LACONIA - Funspot opened its doors as The Weirs Sports Center on the second floor of Tarlsons Arcade, just across the street from the Weirs Boardwalk on June 27, 1952 as an indoor miniature golf course and penny arcade.
PhotoLeft: Brothers Bob, left, and John Lawton, right with (L-R) their mother Doris Thompson, Senator Edith Gardner, Winnie Tarlson and Ann Dearborn at the ribbon cutting for Funspot's new pool room in 1965.
Photo Right: Funspot Family Entertainment Center celebrated its 60th anniversary with a ribbon cutting ceremoney. Taking part were (L-R) Randy, Steve, Sandra & David Lawton, Funspot founder, Bob Lawton, with scissors, Starr and Jules Lawton and Donna Carlucci.
Bob Lawton, then just 21, and a recent graduate of Norwich University with a degree in chemistry, had borrowed $750 from his grandmother to start, along with his brother, John, the attraction which 60 years later is has grown into the worlds largest arcade.
Yesterday Funspot marked its 6Oth anniversary with a ribboncutting ceremony held in the same building and the same doorway that it held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for in 1965 when it opened its pool hall at the new location on Rte. 3 North it had moved to the previous year.
Speaking at the gathering, which brought together city officials, local businessmen and many
families, Lawton said that he and his brother grew up as "Weirs kids", spending their summers at their grandfather's house right next to Irwins Winnipesaukee Garden, and that his first real job was working for the legendary Jim Irwin as a teenager, eventually running the Bingo Hall there from 1947 until 1951.
"He was a great guy, the greatest guy I ever met," said Lawton, who described the growth of Funspot over the years and how it had changed many times in order to keep providing the kind of attractions that people wanted.
"We've changed according to what people want to do," said Lawton, who said that mechanical pinball games were the early staple of the busilless, which underwent a sea change when video games came along in the late 1970s.
"In 1986 we wanted to put in addition for the video games but the bank turned us down. We went ahead and did it anyway and paid for it in one year. You couldn't keep people out of here back then," Lawton recalled.
The following year saw another addition that brought the bumper cars inside and iIl 1988 an
$850,000 bowling center featuring both ten-pin and candlepin, was built.
But by 1990 the video game boom was over, brought on by the advent of home computer
games, and Funspot responded by adding new attractions in the 19908, including the D.A. Long Tavern, which was built when league bowling started in 1996, as well as 400-seat bingo hall.
In 1999 Funspot hosted its first Classic Game Video Tournament, which features pre-1987 games, and was officially named the "Largest Arcade in the World" by Guinness World Records at the l0th Annual International Classic Video Game and Pinball Tournament, held there in 2008.
Its third floor now houses the American Classic Arcade Museum, the brain child of Gary Vincent, operations manager at Funspot and a 31-year employee. Funspot has over 500 video games, 300 of which are housed in the musetun.
Lawton said that Funspot has always been a family business and that his nephews Steve and Randy Lawton, along with his daugher, Sandra, and granddaughter Starr, continue to play key roles in managing and maintaining Funspot. His son, David, with whom he served in the state legislature, manages The Weirs Times, a free weekly newspaper which the family started in 1992, and another daughter, Donna Carlucci, is an advertising consultant with the newspaper.
It was another son, Tim, who now runs a tugboat service in Florida, who helped spur the formation of The Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society and Lake Winnipesaukee Museum, after he located the davit of the sidewheel steamer The Mount Washington, while scuba diving in Weirs Bay in 1985. The museum is located at the former Bridges Motel property next to Funspot.
Lawton, 81, who continues to work every day at Funspot said that recently a friend said to him "Why don't you retire and have some fun?" to which he replied "How can you have more fun that at Funspot?"
He said that hes most happy when he sees young kids come in and enjoy Funspot and encourages people to stop by and say hello. "Dont ever hesitate to talk to me. We'll reminisce
together about the good times people have had here," says Lawton.
Article from the Laconia Daily Sun. Roger Amsden, Author