Today in My History
Bev's 65 x 365
Cast (updated 7/16)
23 February 2021
My plan today was to write about San Francisco. I love the city and am proud of being a 3rd generation San Franciscan.
One thing I wanted to talk about was Playland at the Beach, and the Cliff House. I grew up on the bridge side of San Francisco and Playland was on the opposite of the city so I didn't visit it often as a child, until I was old enough to take the bus to meet friends there, but enough to have good memories of the rides and food and the beach with that bone-chilling water.
(When we had visitors visit us from Brasil, they all wanted to go swimming in the beach and scoffed when I told them it was too cold because of the cold water coming in from Japan. It only took them a couple of minutes to realize that they would not be doing any surfing in San Francisco!)
When you approached the beach, you came around a corner by the Cliff House restaurant...
...and you looked down at the ocean beach and Playland at the beach, a 10 acre amusement park.
I've never been much of a one to enjoy rides more scary than the merry-go-round, so I didn't spend time on the roller coaster or any of the other rides, but I remember most strongly spending time in the Fun House.
The Fun House was filled with things like slides and turntables and all sorts of things you could ride on or squeeze through (and if you were a girl, try to avoid those holes in the floor that would blow your skirt up if you walked over them). But the thing I most remember about the Fun House was Laffing Sal, the mechanical statue that terrified me for most of my life.
I googled her and found a fascinating history. Interesting that the article starts out with "you'll know her by the trail of sobbing children." Apparently I was not the only one terrified by Laffing Sal!
She actually grew out of a figure of Santa Claus that was made to be on display in stores at Christmas time.
Her torso moved back and forth while her head bounced and she gave a belly laugh. (Originally, the laugh came from a stack of 78 rpm records that needed to be changed periodically by a technician, before tape cartridges automated that job.) She was so popular that when amusement parks began to be built, Sal was included in many of them. Nobody knows exactly how many were made -- numbers range from 250 to 500 -- but they sold for $350 in 1940, nearly $6,200 today.
When Playland was sold to condominium developers, Sal disappeared and I was shocked to be driving up Grant Avenue one day and there was Sal in the window of somebody's house. There are apparently several Sals in the San Francisco Bay Area, two at El Cerrito's "Playland Not-at-the-Beach," but the most visited was near the entrance of Musée Mechanique in Fisherman's Wharf.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
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This is entry #7638