Courtesy: Pinball News
Date: October 2009

Asbury Park has a rich history of entertainment, from the Jersey Shore sound to the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame and, of course, where Bruce Springsteen’s musical career began.

It is also well known for the vibrant Boardwalk area where family flocked during the 1920s and ’30s.

All that declined in the decades up to the turn of the century, but increased investment and redevelopment has improved the city and the the beach front area, promising to bring back some of the magic that once drew crowds from neighbouring cites and states.

One man working hard to bring pinball and other classic amusements back to Asbury Park is Rob Ilvento who built his business selling fried chicken under the Cluck-U-Chicken brand and French fries through the Jersey Shore Fries company.

But Rob’s passion is pinball and electro-mechanical machines in particular. He had been a collector for many years and a couple of years ago he had the idea – as many collectors often do – of opening their machines up to the public.

At the time he had between 20 and 30 machines – enough for a reasonably sized arcade, but Rob wanted more. More machines, more space and more educational value.

He found a suitable space in the basement of a clothing & records store on Cookman Avenue in downtown Asbury Park and on the 4th July in 2009, he opened the Silverball Museum Pinball Hall of Fame.

As visitors descend the stairs from Hold Fast Records and enter the Museum, they come to the main desk where they pay their entrance fee and can purchase drinks or snacks.

Rather than impose a flat rate for entry or put the machines on coin play, the Museum charges according to the length of time you wish to stay. All machines are set to free play and can be played as as often as you wish during your allotted time.

One hour costs $10 ($7.50 for kids aged 5-12, free for kids under 5) while $10 more will get you access for the entire day. If you plan to visit several times across the weekend, $50 will get you a 3-day pass and if, after buying an hour, you decide to stay longer, you can upgrade your pass and just pay the difference.

Rob has also recently introduced a $5 express pass where visitors can get a quick look around the museum and play some games without committing to a full hour. Once again, the $5 counts towards any upgraded ticket they then decide to purchase.

So what do visitors get to see?

The collection has grown significantly from those initial 30 machines and the basement Silverball Museum is now home to 94 pinball and 12 amusement machines.

While that single row is impressive, facing it are several more perpendicular rows while the opposite wall is also fully populated with machines.

A few non-pinball games such as Yankee Baseball, Gridiron and Mini Golf are mixed in with the pinballs, but most are in a separate area next to the main desk.

The most modern machine is the 1999 Revenge from Mars, although Rob has plans to get a selection of dot-matrix machines into the Museum to illustrate the more recent years’ productions.

There are three Mata Hari machines and two Evel Knievel. In both cases, the electro-mechanical versions is set up next to its solid-state counterpart so visitors can compare the two versions side-by-side. Similarly, Gottlieb’s Neptune and Hit the Deck are next to each other to show the add-a-ball and replay versions of the same machine.

As we move back towards the front of the shop overhead, the machines keep coming.

Many of the machines have information cards on the backbox giving details of the year of manufacture, the manufacturer, designer and artist credits, an overview of the rules, the game’s unique features, any historical notes and the production run numbers.

We visited mid-afternoon on a Thursday in October when the museum was pretty quiet. It got busier as the evening drew near and it apparently gets plenty of visitors at the weekends – even during the fall – with the peak attendance during the summer months as you might expect.

The calm atmosphere gave us a chance to talk to the owner, Rob, and find out more about the museum and his plans to expand it further.

Although he has advertised in the local coupon booklets, with mail shots and with street signs, he said the most effective advertising came from word-of-mouth with visitors passing on their experiences to their friends.

To aid that, the Museum hosts a number of private parties for birthdays, school reunions, fund-raisers and school trips to both bring back the fun of pinball to those who used to play and introduce the next generation of players to the game.

The Museum is currently breaking even, which Rob says he is happy with as it’s more a labour of love than a business.

And it’s not just a labour of love for Rob. A small but dedicated group of volunteers help run the Museum and staff the front desk from which they see a lot of amazed reactions and hear a numerous stories about how the visitors used to enjoy playing pinball. Ray was there during our visit and took time out to show us around until Rob arrived.

In addition, Russ Snyder of Pinrescue, Kevin McHugh of Classic Pinball, Jim Sullivan of Del Music and Rob Loring all work on the games to maintain, repair and restore them.

Although Rob may be happy with the Museum breaking even, he still has big plans to expand it further. By the end of the year he intends to have secured a second location on the boardwalk and will have that open for the 2010 season while keeping the current home for weekends and for private parties.

The current Silverball Museum is a definite must-see for any pinball fans in the area and worthy of our support. The emphasis is definitely on the electro-mechanical and early solid state era, but many die-hard DMD fans are now starting to appreciate the simpler but highly addictive nature of these games.

If Rob’s plans come to fruition, it will only further enhance Asbury Park’s reputation as a pinball hotspot and make this excellent destination for pinball fans that much better.
The Silverball Museum Pinball Hall of Fame is open Friday & Saturday 11am -11pm, all other days 11am – 9pm. It closes on Tuesdays after Labor Day.

You can find out more about the Museum at its website:

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