Arcade Raid! Playland Park, Flint, Michigan

Playland Park has been a cornerstone of family entertainment in the Flint area of Michigan since 1968. Hank Werner created Playland, which housed go-carts, miniature golf, an ice cream parlour, pizza and later, arcade video games and pinball.

Prior to its recent closure, the business thrived throughout the 70s and 80s, and even after Hank retired, his family kept things running, staying open and maintaining a positive reputation as a community focused business in the local area. This was the place to come to have fun for generations of locals and tourists. In more recent years, keeping the place up, running and profitable has been more challenging. Playland diversified the business, by reducing the size of the arcade, and opening a couple of “Escape Rooms”.

In reducing the footprint of the arcade, the machines themselves were moved into a basement area, which is where we pick up the story.

KLOV user Esqueleto got in touch with me to share the tale…

My interest was piqued a few years before Playland finally closed in 2018. They had listed a few games for sale on the local Craigslist classified pages. They kept reducing the size of the arcade to make way the addition of a couple escape rooms, which have become quite popular here in recent years. After inquiring about the games that were listed for sale I made an appointment to stop over and check them out.

While there, Esqueleto asked if the owners had any other old video games around that were no longer getting any love.

That’s when they showed me the games in the basement….

So what you have is a fairly unique situation, when games came to the end of their life – either not being played or breaking down, the cabinets were stored down in the basement underneath the arcade. What this created was a treasure trove of classics.

But the tragedy is there appears to have been water ingress that went unnoticed for a long time. Whether this was ground water seeping in or a burst pipe isn’t clear. These pictures were taken in the summer of 2015.

What’s clear from those pics, is that everything had taken on some serious water. But if there’s anything to be salvaged from this sorry tale, it’s the acquisition of parts. Whilst the woodwork of most of the cabinets was completely destroyed by water, there were many parts that were able to be saved.

Esqueleto over the next few years, was able to revisit the arcade multiple times and acquire a huge amount of parts and cabinets on each visit.

So whilst the cabinets were destroyed, the bulk of those control panels you see in the back of Esqueleto’s truck were all saved.

Aside from the parts taken over the years, not much had changed in the basement. One or two cabinets were sold off and removed by a handful of local collectors – it’s worth noting that not everything had to be scrapped or stripped for parts. Towards Playland’s final closure last year, there was a serious effort to rescue any remaining parts and sell them off. And what was left of the main arcade upstairs did still hold several quality cabinets – something like 20 cabinets remained out on the floor. Lots of fighters, a couple shooters, NBA Jam and Blitz – mostly 90’s titles that were still popular with visitors. A few classics such as Donkey Kong and Galaga were also on the floor too!

If your stomach can take it, here’s more scenes from the basement!

Esqueleto tells me that there is a rumour about an Aztarac being found and purchased by another collector in the area. One other equally rare vector that was there for sure was Cosmic Chasm by Cinematronics. So given the other parts that were pulled from Playland’s damp and humid basement, I would imagine tales of a rescued Aztarac is not a totally unrealistic possibility.

It was a pretty sad sight down there. But you have to look on the positive side of things. A great haul of parts and PCBs were saved from the wreckage of the basement. I grabbed Jamma boards including 6-player X-Men, Killer Instinct 2, NFL Blitz, Mortal Kombat 3 and a ton of CPS2 titles.

So what’s the state of Playland now? Well the building was purchased by the local authority and since demolished. The go kart tracks have been ploughed over, so the whole lot is now just a field awaiting development at this point. A few redemption games, Daytona USA machines and basketball games got left behind in what remained of the arcade. Those we hope were saved by the demolition crew.

So there you have it. A bittersweet raid. The good news is the huge myriad of parts – coin doors, control panels, bezels, PCBs, wiring looms and monitors are out there in the hands of collectors – hopefully now being used to keep other arcade cabinets alive. All was not lost!

Credit: Arcade Raid! Playland Park, Flint, Michigan