Playland died along with blue collar photo that as soon as embopassed away a gritty San Francisco

San Francisco has always been somewbelow civilization involved reap themselves, and tourism has actually lengthy been a mainstay of the city"s economy.

Nightlife, culinary delight, amusement, erotic adendeavor and also family members entertainment are all had within its 49 square miles. Anypoint a visitor may look for, San Francisco deserve to administer. Echoes of fun and amusement ring throughout the city from the cable cars apeak Nob Hill to the sea lions barking at the wharf.

Turning ago the clock to the Depression, we discover San Francisco bubbling as a haven of fun also then.

You are watching: Playland-at-the-beach

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Bathing beauties laugh it up at Playland, c. 1940s

Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

The place to go was a now-vaniburned amusement park, Playland-at-the-Beach. Throughout the Depression and also World War II, Playland prospered. Adults and also youngsters, family members and also couples on dates, seafarers from almost everywhere the world visited Playland also to ride bumper cars and roller coasters and also explore the thrills of the Funhouse. For many type of San Franciscans, Playland also was and still is their childhood, 33 years after its demolition.

Playland also was situated at Ocean Beach, simply north of Golden Gate Park, listed below the suggest where the land also rises to Sutro Heights. The attractions in this edge of the city had the added novelty of being where Western civilization meets the Pacific Ocean -- in a method, at the end of the world.

From the mural-bedecked Beach Chalet at the western finish of the park to Playland also to the Cliff Housage and also Sutro Baths, the recreational alternatives lined up in a long row. Much of this finished up as component of the pleacertain empire of the man dubbed the Barnum of the Golden Gate, George Whitney.

A little bit amusement area named Ocean Beach Pavilion had actually existed given that 1884. In 1912, Arthur Looff and also his companion, John Friedle, developed Looff"s Hippodrome, housing a grand also carousel built by Looff"s father. In 1922, the 2 included the Big Dipper roller coaster and also the Chutes-at-the-Beach water ride. Whitney and his brother Leo concerned town and opened a photofinishing concession booth in a smaller variation of Playland.

In 1926, Whitney ended up being basic manager, and the park came to be Whitney"s Playland-at-the-Beach. He bought out shaky concessionaires in the time of the Depression. By 1942, he owned everything from Sutro Baths to Fulton Street.

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Funhome Mirrors at Playland

Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Whitney"s Playland thrived to even more than 3 blocks of amusements next to the Great Highway. It contained Topsy"s Roost Restaurant, which later became Skateland; a midway of games and vendors; a diving bell; and also, of course, the Funhome with lengthy wood slides, a humale turntable that spun and also threw people off if they didn"t hang on, distorting mirrors and also air jets that blew women"s skirts up.

Playland also was also the birtharea of the It"s-It, Whitney"s invention of ice cream sandwiched by 2 oatmeal cookies and extended in cocoa.

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View from Sutro Heights, 1995.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

Only the freshly remodeled and currently far more uprange Cliff House and also Beach Chalet still stand also. A condo development erased any kind of map of Playland.

Blue-collar times

Anyone that remembers Playland is wistful, or maybe simply nostalgic, for the gritty, blue-collar San Francisco. "It wasn"t simply toys for the rich. It was playthings for everyone," said Dan Fontes, a muralist functioning in El Cerrito on a big rendering of Playland and the neighboring location.

San Francisco has actually readjusted. The blue-collar neighborhoods are mostly gone, and also amusement is often more solitary than when the Playland fun home rang via screams and laughter. Still, Playland also has actually not been shed. Anyone can uncover it. Its fragments are scattered anywhere the city.

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Laughing Sal

Photo: Chris Carlsson


Playland is ideal remembered by a laugh, the one that belonged to a large mechanical woguy that towered over the entry to the Funhouse from the 1940s until it closed in 1972 and she was auctioned off. Her name was Laughing Sal.

Anyone walking dvery own Playland"s Midmethod -- even nearby next-door neighbors -- heard Sal"s bellowing laugh. She had actually devilish curly red hair and also astronomical freckles almost everywhere her fat, terrifying visage. In the middle of it all was a gap-toothed smile that offered nightmare material for plenty of children. This was creepy, the exact same means a ventriloquist"s dummy is.

"She would stand tbelow laughing and laughing, and you would stand also there laughing and also laughing, and you didn"t recognize why," shelp Sharon Jessup, a San Francisco aboriginal who prospered up going to Playland also. Sal"s continuous laugh was a drunken yelping guffaw, an evil cackle, the uninhibited outburst of someone going out of her mind. With arms extfinished, she heaved ago and forth via a little of a bobbing motion in her huge glass box.

Sal was constructed by the Old King Cole papier-mache agency under commission to the Philadelphia Toboggan Co., maker of amusement park furnishings. Old King Cole began with a mechanical laughing department store Santa Claus. They fitted the Santa with a woman"s legs, breasts that jiggled on the finish of springs and custom-made heads. With the enhancement of a 78 rpm recording of the many memorable laugh in the world, Laughing Sal was born.

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The Big Dipper roller coaster

Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

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Playland: "The favorite in action!"

By the 1960s, Playland also was run down and a little seedy. Some say it started downhill once Whitney tore down the Big Dipper roller coaster in the late 1950s. Sutro Baths melted in the time of its demolition in 1966, and Whitney quit operating Playland also in 1968.

The park took on a roving carnival feel, shelp Marvin Gold, who grew up nearby, going to sleep every night to the sound of Sal"s cackle. In 1972, Playland was put up for sale. When it closed on Sept. 4, 1972, Herb Caen composed a column referred to as, "We"ll Never Go Tbelow Anyeven more." He reminisced over It"s-Its, Bull Pup enchiladas, a 40-cent corn dog and a ride on the carousel.

Today, Playland is covered through real estate. A Safemethod stands on the website of the old diving bell. Gold sassist he remembers when employees concerned smash the concrete structure and heard a clang. They found the concrete lined via a steel tank, filled it in and also constructed on optimal of it.

"One a century from now once they tear Safemethod down, they"re going to uncover an old steel tank sitting tright here and have no concept what it was," he sassist.

"Oh, and those slides, those beautiful wood slides," he sassist of the lengthy hardwood slides in the Funhome. "When I observed them cutting those slides right into pieces ... I almost cried. "Playland also was our second home."

For the next 30 years after Playland also closed, people didn"t have to look far to discover Laughing Sal. Although the major Funhome Sal went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for $50,000, Playland"s back-up Sal uncovered a residence in the basement of the Cliff Housage, together with the penny arcade machines. They all were put into the Musée Mecanique, a arsenal that Ed Zelinsky acquired from George Whitney.

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Internationwide Studies at Playland

Photo: Kurt Bank

All of the devices were still working, supplying love tests, informing fortunes and also showing the first silent movies. Video games were added to a little arcade at the ago -- at an early stage games favor Pac Man and inevitably the 3-D driving and also shooting simulators we see now.

In 2002, the Musée was imperiled when the Cliff House was renovated. San Franciscans came to the rescue via a petition moving more than 25,000 signatures. They were outraged that the Parks and also Recreation Department, which owns the Cliff House, hadn"t tried to discover the historical Musée a new residence.

Thanks to the public outcry, a house was discovered at Pier 45, wright here a row of crab stands leads to a building painted with a giant version of Laughing Sal"s face. Her missing tooth is the entry to Amutilizing America, which chronicles San Francisco"s location in the country"s social background of amusement parks.

Playland also, Sutro Baths and the 1939 World"s Fair are all featured in interenergetic and also indevelopmental display screens, through the Musée Mecanique collection in the back. And at the door, as in her 2 previous dwellings, Sal is the greeter and also gatekeeper who still bursts right into laughter for a quarter. Maybe she"s laughing at her luck, having endured the metropolitan breakthrough that has put her right into a museum variation of a city that no much longer exists.

Maybe she"s laughing at what amusement in San Francisco has actually become roughly her: a Fisherman"s Wharf that has become a commercial tourist center through many type of of the same type of attractions as Playland. Dan Fontes, the muralist and also a good resource of background on Sutro Baths and Playland, says that when Playland also was alive, "Fisherman"s Wharf was a fisherman"s wharf, via fishermen."

Now, it is the Playland also of today, the city"s waterfront amusement center, even if it is tbelow greatly for tourists. Playland"s continues to be are scattered somewhere else approximately the city, too.

Carousel in Yerba Buena

The marvelous carousel constructed by Charles I.D. Looff in 1906 and installed at Playland in 1912 inevitably uncovered its method back to San Francisco. Marianne Stevens, a preservationist, had actually bought it from Playland and brought back it for a Long Beach mall. In 1998, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency bought it for $1 million and also mounted it in a beautiful glass pavilion at Yerba Buena Gardens.

The ocean wind even blew Playland"s ashes all the method to El Cerrito, where muralist Fontes and also companion Ed Cassel are working through Playland collector Ricdifficult Tuck to produce a tribute to that vanimelted beach area.

They"re developing a mural 32 feet lengthy and also 10 feet high illustrating Playland also, Sutro"s Baths and also Museum and the Cliff House. Fontes shelp the reactions of previous Playland tourists variety from surprised delight to tears.

In 1996, on the extremely ground wright here Playland also once stood, 5 ghosts of those bygone days emerged. From a distance, the 5 15-foot-high numbers throughout the street from Safemethod on 48th and Cabrillo look like ghostly babsence shadows. Up cshed, they"re monuments dubbed Playland Rechecked out produced by Ray Beldner, an artist that regularly visited Playland as a child.

Made of perforated stainmuch less steel, each tall, narrowhead sculpture represents a Playland also symbol. There"s Laughing Sal of course, a Muni streetauto, the clown entrance to the Funresidence, the rooster from Topsy"s Roost and a carousel steed.

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Streetvehicle terminus at Playland-at-the-Beach, c. 1930s.

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Photo: C. R. collection

The statues at the bus terminus additionally note the terminus of San Francisco, of the solid world prior to it hits the sea, and the terminus of a time once that spot was filled with thousands of civilization of all classes and kinds enjoying themselves.

The symbols give tangible body to the ghosts of Playland also that live in the hearts and also memories of so many type of grown-ups. They ensure that Playland isn"t completely gone and that childhood will not be forgained.

video by Geoff Svendsgaard

In 2005 Lubna Takruri was a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, a freelance print reporter, and also an assignment editor at KRON-4 News. This short article initially appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Insight area on July 3, 2005.