Become a pinball wizard at Silverball Museum


By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Surrounded by the noise of dozens of silver balls being flung around mazes and lights, Rob Ilvento has brought a taste of the New Jersey shore south to Delray Beach.
On a recent rainy Thursday afternoon, kids, parents and grandparents were fixated on the games in front of them. Excitement exuded from their mouths and the machines as points were racked up on the screens.
“Kids look at the flippers on the machines like they are seeing Mars,” Ilvento said when he sees the look on kids’ faces before they play their first pinball machine. “Then the parents press start, light up the machines and you see how excited the kids are.”
He said a man walked in to the newly opened Silverball Museum with his great-grandson and was nearly in tears when he saw a game he used to play on Coney Island. Ilvento said he was teaching his great-grandson how to play.
“I wanted to bring a little bit of the Jersey Shore and Coney Island to Delray,” Ilvento said. “These are the rarest games ever made or the most collectible.”
The food also offers a slice of shore fare from thin-crust pizza to crab cakes, he said he wanted to offer a taste of all the boardwalks.
He became familiar with Delray after his parents retired here 12 years ago. He said he likes that there aren’t any high-rise condos and was attracted to the accolades the city receives.
“It’s a little better than every place else,” he said.
He said he grew up playing games at arcades on the shore, but he wasn’t a fanatic. It was his daughter who helped his interested in pinball machines pique.
He explained that she is autistic and took a liking to the flippers, lights and the machines. That is what started his collection.
Ultimately, he said he needed a place to put the machines. That place was a basement in Jersey, which soon gained what he described as a cult following.
In 2009, he moved to the boardwalk in Asbury Park across from concert venue The Stone Pony.
“All the rockers come in,” he said of the Asbury location. “Everyone thinks they are in their dressing rooms, but they are playing pinball at Silverball.”
Not everything about owning a pinball place is fun and games though. He said he went through super storm Sandy and luckily only a few video games were destroyed.
“We were the first flicker of light after Sandy,” he said.
He said the water came just an inch below the pinball machines and none were ruined, but he had to renovate the space.
Now, that location has about 200 machines and the Delray location has 150. Total, he has about 700 machines that will rotate between the locations.
The first machine he ever purchased was a 1960s game that was Americana-themed. His top three favorite games are the OEM version of Evel Knievel, a mini-golf style game and the Big Bang Bar.
“It’s not a concept, it’s a collection,” he said. “We want to archive these games. They are the first circuit boards.”
He said they are also pieces of art that are interactive. They are numbered artwork. There were only so many of each made.
“It’s like an auto museum where you can drive the cars,” he said. “We let people interact and drive the cars by playing the games.”
Silverball is located downtown at 19 NE Third Ave. It is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
All of the machines are on free play and entrance passes are charged based on time. An all day pass costs $25.