In the early 1900’s, a wealthy sugar magnate by the name of John D. Spreckels was hard at work driving the development of San Diego. A main focus of his development plan was the up and coming Mission Beach. In 1925, in an effort to stimulate real estate sales and to promote his electric railway, Mr. Spreckels built the Mission Beach Amusement Center, now known as Belmont Park. One of the amusement center’s star attraction was to be the Giant Dipper roller coaster. The 2,600 foot long coaster was created by the noted design team of Prior and Church and was built in less than 2 months by local suppliers and a crew of between 100-150 workers. The original cost to build the coaster was $150,000, including the two, 18 passenger trains.
Along with the coaster, The Natatorium, which later became known as The Plunge swimming pool, was constructed as a centerpiece of the park. The 60’ by 175’ pool was, at the time, the largest salt-water pool in the world holding 400,000 gallons of water. The building encapsulating The Natatorium was styled after the Spanish Renaissance style buildings that were erected in San Diego’s Balboa Park between 1915 and 1916.
About a year after the amusement center opened, John D. Spreckels passed away. In turn, his organization granted the entire amusement center to the City of San Diego for the enjoyment of its people. The Mission Beach Amusement Center remained popular through the 30’s and 40’s and was eventually renamed Belmont Park in 1955.
In 1940, the salt water of The Plunge began to damage its filtration system and fresh water was brought in. The Plunge then became “the largest indoor heated pool in Southern California,” at 12,000 square feet.
By the late 60’s and 70’s, Belmont Park began to fall into disrepair and eventually closed in December 1976. The Giant Dipper, which was privately owned at the time, started to become an eyesore and demand for its demolition arose.
A group of concerned citizens called the “Save the Coaster Committee,” had the coaster designated as a National Landmark and asked the ownership to be transferred to them. The committee was given a preservation grant, raised funds locally, and donated their time to work on the coaster. However, they were not able to raise the amount needed to restore the coaster to an operating condition.
Meanwhile, The Plunge was closed along with the rest of the park in April of 1987 due to failed city earthquake and fire requirements. The San Diego City Council allowed new developers to turn the rest of the abandoned park into a commercial shopping center and Belmont Park reopened in 1988 with a new look. Though The Plunge endured many modifications, certain features historic to the pool, such as the steps into the pool and the pedestal, located at the bottom of the steps, were rescued and allowed to stay. The “Orcas off Point Loma” whaling wall, painted by world-renowned environmental marine artist, Wyland, in 1989, is another of these existing features.
Unfortunately, the roller coaster was still not up to operating standards but, in 1989, the developer of the new Belmont Park retail specialty center contacted the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, responsible for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement center, to see if they might have some interest in restoring and operating the Giant Dipper. The president and executive vice president were interested and traveled to San Diego to meet with the Belmont Park developer. The parcel of land that contained the roller coaster was not part of the developer’s project, yet it was situated in the middle of the complex and having the coaster restored and operating would benefit all concerned. After a year of discussions with the City of San Diego and many others, the City approved a long-term lease. A new company, The San Diego Coaster Company, was officially formed to restore and operate the Giant Dipper.
Over $2,000,000 was spent on the restoration of the Giant Dipper and one new train that was built for the ride. The new train had six, four-person cars.
On August 11, 1990 the newly restored, historic roller coaster was reopened to the public. The response by the public was overwhelming. The restored structure, station house, and train were beautiful. Local residents who had ridden the roller coaster years earlier brought their families to see and experience the ride they had ridden when they were growing up. The public response was so strong that the San Diego Coaster Company ordered a second train that was ready by the following spring. Annual ridership on the Giant Dipper in the first year was three times the original projections.
Today, both The Giant Dipper and The Plunge pool remain as not only pieces of history, but are still two of the main attractions to experience at Belmont Park.