National Pinball Museum to close

May 23, 2011

Just five months after opening its doors to delighted pinheads and wizards across the D.C. region, Georgetown’s National Pinball Museum is being forced to close.

David Silverman, the Silver Spring man whose dream it was to share his pinball collection with the masses, said Monday that he has received a letter informing him that he will have to vacate his third-floor space at the Shops at Georgetown Park in mid-July.

“This has been a dream of mine for over 30 years and to have it whittled down . . . ,” Silverman said.

Officials at Vornado Realty Trust declined to talk about the lease agreement. “As a policy, we don’t comment on tenant matters,” said Wendi Kopsick, spokeswoman for Vornado.

Silverman said that although his lease extends though December, the landlords are exercising a clause that allows them to terminate the agreement with 60 days’ notice. Silverman said he’s being asked to leave to make way for mall renovations.

For more than three decades, Silverman dreamed of opening a museum to showcase his collection of more than 800 pinball machines and to share the history of a game that was first played by French aristocrats. After a story about Silverman appeared in The Washington Post, a leasing agent at the Georgetown center approached him with the idea of opening the museum at the mall. Silverman spent six months renovating a third-floor space that once housed an FAO Schwarz toy store and put up $300,000 of his own money to make the project happen. The National Pinball Museum opened in December.

The museum features 200 pinball machines, some of which were available for visitors to play, as well as displays detailing the art and history of the game. Silverman also highlighted the work of game designers and artists.

Pinball’s heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s; the arrival of video games marked the end of its reign. Only one company, Illinois-based Stern Pinball, still makes pinball machines, and some collectors pay upward of $5,000 for machines at conventions or on Web sites such as eBay.

Silverman said he remains committed to keeping the museum alive.

Right now he’s focused on making lists: lists of supporters, lists of places where he might be able to move his vast collection, lists of spaces where he might be able to temporarily house his collection.

“I’m not willing to throw in the towel,’’ he said. “I’m not going to shut down. I’m going to find someplace.’’

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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