorite memory of this place is that when my friends and I first started venturing downtown in middle school during the late '90s this placewhich was still in operation and housing the older video game cabinetshad a pop machine that required only a quarter for a tall glass of anything you wanted. We'd stop by heading downtown and heading home to save money for more CDs at Record Exchange and Tower Records.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 11:58 a.m.

Ah, fond memories, back in the day it was Double Focus, Great Escape right across the street and the Campus Theatre, and can't forget Morellis right around the corner, great subs.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 10:55 a.m.

Thank goodness no one was hurt. Every fall the beat officers would have to run off squatters inside lighting fires for warmth. No more beat officers. Budget cuts. Hopefully they got enough tickets written last night.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 10:02 a.m.

Cut that budget to the bone. Better to rely on the cooperative efforts of multiple fir departments than to have a firehall of fighters watching TV and reading Playboy. Why can't firefighters be cross trained to mow grass in the summer and operate snow plows in the winter??????? With tax revenues drying up due to the failed Obama economic policies the old days are over and new ideas are needed to stretch the tax dollar.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 9:34 a.m.

How many firefighters does the city want to lay off? Great example Fred & Barney!! A2 depends way too much on other communities like Pittsfield to help out during a serious fire. Maybe this fire should be used to demonstrate just how cushy the "sacred cows" of the Fire Department have it. Oh yeah! Lets also throw in the "what if" scenario of this fire being at U Towers or the fire spreading into U Towers. YEP CUT THE FIRE DEPARTMENTS BUDGET!!


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 7:59 a.m.

How many firefighters does the city want to lay off?


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 7:20 a.m.

Great photos! Props to Ms. Evaskis and her keen eye.


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 6:02 a.m.

This is a sad story but congratulations on some really excellent photographs. Very dramatic work that captures the scene well!


Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 12:33 a.m.

I'm thinking momo tea should change their name to "no-mo' tea."


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:36 p.m.

The University leases office space in University Tower, where I work. I hope the fire didn't spread that far.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:25 p.m.

Somebody call 9-1-1, shorty burnin' fire on the dance floor, woah oh-ohhhhhhh.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:21 p.m.

A friend got a text message about the fire so I just drove down to see what was going on, it looked more under control now then it did when the picture on this article was taken. I didnt see any flames at around 11:50. Lots of students were on the streets.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:20 p.m.

Paul, You are a miserable human being. That building was an Ann Arbor landmark. To say something so horrible is despicable. I hope the rest of your life is miserable.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:19 p.m.

Paul, You are a miserable human being. That building was an Ann Arbor landmark. To say something so horrible is despicable. I hope the rest of your life is miserable.

Kyle Mulka

Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:18 p.m.

@umtrey has been live tweeting with photos. It doesn't look under control yet, and U Towers has caught fire.

Kyle Mulka

Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:17 p.m.

@umtrey has been live tweeting with photos. It doesn't look under control yet, and U Towers has caught fire.


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:16 p.m.

I just passed by, going south on Washtenaw. There was smoke everywhere!


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:13 p.m.

There was a photo published earlier on this article. Why was it removed?


Sat, Oct 24, 2009 : 11:12 p.m.

This is a catastrophe. Now, where will Ann Arbor's delinquent youth go to smoke and deal pot?