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Choppy Waters
Controversy over Newport Harbor Nautical Museum's new look.
The proposed Newport Beach Nautical Museum.
Courtesy LPA

In early November the once-humble Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, now officially known as ExplorOcean, solidified plans for revamping its facility, which will include not only a major new building and an entertainment pier, but the partial removal of the Balboa Fun Zone, a 75-year-old amusement park that’s become a low-tech institution in Newport Beach.

The Nautical Museum began 25 years ago inside a small wooden building filled with maritime artifacts. It’s now located inside a renovated office space. The redesign, led by Irvine-based architecture firm LPA was reported by the L.A. Times to cost an estimated $40 million, although the museum would not confirm that figure. The plans include a 34,000 square foot, three-story, glass and steel structure that would include a new theater, a submarine simulator, and a “navigation lab.” The scheme also includes a themed “adventure pier,” containing a new Ferris Wheel, as well as a roof plaza, an outdoor dining terrace, and a ground level public plaza. The building will be sheltered with an angled roof—fitted with a 12,000-square-foot photovoltaic array—that will protect the outdoor environments and shape a new entry space. Twenty-five-foot-tall growing walls will surround the structure on three sides. Completion is scheduled for 2015.

A new vision fo the Nautical Museum includes a pier and a Ferris Wheel.

But some are not happy with the proposed changes. Early November saw a rally of over 50 people against the Adventure Pier led by the group, Project: Save The Fun Zone. The Fun Zone already lost attractions such as bumper cars, a tea cup ride, and its “spooky night ride” when NHNM took over the lease in 2006. “Without the Fun Zone our history is a mystery” is one of the group’s catch phrases.

Much of the project’s support comes from the city itself. “Whenever you change a known entity, no matter how good or bad it is, there will be push back,” said LPA’s Rick D’Amato, lead project designer for ExplorOcean. “What you are not hearing is the overwhelming support for the project within the community, which includes city staff and council. While we lost the merry-go-round , the Ferris Wheel will become an integral part of the new water front Adventure Pier.” (The carousel had been at the Fun Zone since the 1985 and will be moved to nearby Westminster.)

Left to right: The Nautical Museum from the pier; the museum from the street; a site plan.

Funds for the project will come from private and corporate sponsorship, according to D’Amato. The museum currently houses an on-site preview center with a computer fly-through intended to win over those who may not have made up their minds about the project.

Stephanie Jones