Video games, pinball, and arcades were a big deal during the 70's and 80's. I certainly spent enough time in arcades back then. Read on for a short essay about some of my arcade experiences.

Two-Bit Arcade, La Verne

token from 2-bit arcade To me, the most important of all the arcades listed here, and the one I most frequently visited. The Two-Bit was a rather small arcade in a strip mall on Foothill Blvd. Inside, it was about half pinball and half video games from 1979 to late 1981, when I noticed the video's were taking over more space.

The Two-Bit was run by some of the nicest local people you'd meet anywhere. Right out of the blue they'd come up to you and offer free games, or perhaps an official Two Bit Arcade T-shirt. Occasionally, they'd even throw parties for the regulars. There would also be high score contests, where the player winning the highest score on a particular game. (There were also "unofficial" contests as well: I remember one fellow playing Gorf all-day until 10 or 11 p.m. . .)

t-shirt from 2-bit arcade Of course, the Two-Bit staff also ran a tight ship too. Inside the operator's booth, there was a list of people banned from the arcade (usually for hitting games, begging games off people). I once saw some burly, motorcycle-gang type actually picking up the front end of a pinball, lifting it about two or three feet, and dropping it with a bang! (The manager kicked him out, and I never saw him again after that). Smoking was never permitted at the Two-Bit, but "dipping" was allowed (the management even provided paper cups for snuff users).

The Two-Bit existed until June 1983, when they moved to Pomona (to the space vacated by "The Arcade" below) due to changing attitudes by the City of La Verne toward video game arcades. At the new location, the name changed to "Two-Bit Games and Grinders" and offered snacks (I recall a long list of sandwiches named after various video games) as well as games. The Two-Bit probably gave up the ghost in in 1985; I don't recall seeing it after the summer of 1984.

Active West Garey Center Bowl, Pomona

This bowling alley also had pinballs and video games (along with a pool hall, a bar, cigarette machines, ashtrays on the games, and losers picking up other losers). But it was an occasional change of pace. (and for awhile had an old pinball that charged 25-cents for two games, five balls each In a world where 50-cents for three balls was starting to be the going rate, there was a name for cheap pinballs like that--CHRISTMAS!

The Bowl closed down around 1986 or 1987; it is now a Muslim school.

Base Hits Record Store, San Dimas

This was a small record store in the perenially underperforming shopping center at the corner of Bonita and San Dimas Canyon. There were also about 7-8 video games here, with cardboard signs saying "No Alcohol or Drugs Allowed" and "Do Not Put Slugs in Machines".

This joint opened up in Spring 1981, but faded away not too long after they set up a "contest" among the local high schools in the area: whoever bought the most records within a designated time period would get a special prize (I think it was that the record store would sponsor a school dance, complete with DJ). It turns out that after the contest was over, the store simply awarded a dance to all the schools in question, instead of picking the winner. That bothered a lot of people, who then decided to buy their records (and play games) elsewhere...

G.G's Games of Skill, Pomona

According to rumor, this bare-looking block building, just south of the bowling alley, was where all the "tough guys" and gang members hung out. One day, I (being neither a tough guy or a gang member) walked in there and found...a few video games and pinballs, a concrete floor and a bored looking attendant. Where were all the toughs? I was the only customer in the whole place. There wasn't the world's best selection of games, either, but I played a few quarters worth and left.

In late 1983 or so, the building was torn down to build a shopping center. G.G's moved to another shopping center near Towne and Arrow in Pomona, and was renamed "La-La's Games of Skill". I don't recall if it lasted beyond Summer 1984.

The Arcade, Pomona

How's that for a generic name? It was a relatively quiet arcade, about the size of the "Two-Bit", in a large shopping center between a gun store and a print shop. It had a few games I had not seen elsewhere (like Vanguard). I also noticed that certain folks who had been 86'd from the Two-Bit would occasionally show up here (and get high scores).

I discovered this place in Spring 1981 or 1982; by early 1984, the "Two-Bit Arcade" (see above) moved into this place for awhile.

Chuck E. Cheese, La Verne

I know, that place was supposed to be for little kids, not teenagers. In fact, there were signs posted saying "No one under 18 without a parent" at the front door (ostensibly, to keep out the "Two-Bit Arcade" crowd, which had started to grow somewhat rowdy by early 1983, especially at night).

But the rule was only fitfully enforced, and your average 17-year old high school student could easily b.s. their way on in, along with an entourage of friends and "dates". Once inside, there was the largest selection of video games in La Verne (Bigger than the Two-Bit!) as well as skee-ball and similar non-video games. I don't recall if they had any pinball, though.

I do remember eating pizza there once; it was rather disappointing.

Chuck E. Cheese eventually left La Verne for some unstated reason (maybe the city jumped on them for letting too many unattended kids in. On the other hand, I recall a lot of their restaurants closing all over by the mid 80's)

La Verne Liquors

LVL always had two or three arcade games (always just under the limit where they would legally be considered an "arcade" and would require additional business licenses, etc.) Being a liquor store and not an arcade also meant that it was open much earlier in the morning. This meant that kids could drop by on the way to school to drop a few quarters on "Pac-Man" or "Donkey Kong". Of course, the local newspapers were soon full of indignant letters decrying all the "kids hanging out in a liquor store, of all places, at 6 a.m.", etc, etc.

The Milky Way, Pomona

This arcade opened (along with the Indian Hill Mall) in Spring 1983. The Milky Way was located at the extreme east end of the mall. It was a big place, with about as much floor space as a discount department store. The decor was dark glass, neon, and chrome, with millions of little lights (LED's or fiber optics) blinking off and on in the ceiling, along railings and in the floor. Prices were reasonable, such as 8 or 10 tokens for $1.

The arcade was a fun place, but it was also troublesome for the mall management. The mall wasn't (and isn't) located in the best of neighborhoods to begin with, and the arcade sometimes attracted a rough element. Since the arcade was some distance from the rest of the mall (and usually kept later hours), it was difficult for mall management to police everything that was going on in there (I heard rumors of drug dealing, fights in the parking lot, etc.)

Then there were a few people that went totally berzerk, saying that the flashing red LED's in the ceiling had a "satanic influence" on kids...

Because of all these problems, the arcade closed in 1984. Around early 1986, the arcade reopened in a much smaller location, in a more central part of the mall. For a long while after it closed, though, one could peer through the glass doors and see what was left of the original arcade. All the games were removed, but the decorations, the mirrors, the now de-energized neon lights, were still there, making the space look like a high-tech ghost town.

In fact, most of the Indian Hill Plaza mall became a ghost town over the years, as most of the shops either closed up or moved to the rapidly expanding Montclair Plaza a few miles north (and nearer to the freeway). There was (and is) little left except for a few cheap stores. Recently, the Pomona school district leased or bought most of the property, and part of it is now an elementary school.

Kenny Arcade, West Covina

An occasional stopping point for those long bike rides between Claremont and Covina. If I recall correctly, parts of the movie Private School were filmed here in 1983, and there was a big display in the arcade reminding everyone of that fact. I also recall that the sign saying "Kenny Arcade" was still being displayed long after the arcade closed (1985?)

Speaking of 1983, that's when I went off to UCSB, taking my arcade habit along with me...(note: in all the following, I.V = Isla Vista, the student area just west of the main UCSB campus).

Video Madness and the Side Pocket

Relatively small arcade and pool hall in Downtown I.V. (Is there such a place?) Across the street from the original Kinko's copy shop. Video Madness was the longest-lasting arcade in I.V. In its heyday (say, 1983-1987) it could be pretty busy on a Friday night, or anytime on a weekday. Now, Video Madness (and I.V. in general) seem much quieter almost every time I've gone back up there to visit...

When I was last in I.V. in late 2004; the arcade and pool hall had been replaced by a bar with no games in it....

Bank Arcade

This was an arcade located in the infamous Isla Vista Bank of America building. Tokens were eight for a dollar, but many of the games were in a bad state of repair. As I recall, it lasted only a few months in late 1983...The bank building itself has gone through several new lives as a dance hall, a gym, and a restaurant before it was bought by UCSB for classroom space

There was another arcade in I.V. not too far away from the bank, with just a few games. It too only lasted a few months. (I remember playing a "Tempest" with a very messed-up spinner in there. Not fun).

Video Hideaway

A couple of geeks from the UCSB Microcomputer Lab set this arcade up behind a liquor store in I.V, around April 1986. Games were free for about a week after it opened, then they were for some ridiculously low price (10 tokens for $1). After the school year ended, the owners took the arcade back home to the Bay Area with them.

Arcading today

It was the late 1980's (about 1988 or 1989) when most of the video games seemed to be "chop socky ninja rambo's" like "Street Fighter" and such. I slowly lost interest...except in places where I could find classic games....

Pak Mann Arcade

I had noticed this arcade as early as 1982, on trips into Pasadena. When I started working in Pasadena (1990-1991), Pak Mann was a frequent after-work hangout. It could get rough at night, time, one of my coworkers got into a parking lot fight there. This arcade closed in 2005 (after a long fight with the City of Pasadena) and reportedly moved to either Alhambra or Westminster....

The Reagan Years

I found this place in Downtown Fullerton in April 2000 while waiting for a train. It's an arcade filled with the classic games of the 80's. (They sell games as well). Currently, it's a bar with a couple of games in it.

And of course, there are always the emulators....

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