Founder of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum dies

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Arcade games were a decades-old passion for Marvin Yagoda, founder and namesake of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills.

A customer tries his hand at a Star Trek pinball machine in one of the aisles at Marvelous Marvin's Mechanical Museum.

"My father was a pharmacist. My family owned a pharmacy in Detroit that my grandfather opened and my father retired from two years ago," said son Jeremy Yagoda, 43. "(The museum) was a hobby. It was a passion. He just loved showing people the machines and seeing the looks of joy on their faces.

A portrait of owner Marvin Yagoda was made by one of his own machines.

"My dad used to say he’d try to make the world better one smile at a time."

The elder Yagoda, southeast Michigan's guru of arcade games, died Sunday. He was 78.

"The world is a lot less marvelous today," read a post on the museum's Facebook page, accompanied by a picture of Yagoda flashing a peace sign at the camera. "Rest In Peace, Marvin."

Yagoda, of Southfield, began collecting vintage, coin-operated arcade machines in 1960, decades before opening his "mechanical museum" in 1990 at 31005 Orchard Lake Road. The arcade, tucked inside Orchard Lake plaza near 14 Mile, is known to be packed full of rare games, some from more than 80 years ago.

You can play tic-tac-toe with the chicken at Marvelous Marvin's Mechanical Museum.

Games include pinball machines as well as "Ask The Brain," a device that purports to tell the future, and the "Nerve O Meter," which uses a mechanical dog to test one's courage.

"Ask The Brain" is a device that purports to tell the future.

"I wanted to expose our community to a different kind of history," Yagoda said in a 2005 interview with The Detroit News.

It was a living, evolving history, according to the facility's website.

"He constantly adds more (games), packing things tighter, shifting around games and kid rides," officials said in a note in the "About" section.

Yagoda followed his own interests when selecting additions, according to his son.

"We’d have arguments sometimes about these big huge machines that would make five dollars a week, but it didn’t matter to him," Jeremy Yagoda said. "He wanted them there."

Vistiors to Marvelous Marvin's Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills are greeted with a hurricane of sights and sounds.

He even had custom-made machines installed at the arcade, and eagerly showed them off to visitors.

"If you walked in the door, he was pulling you over to a machine. He’d pull you over, put in a quarter and have you watch his new machine," Yagoda said. "It wasn’t about the money, it was about the passion."

The machine man spent decades balancing that passion with others: his family and his day-job at the pharmacy.

"My father loved me very, very much and he loved his businesses very, very much," Yagoda said. "So he was always fighting for time, I think, is the nicest way to put it."

The elder Yagoda emphasized his love for the museum in the 2005 interview with The News.

Some machines are found disturbing by visitors, like the "Laughing Sailor."

"I started doing this museum 15 years ago because it was in my heart," Yagoda said at the time. "No matter what else I may end up doing, this place is who I am."

His dedication to the arcade won over a legion of fans, many of whom responded to news of his death with Facebook posts sharing memories of the museum.

"It doesn't matter how many times you go there, you always see new stuff hiding in corners," Faith Bilkovic Grace said. "He will truly be missed."

Others shared their interactions with Yagoda.

"Thank you Marvin for your wonderful museum that has delighted generations for decades," Tara McMachen said. "You will be missed, with your smile at the door and the amazing finds inside."

The museum has been featured on the History and Disney channels and on A&E. It was once listed in the World Almanac's 100 most unusual museums in the country, according to the website.

Yagoda also appeared on "American Pickers," helping cast members pinpoint the age and value of antique, coin-operated machines.

Marvin Yagoda, founder of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, died Sunday.

His legacy will continue, thanks to a family that has inherited his passion.

"My father hasn’t been very involved in the past year and a half because his health had been dwindling, but myself and my brother-in-law run the place daily and we’re not going anywhere," Yagoda said. "That’s just really important for people to know: We're not going anywhere."

More than 10 years ago, Yagoda's son told The News that the arcade "started with family, and we're gonna keep it that way."

"I’m glad to try and continue his legacy," Yagoda said on Monday. "I hope I can do as well as he did."

Marvin Yagoda is survived by his son, daughter-in-law Dr. Sherri Rosenfeld, and grandson Jonathan Yagoda; twin sister Dorothy Silverman; and younger brother Bernard Yagoda.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier