The Triumph of the Giant Dipper
Anyone who has been to Mission Beach in San Diego knows the iconic scene of the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster along the coastal boardwalk, but what about the history behind it? It's more than just a jarring wooden thrill ride next to one of the most beautiful beaches in San Diego. The Giant Dipper and it's home, Belmont Park, are rich in San Diego history from the creation of the 2,600 ft. long coaster to its demolition date, the "Save The Coaster Committee" and its celebratory reopening. What many don't realize is that what is now considered a staple among the San Diego community was almost as good as gone just 30 years ago.
Here is the story of struggle and triumph of San Diego's first roller coaster and iconic landmark, the Giant Dipper.
San Diego celebrated Independence Day in 1925 with the grand opening of the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. Visitors flocked to this thriving area to take a ride on the state of the art seaside coaster. As the centerpiece of the Mission Beach Amusement Center (currently known as Belmont Park) the charming Giant Dipper was constructed in just under two months and cost only $50,000 to build. As the brain child of John D. Spreckels, the wealthiest man in San Diego at the time who passed away less than a year after its construction, Belmont Park was just one of the many San Diego landmarks he owned including Coronado Island, the Union-Tribune Publishing Company and the San Diego Electric Railway. John D. Spreckels had his hands in much of the development of San Diego and during the 1930's and 40's Belmont Park and the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster flourished, but all that began to change in the late 1960's.
As the coaster and entirety of Belmont Park, including its other main attraction the large saltwater pool named "The Plunge", began their decent into disarray and a large transient population moved into the area, the popularity of this quaint San Diego theme park began to plummet. What was once a 33-acre park filled with visitors and lively energy became a run-down location with the dilapidated Giant Dipper at the epicenter. It eventually closed in 1976 and a demolition date had been set to destroy the old coaster that was once a source of laughter and pride for the San Diego community. The charm of this seaside theme park would have disappeared and faded into the past had it not been for a group of citizens who loved the charming coaster and formed the "Save The Coaster Committee". These individuals fought hard to get the iconic Giant Dipper designated as a National Landmark and took over ownership of this great wooden structure. Although they did what they could by donating time and raising funds, the "Save The Coaster Committee" was unable to restore the coaster fully and it inevitably stood dormant for nearly 14 years.
What was once a point of pride for the Mission Beach community became a constant reminder of times long ago, until 1989 when the new developer of Belmont Park worked together with the owner of its sister roller coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, to form the San Diego Seaside Company. This company, now known as the San Diego Coaster Company, took over ownership of the Giant Dipper and spent over $2,000,000 to restore it to working order. And as a result, on August 11, 1990, the Giant Dipper became triumphant once again and reopened to the public!
The reopening was a huge success with local residents who had grown up riding the Giant Dipper coming out in droves to share their memories of the coaster with friends, family and children. No one could have expected the large public response as the Giant Dipper became even more popular than it had been in its hay day of the 1930's and 40's.
Today Belmont Park and the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster are frequented by guests of all ages looking to ride the charming wooden coaster rich in San Diego history. From the original guests who loved the Giant Dipper in the 30's and 40's who now come back for a trip down memory lane to the young locals, like myself, who know it as their first roller coaster ride, the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park has become a long standing staple and great source of pride among the community of San Diego.