Funspot celebrates 60 years of fun
With a $750 loan from his grandmother, he built a 9-hole miniature golf course. It opened 60 years ago today on the second floor of the former Tarlson's Arcade. He now owns and operates — with no desire to retire — Funspot, which is exactly what its name implies and which will host a 60th anniversary celebration starting at 10 a.m. today.
“Once we got started, I just knew this was for me,” Lawton, 81, said Tuesday. “It's always fun. I've never had any intentions of getting out of it or shutting it down.”
Lawton, who said he hates office work, still does much of the maintenance on the grounds and machines.
“Obviously it's been great. I'm still working 60 hours a week,” he said. “I wouldn't know what to do with my first day of retirement.”
Funspot moved from the Tarlson's Arcade building to its current location on Endicott Street North in 1964 and began adding on from there, Lawton said.
“I just always wanted to try to do something new and fun,” Lawton said. “We just built more as we had money or could line up financing.”
There is a 20-lane bowling alley, Skee-ball, bumper cars, an outdoor miniature golf course and an indoor replica of the 1952 original golf course, a bingo parlor, a party room, prize games and more than 500 video games. Funspot is recognized by Guinness World Records as having the world's largest video game arcade.
About 300 of Funspot's video games are housed in the American Classic Arcade Museum, which features video games from 1987 or earlier, all of them working and available for patrons to play, he said.
“My favorite is Rally X,” he said, referring to a driving maze game released in 1980. He added: “My favorite pinball game is KISS,” named for the rock band.
The video games began as a cooperative deal with an independent vendor in the mid-1970s, Lawton said. The vendor, who owned the games and, for three seasons a year housed them in colleges, needed a place to put the games during the summer.
Until 1980, Funspot was open only during the summer. Lawton said that relationship lasted a few years, then he bought the games from the vendor and decided to stay open all year long.
“Every day except Christmas,” he said.
Lawton expanded the business with locations in Wolfeboro, Concord, Dover, Amherst, Portland, Maine, and in Port Richey, Fla. Those other locations have since closed or been sold; only the Laconia Funspot remains, he said.
In the 1990s, Funspot added a tavern and restaurant to go with the bingo hall and bowling alley, Lawton said. Another new attraction is a zip line.
“We have a lot for every age,” he said. “You need to have something for every age group in the family or you won't get the family to stay.”
Funspot's party rooms, which can accommodate up to 150 people, are available for free, he said.
“I just like to have a lot of people here, especially kids,” Lawton said.
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Tim Buckland may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.