How an Internet entrepreneur assembled a world-beating collection of arcade games.
Greg McLemore parks his dark blue Tesla Model S outside an unmarked office building on a quiet street in Pasadena, Calif. The 47-year-old Internet entrepreneur is about to close escrow on the space, and he fiddles with his key in the front door lock and wends his way through a series of empty offices before arriving at his destination: a cavernous warehouse that holds more than 100 brightly colored arcade games, all protected under plastic.
An early yellow-and-black Atari Pong machine stands alongside old favorites like Galaga, Tempest, and Space Invaders. Electric signs from Disneyland Penny Arcade exhibits lean up against each other and boxes of memorabilia crowd the concrete floor. Against one wall, a series of unfamiliar, sparkly fiberglass cabinets stand out among the crowd: Blue, yellow, red, and green, they are all designed with the same hulking, 1970s vision of the future. Their gray monitors float at eye level like a blank face under a hooded robe. The creatures offer up one- or two-person controllers—several buttons or a joystick—as if tempting new players to approach.
“That’s Computer Space,” McLemore says. “The very first coin-operated video game.”
It is a natural starting place for a tour of McLemore’s collection. Computer Space was a famous commercial flop—but its inventors, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, went on to found Atari, which released Pong in 1972 and launched the video game revolution. For McLemore, such pivotal moments define a collection of arcade games that stretches back to the first floor-model coin-operated games—early 1880s strength-testing machines—and includes the first coin-operated kiddie ride (a 1920 mechanical horse) and the 1971 prototype for those Computer Space games. In all, McLemore owns 750 coin-operated amusements and video games from the 1880s to the present, a collection unrivaled in the United States, if not the world, for quantity, quality, and span of time.
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