WNP472 – Playland Memories Part 1
Nicole: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Nicole Meldahl.
Arnold: And I'm Arnold Woods.
Nicole: Hey Arnold.
Arnold: Hey Nicole. You excited about this week?
Nicole: I am. It's a very sad week, but it's also a very happy week because we get to do not one podcast, but two podcasts with a bunch of friends.
Arnold: Indeed. And the sad part of it is we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the closing of a iconic West Side attraction.
Nicole: Yep. Of course. That is Playland at the Beach, which closed its doors for the last time on Labor Day, September 4th, 1972. And words cannot describe how different this part of San Francisco [00:01:00] was with Playland along the shore, busy and teaming with activity.
Arnold: And for some quick background, the amusement park was located along the Great Highway between Balboa and Fulton and had its earliest origins as far back as the 1880s, but really got going in the 1910s when carousel maker Arthur Looff and a concessionaire name, named John Friedl, turned the loose grouping of attractions into Chutes at the Beach.
Nicole: Yeah. And a decade or so after that, the Whitney brothers would buy it and rename it Whitney's at the Beach. But everyone, including the Whitney's called it Playland at the Beach. Playland evolved over the years as rides and concessions came and went, but Ocean Beach’s fun zone delighted San Franciscans and tourists alike for many decades.
Arnold: However, this is not a history podcast.
Arnold: You can actually get the full story through our earlier podcasts. We first tackled Playland's history on podcast 136, way back [00:02:00] in 2015. Since then, we've had podcast episodes on the Hot House, which was number 338, Fun Tier Town, which was 428, and the Charles Looff and the Hippodrome podcast, which was episode 459.
Nicole: Yeah, this podcast is a different kind of history. It's a, it's all about how people remember Playland, not necessarily like an academic overview of what this fun zone was. And since it's the 50th anniversary of the park’s closing this weekend, and because neither of us, Arnold or I, have ever actually had the chance to go to Playland, we're highlighting the memories of people who remember this place vividly. And we have some written memories to share with our listeners, but we also have some very special guests as well.
Arnold: And we will spotlight stories from each of our guests and let them chime in along the way. But why don't we let them each briefly introduce themselves before we start riding this rollercoaster of a two-part podcast, [00:03:00] cause we had such an overwhelming response to our requests for submissions.
Nicole: Please know, Arnold's original notes for this was 26 pages long. I was like, dear God, this has to be two podcasts. Well, That's great. We're gonna start with drum roll please. Lorri Ungaretti.
Nicole: Hi Lorri.
Nicole: So, Lorri, obviously you're like one of our first members of all time. You're an incredible contributor and author of numerous books on local history, including—plug--Stories in the Sand, San Francisco’s Sunset District 1847 to 1964, which we conveniently sell in our gift shop. So, Lorri, give us a little bit of, just give us the elevator pitch for who you are besides what we just said.
Lorri: Elevator pitch. I used to do walking tours only on [00:04:00] the west side and for City Guides and I hope to do them again. And I've written things other than books and I've given presentations and I love my city's history.
Nicole: Do you also like long walks on the beach and what's your sign?
Lorri: Sure. Why not?
Nicole: That's the spirit.
Lorri: In the ‘60s when someone would say, what's your sign? We'd say, what, when, what day do they pick up your garbage? We thought it was just as important.
Arnold: Well, next up we have somebody who was very recently a guest on our podcast and is here live with us all the way from Tennessee. Our good friend David Friedlander. Hello David.
David: Hi, Arn, hi Arnold. Hi Nicole. Hi everyone else. Goodness. Thank you for letting me participate once again, you know.
Arnold: And let's do [00:05:00] the same with you, a little elevator pitch on why are you a west side aficionado?
David: Born and raised in the Sunset. Parents came to the Richmond and the Sunset back in the Depression. And though I live in Nashville today, I'm still, I come back to the Bay Area quite a bit, still have relatives and friends there. And I've always loved that part of the world and finally met some history nerds that like it as much or even more than I do. So, thank you for having me.
Nicole: I think we're pretty on par, David.
Nicole: All right. I'm gonna keep this like boxing announcer energy going, cause I've still got some Jack Johnson vibes up in this place. So now we have the inimitable Judy Leff.
Judy: Okay. Yeah, I was also raised in San Francisco, West Portal, Hoover, Lowell. As we all know, when you meet another San Francisco person and you wanna know, you ask well, what school did you go to? We don't mean college, we don't give a crap if [00:06:00] you went to college. We all know what we meant.
Judy: So, I grew up in Forest Hill Extension in Forest Hill, and I've lived in the city actually, with the exception of San Diego State. I've lived here all my life. I'm on the board of the San Francisco History Association and I'm the volunteer historian for Temple Emanu-el and the Jewish cemeteries in Colma, with my specialty being dead Jews who shaped the city from the Gold Rush through about the war. And that's pretty much who I am. I love Western Neighborhoods Project. I've been having a ball being a docent at the, at the Cliff House. And I'll stop talking now.
Arnold: Thank you, Judy. And I'm glad that you've been one of our best volunteers and frequent volunteers up at The Museum at The Cliff.
Nicole: And our muses would not have been hung without you, so we…
Nicole: Thank you.
Arnold: So, last but not least, we get to our good friend Kevin Brady. [00:07:00] Kevin, what's your brief history?
Kevin: Native San Franciscan. Holy Name, SI. Grew up on Kirkham Street. It's a fine street. Yeah.I spent a lot of time down at the beach. Some of it at Playland, but I'm just a local guy, but not anymore. I live in Calaveras County now.
Nicole: I think.
Arnold: Where they have jumping frogs.
Kevin: Jumping frogs, right.
Nicole: We've established that Kevin does like long walks on the beach, so we'll…
Kevin: Oh yeah.
Nicole: So moving on from there.
Kevin: And pina coladas.
Kevin: Remember the song?
David: Oh yeah.
Kevin: I spend a lot of time when I was working at a auto parts store on Balboa. Every morning, I used to go down to the beach and run for half an hour. That was in the ‘80s.
Nicole: Well, when we wrap this, these epic two episodes, I'll meet you all for a Pina Colada at Trad’r Sam. Okay. Okay. [00:08:00]
Nicole: I wish. Well, thank you all for joining us. We are so excited for this podcast, which is really kind of essentially one long listener mail podcast. But I like to think of it more as love letters to Playland. And before we dive into the rides in this episode, let's get everyone's hot take on how they got to San Francisco's own Coney Island. So, Lorri, you grew up in the Sunset District. When you visited Playland. How did you get here?
Lorri: It was too far. I was on 22nd Avenue across from Lincoln and it was too far to take a bus or anything, so our mother would drive us. But for me, I didn't spend much time at Playland. I didn't know any of these things that everybody else knows that I learned later. We went to the Fun House. That was all that, just about all we did. And she would drop us off there and we'd be there for a few hours. [00:09:00] And I assume she picked us up. I mean, I don't really remember that part of it.
Nicole: Well, You're here now, so you definitely got home safe some way or the other And David, how about you? How did you get to Playland?
David: Well, I grew up on 46th and Pacheco, and conveniently the 18 Sloat stopped right at the corner. And so, you could go two ways. Get on the 18 Sloat, go all the way to La Playa and Cabrillo. Or me and my friends, I would say my posse of four to six guy friends, we all had bikes and we lived close enough that you could bike there. And I was trying to remember, did we lock our bikes? You know, because back then it was obviously a different time. So, I don't think my bike was ever stolen. So, but for me, I can remember, for me it was, It’s Its not necessarily in, in any order of importance, but certainly It’s Its and skeeball and bumper cars, bumper cars, the smell of [00:10:00] ozone, you know, just…
David: I'm sure there was a Diving Bell and other things, but for us it was, Playland was on the way to Sutro Baths, the Cliff, Cliff House, Sutro Heights, all of that. Which was…
Lorri: And we didn't call them bumper cars.
David: What? Dodge cars.
Lorri: Called them Dodgers.
Lorri: I dunno about you, but…
Nicole: We'll get into all of that in a second. Right now, we're just, we’re just quickly burning through how y'all burned rubber to get to Playland. So, Judy, how did you get to Playland?
Judy: Yeah. Yeah, we drove, I, my brother was a lot older than I was, and my mom was cranky on the weekends, so she would throw us out of the house all of us. And so, my dad or, and/or my brother would take me either to the park, the zoo or Playland, pretty much every weekend. But it was definitely in, in a car, probably a Studebaker.
Judy: It wasn't a Dodge car.
Nicole: Nice. And Kevin, how [00:11:00] did you get to Playland?
Kevin: Anyway I could. On foot, on bicycle. I got driven there and I took the 18. One time, we were, it was my birthday party, we had a car full of kids hanging, heading down there. My uncle was driving. We got in an accident at Sunset and Kirkham.
Kevin: Nobody got hurt, but of course the grownups had to talk. So, we all took off and went climbing that big tree. I think it's still there. It's a Monterey Cypress on the left.
Kevin: On the south side. And we just thought this was great. We just piled into the tree and there's like 12 of us all up in the hill. But that's how, so I got there anyway we could.
Nicole: We’re off to a wild start.
Arnold: It's, and as we mentioned, we also have some submitted memories in writing to us, and we naturally have to start with [00:12:00] a submission from the man who wrote the literal book on Playland, two volumes called Playland, the Early Years and Playland the Golden Years.
Nicole: Yep. We are of course talking about the one, the only James Smith. So, Jim couldn't be with us for this podcast, unfortunately, but he was kind enough to relate some memories to us for the episode. So, let's start with a deep dive into the Diving Bell, which we've also simulated in an old Cliff House restaurant refrigerator in Naiad Cove. And if you're wondering, yes, I will be shamelessly plugging our special exhibition at The Museum at The Cliff for this entire journey.
Arnold: Anyways, Jim Smith said the following, quote, “there are a few things I really liked. I loved both our bay and our ocean. So, when they put in the Diving Bell, to me that was great because I always wanted to see under the water. It opened shortly after [00:13:00] the Golden Gate International Expo, and it was a copy of the one they built there. They built quite a few of these things. By the way, this particular one was run by Maryanne Martine, the wife of the guy who built it, she was quite a lady. She was at the International Expo in one of this swimming exhibits with Johnny Weissmueller, and all those folks. When her husband set this one up, she ran it, and her daughter, Teresa Martine, now Teresa Carlton, helped her. In a lot of pictures. You see Teresa, a little blonde girl running around the place like she owned the place. She was the cutest little thing, and I've known her ever since. She's a real character. They used to put fresh fish in it all the time, and they were saltwater fish. People said, oh no, they put freshwater fish like goldfish in there, but that was really just at the very end when they couldn't get any more saltwater because they cut off the pumps from the Lurline Pier. It was sharks.” [00:14:00] Nicole, you had something to throw in there?
Nicole: I'm gonna take issue with fresh fish. I'm using air quotes that the audience can't see right now. I've heard counter stories about how fresh those fish were. Please continue Arnold.
Arnold: Okay, continuing on with Jim's story. He did say it was quote, “sharks and other fish that they could catch. A couple of times they got an octopus, which was a bad idea. Octopus are very intelligent and they would literally climb out of there and get caught up in the works because they didn't wanna stay in there. I rode it a number of times, loved it.” He finished up by saying, “there…”
Nicole: Wait. We, we just have to pause for the octopus part. Experts here experience the octopi. Is octopi the plural of octopus. Do you [00:15:00] all remember the octopi?
David: Oh, no,
Kevin: I don't. I never even saw, I never even saw any fish. I was looking around going, is that all there is? What? What's going on here? They didn't have fish when I was there.
Nicole: All right, so the octopi had already escaped and been massacred before Kevin got there. Judy is now holding a small stuffed octopus
Judy: I think she needed comfort from that story.
Judy: You know, I have to tell you, I just remember, I, I just remember muck. I mean, I don't remember actually seeing anything that could have been about my vision and not the ride, but I don't remember seeing much of anything out those windows.
Kevin: That's what I remember.
Arnold: To both of your points, we've heard lots of stories about how murky the water was in there, and it's, it was frequently hard to see anything.
Nicole: Yeah. And as soon as Arnold finishes this memory from Jim, we're gonna go through some mixed reviews of the Diving Bell. So please hold. Arnold, [00:16:00] thank you for allowing us to interrupt. Please proceed.
Arnold: So, Jim Smith finished up by, the part about this Diving Bell, by saying quote, “there were people who would actually throw up when it came popping up.”
Arnold: This just gets better.
Nicole: Lori just barfed.
Arnold: “They pretended like it was going to sink and the whole thing was going to come apart, but then it would pop up to the top, like a cork, so people would throw up.” He pointed out, “usually it was guys, women didn't necessarily do that, but it was fun. People like to just stand around watching the Diving Bell and waiting for it to come to the top. It was a riot. That's where Safeway is now. The tank is still there. I like to tease people that the ghosts of the Diving Bell are still there at Safeway and on Labor Day Eve they all come out.”
David: Oh god.
Nicole: You all threw up. Just the men.
Judy: I [00:17:00] think, unfortunately, vomit may be a theme that runs through some of these stories. We’ll see. We’ll see.
Nicole: Yeah, actually, I think this might be the only hurling story, but maybe I didn't read the notes very closely. Always probable. So, in the spirit of mixed reviews of the Diving Bell, Julie Alden, who's one of our longest renewing members—hi Julie—I have no idea if you listen to the podcast, but if you do, we love you. In fact, she told me that she gave WNP our first computer ever, which is truly remarkable. Anyways, she lives near our office and we love you very much, and she remembered the Diving Bell, but not very fondly. Julie said, and I quote, “not really much of a ride, but down we went to see some fish and cloudy water. The best part was coming up with an enormous splash”. So, Jim, so far is correct. Women did not barf on this ride. . .
Arnold: Another woman who, Diane Guaraldi [00:18:00] Robinson, and I probably just mangled her name.
Arnold: Sorry Diane. She was connected to us through longtime member Jamie O'Keefe and Diane said, quote, “a couple of my other favorites were the Diving Bell and Mad Mine ride. I was fascinated that people could dive deep into the sea, protected in a container to view another world. Of course, we were just in a small pool, but to me the feeling might just be the same. Moreover, the Mad Mine ride and other frightening rides were always fun. What child doesn't enjoy being a little scared?”
Nicole: That is definitely a recurring theme. People being like, I feel like this ride will break down. But that's the fun part of it. So, although her brother Paul Guaraldi was pretty young, he did have some vivid memories of the same rides he said, and I quote, “how great was my mother to take me on the Diving Bell and the Mad Mine ride? Oh, by the way, she had [00:19:00] a hardy laugh, loud, joyful, and almost like Laughing Sal.” Don't worry, we're gonna get into a lot of Laughing Sal later.
Arnold: And you'll hear more from our dear friend and Kelly's Cove alumni Paul Judge later in this two-part podcast. But to start, he remembers quote, “attractions that sparked my interests were the Dodge and bumper cars and the Diving Bell. A ride where you could actually slam into another car seemed thrilling and almost impolite at the same time”
Nicole: Such a Paul Judge thing to say.
Arnold: “With the diving bell, one had to wonder what sea life could be seeing from these portholes.” I think another indirect way of saying it was murky there. “A loudspeaker broadcast the screams of passengers as it suddenly surfaced emerging in a plum of white water.” End quote. And we've recreated some of that at The Museum at The Cliff with a voiceover from none other than our own John Lindsey. So, if [00:20:00] you haven't been in the Diving Bell at The Museum at The Cliff, you should come and give it a try.
Nicole: Yeah, shout out to Andrew Roth at Roth Audio Design for that one. So, unless our esteemed guests have any other titillating memories of the Diving Bell, we can move on to the Dodger bumper cars. Get a lot of nods. Okay, so Jim Smith also recalled the bumper cars. And this probably would've been my favorite. I love getting in a car and hitting other cars. Just not my own car and real cars where insurance is involved. He recalls the Dodg’Em, or the Dodger, which were, and I quote, “bumper cars that were always great. Every year you had a new generation of bumper cars. So, if you look at the old photographs, you can figure out exactly what year it is by the version of the bumper cars”. So, hot tip to you know, armchair historians at home. “It was against the rules to smash into each other. But in fact, nobody cared. Nobody obeyed [00:21:00] the rules at.” End quote. And honestly, what the heck good are bumper cars?
Nicole: If you can't ram into each other. So, I think David mentioned smell of ozone, right?
Nicole: So, I'm getting the sense there's some good Dodg’Em, Dodger car memories in this crowd. Does anyone wanna jump in before I keep reading Jim's recitations?
Lorri: I just…
David: I would remember trying to not run into people. I was more in the outside lane, going around the edge, just trying to have a good time and, you know, you'd be doing that and all of a sudden somebody would just, you know, T-bone you and you'd go, okay, well that's just how it's today. You know, It was obviously, all of us had, at least some of us remembered that memory as a good one. Dodg’Em.
Nicole: You and Paul were polite and just trying to mind your business on the outside. Judy, did you get up in there and try and ram ‘em?
Judy: Well, I just remember it, it was a, it's a specific memory [00:22:00] of being with my brother who was 12 years older. So, he's probably a pretty new driver. And you know, I just remember thinking it was real. Right? Because you're at that age where you think, this is real. This isn't fake. These are real cars. My brother's really slamming into people. This is so cool. And I'd like to hold onto that fantasy.
Lorri: I think my older brother and I had a very different view of it. He was, he saw them as bumper cars, so he would bump into other cars. I saw them as Dodgers. I was always trying to get away from someone trying to hit me, like my brother.
Judy: Maybe this is a new version of the order Muppets and the Chaos Muppets. Are you a dodger or are you a bumper?
Nicole: Absolutely. I smell merchandise coming from Western Neighborhoods Project. Kevin, are you a dodger or are you a bumper? [00:23:00]
Kevin: I started out early as a dodger. And then as I got older, I became a bumper.
Kevin: It kind of evolved. I got more in the spirit of it.
Nicole: You know, isn't that true for all of us?
Kevin: Yes. I was gonna say.
Nicole: In life, we all start…
Kevin: Isn’t life just that way.
Nicole: Okay, so we'll keep going with Jim's memories. Remember, you can jump in if something triggers another memory for you all. Just raise your hand. So, he continued, “it smelled like ozone in there because of the sparks going off on the tin roof and the tin floor. The whole thing was electric through the, through two rods. The bumper cars could go forward or backward by turning the wheel from lock to lock. So, if you're going one direction and then you spun the wheel all the way to the lock, then the thing would go in reverse and you could go back the other way. So, it took a [00:24:00] while before someone would realize that, hey, I can control this thing.”
Arnold: And the Jim's memory bumps into Dennis O'Rorke's memories as well. He said, quote, “a woman commented recently on Ray Shanahan's Facebook group for Playland memories,” which is called, by the way, Playland and our memories of it, “that there seemed to be two groups that frequented the Dodg’Em concession. Maniacs that tried to hit everyone, and those that just tried to survive by going through the, around the perimeter.” I think we've classified those now as dodgers and bumpers. Dennis goes on to say, “I vividly recall trying to rush across that graphite-colored floor to get to my car of choice and slipping and sliding all over. And when it started up, sparks would fly from those connector poles at the back of the cars.” Another great memory, Dennis. Thank you.
Nicole: Yeah, this is the fun part right, where everybody pulls out these like little snapshots in their brain and then they all link up [00:25:00] and everybody realizes they had the same experience. They're very similar. This is the best part of history. This is so much fun, y'all. Okay, so we're gonna pause for a hot take and that's from one of our guests, Judy Leff, I understand that you have a fantastic story that took place on the Midway.
Judy: On the Midway, which I actually have as my Zoom background with, talk about seedy looking people. I just want you to know I did not hang out with that guy with the chest hair and the orange shirt open.
Nicole: I don't think he looks seedy. I just think he looks quite attractive.
Judy: Well, He might, he looks a little like Jack Nicholson actually.
Lorri: Yes. Jack Nicholson.
Judy: So, I, as I said, I would go often with either my brother or my father and I, I have this very distinct memory of going to the Midway and being astonished, as my father was able to make milk bottles, milk cans, some, you know, thing fall down. And I'm handed this giant orange, stuffed elephant, practically as big [00:26:00] as I am, and just thinking, and you know, oh my god, I had no idea. My father was, you know, secretly Sandy Koufax. Okay, just absolutely astonished and so happy with this elephant, which I held onto until, you know, 2011. One day, I finally mentioned this story. about my father's athletic prowess at Playland and winning me this elephant. And he started laughing. He said oh, my father was a teacher, he ran the broadcasting department at City College of San Francisco, and he said, yeah, the guy behind the, that game, running that game, he was a student of mine and he wasn't doing very well in the class. So, he made darn sure that those milk bottles went down. And he made darn sure that you got the biggest prize behind the counter. And there went my fantasy of my, you know, amazing athletic father
Nicole: I, I mean, obviously I was too young for Playland, [00:27:00] but I used to go to the county fair with my dad all the time. Basketball was his game. He would always refuse to buy me any stuffed animal, right? He'd be like, no, you don't need that. But he would spend like a hundred dollars trying to win me a crappy stuffed toy from a basketball game that's clearly rigged so you don't win.
Arnold: So, I tell you, speak, speaking of basketball in the Midway area, Lorri, I think you had a story of basketball at Playland.
Lorri: I did. I lived across the street from the yards at Lincoln High School and the lower yard at the time had basketball courts. Doesn't have 'em now, but it had them then. And so, I was always over there playing. And we didn't play basketball as such, but different games related to it. And I could, when I was 10 years old, I could make a basket from the free throw line. I was pretty impressive and I was impressed with it. But when I went to Playland and went to the, the basketball shooting concession, he wasn't too happy with me [00:28:00] because I could make the baskets. So that's all. I don't remember winning anything, but I must have won something.
Nicole: He's like, here, here kid. Like, Here's a 20. Like, Get lost. Yeah.
Lorri: Hey, well then it would've been, here are $2. Get lost.
Arnold: Judy whatever happened to that orange elephant?
Judy: It actually got really mildewy. It was heartbreaking. I had to throw it out when I moved to the Sunset District where I live now. I had a whole bunch of stuffed animals. I knew every single backstory to them, and I did have to get rid of it in 2011. But I can still see it. It was an orange elephant. It had like, it was dressed up as though it was in a circus, which I know is not PC anymore. But at the time I thought that was really cool. And it had kind of like a red triangle with fringe as though it had some sort of headdress on. And I was a really creative child, so I named it Elephant. [00:29:00]
David: When you referenced Sandy Koufax, I could totally relate to that because that's who I think of back then. No, let me ask you this. Was your father left-handed?
Judy: I just, I came up with Sandy Koufax cause he was the only Jewish baseball player I could think of in the moment.
David: No, that, but in my lifetime, he was the best pitcher I ever saw when I was a kid growing up. So, could relate. Thank you.
Nicole: I would just like to point out that we're all talking about a Los Angeles Dodger here so.
David: It’s, it’s okay.
Nicole: I’m excited.
Arnold: I'm pretty sure Sandy Koufax is kind of universally loved despite the fact that he's the Dodger.
Judy: Arnold. I thought you were gonna say despite the fact he was Jewish, but anyway.
Nicole: Okay, this is going to be a five-hour podcast. Okay. So, we've established that the Midway was fun, even if your dad was [00:30:00] kind of a shyster. And that there's a direct link between Judy's dad, and public corruption.
Judy: And he's not around to defend himself, so who knows.
Nicole: But with all that fun happening, of course the most fun place in Playland, right, was the Fun House. It's actually one of the most iconic attractions at Playland and Arnold. I think Jim has something to say about the Fun House.
Arnold: Jim has something to say about pretty much every part of Playland, but he said this about the Fun House. He said quote, he “loved the Fun House because you could play there all day long and it cost you just 50 cents,” saying that was pretty good. “Love the giant slide. If you could go up there more than three times, you were doing pretty good because it was a long hike. Then there was the turntable, which was the Joy Wheel, which was a challenge for people. They would brag that they got to ride it to the very end. Of course, most of them didn't, but that's okay.” He went [00:31:00] on to say, “the air hoses on the floor, sailors used to hang out on the outside of that thing and watch to see the skirts get blown up. Those air hoses stayed at the very end when they tore it down. It was all in good fun.” Maybe not so much for the ladies and, in fact, Lorri, I think you had an alternate view about that.
Lorri: I was scared of those air, those air holes. I mean, they frightened me. I was only, I was pretty young, but I, you know, so I didn't think anything about dresses going up. I just was scared. They frightened me and I didn't wanna encounter 'em.
Nicole: I feel like my generation, I was born in 1984, we were the last generation to have the scary rides that were not OSHA approved, that were a lively nightmare. And so, I do remember those. And I remember, I mean, I didn't really wear skirts cause I was a tomboy, but like, I remember thinking at the time like, this doesn't feel okay. This feels not okay. And there's, someone brought up, and we were planning out the immersive exhibition like, oh, [00:32:00] wouldn't it be fun if we had like these things in the kitchen? And I was like, this person was a man, and I was like, no. This is not fun.
Lorri: Not fun, no.
Nicole: Sorry, we are not gonna be the me too museum.
Judy: Well, I think it brings up a really good point, which is I know my general reaction and experience of Playland was a lot of fear. I remember there's a, a documentary I think in which Ernie Fosselias, the film maker is interviewed, and he really talks about this and I felt sort of better when he talked about it as a guy, you know, that he found Playland kind of terrifying. And that there were some things in there that were kind of terrifying. But that was part of the fun. You know, that was the anticipation of, do I really, am I gonna react to how loud the hiss comes out when, you know, is my skirt gonna go up? Is somebody gonna, you know, bang into me, you know, on some ride or something. I [00:33:00] was always too scared to go down those big slides and stuff, but and Laughing Sal absolutely terrified me. If my mother had told me she was moving in, I would've never done a wrong thing again in my life. But I think that's, I think that's part of the Playland thing is this, it help, it helped kids build some resilience, because, you knew, it was going to be scary and you might get hurt and someone might throw up on you or whatever. And at the end of the day, it was all in good fun.
Arnold: Lorri, you had something to add to that?
Lorri: I was just gonna, I mean, I'd like to start the conversation about Laughing Sal, I never ever heard that Laughing Sal frightened people until I grew up. I, we thought she was great. We used to imitate her laugh. We used to try to make our laugh, sound like her laugh. We, we just thought she was great. But I've met so many people who were, who were really frightened of her. And you're one of them.
Nicole: I am. I can't handle it. There's a laughing sound button in our museum and Judy and I [00:34:00] avoided like the plague.
Arnold: You know, there is that large difference of opinion, and I think we're gonna get to some of that with our next few memories, which are again, from the brother and sister duo of Diane and Paul Guaraldi.
Nicole: Yes. So, Diane always went to the Fun House first and she remembers, and I quote, “as we stood in front of Laughing Sal, the excitement built with the anticipation of the challenges ahead. Going through the mirror maze, I was always the last one to find my way out. Waiting on the other side of the mirror maze was the Joy Wheel. The Joy Wheel was a speeding disc. Everyone except the one who raced to the center were thrown off the disc as it gained speed. The next challenge was the Barrel of Laughs. Trying to walk through a spinning barrel without landing on my rear end was a task I was determined to conquer. This sounds like a gauntlet or one of those, like Japanese like competitions where you have to go through all the things that are trying [00:35:00] to knock you off. Lorri?
Lorri: Oh yeah, I did. I felt, I used to feel that way whenever I went in that the, those the barrels going around, I would always fall. I think when I got bigger, I might not have fallen, but when I was little, I would always fall and barely get through it. And then there'd be these cloth, these round cloth things that you had to push your way through. Those frightened me. All these, getting through all these things was just major and I did it, you know, and then I got to do what I liked to do, which the, I did, we called it the record player. I liked that ride.
Lorri: Yeah. I love the slides. I love what no one ever talks about, it's up on the highest spot. They had these things that had pictures in them and you could wind this wheel and see different pictures. They were the first things to break, I think. I don't think they all worked, but you just had to get through that gauntlet at the beginning.
Nicole: Yeah. So, Diane. Oh, Kevin saying yes. You remember, you remember the gauntlet?
Kevin: Oh yeah. [00:36:00] That's part of my story. Getting the hell beat outta you. First, you get lost and you get beat up by those washing machine things. Then all the noise of the, I'm giving my story away here, but yeah, they, not abject fear, but the constant, constant nervousness until you got older and then, and then you figured it out. It's like the Dodger cars.
Nicole: Kids today have it so easy.
Kevin: Bunch of wimps. They don't have character.
Nicole: Sorry for everyone who's under the age of 25, which is nobody listening to this podcast, but if you are like, we love you too.
Judy: Yeah. We apologize for not giving you enough organized trauma.
Nicole: Yeah, exactly.
Kevin: Yeah. There you go. Organized trauma.
Nicole: Okay, so Diane continues. She says,” once you made it through the barrel, you had to cross the moving bridges with planks that moved up and down. So difficult for a young child, but we forged on for the grand prize, a three-story [00:37:00] climb to the largest wooden slide in the world. Only a young person could climb three stories of steps with a burlap sack and not feel winded.” Oh God. I feel that in my bones. “Once at the top, sitting on the burlap sack at the edge of the slide, waiting your turn, fear set in. The height, the speed, the bumpy ride was almost too much to take. Go, go go, yelled the waiting children. What choice did you have? There was only one way down. In a flash, you are screaming in a place where no one could hear you. Weight sets in and your stomach seemed to rise into your throat, and then it was over. You grab your sack and you climb the three stories again.”
Kevin: Do it again.
Nicole: I remember the slides being my favorite at the county fair too.
Arnold: Diane's brother. Paul also chimed in about the Fun House. He said, quote, “I was fascinated with Laughing [00:38:00] Sal and loved the Fun House. I recall the hall of mirrors, then being pushed around to finally being spun off a disc. I especially remember the moving bridges for what I can still feel my body bouncing back and forth with my hands pulling me forward and my head down with the determination to make it to the other side.”
Nicole: This is wild. Like, you know what, this, the new theme of the podcast is, congratulations., you survived.
Kevin: Ta da!
Judy: I'm starting to think, have memories of my mother using Laughing Sal as a cautionary tale to both wear sunscreen and brush my teeth or otherwise I, otherwise I would end up looking just like her. Maybe that's also why I was afraid of her.
Nicole: I think you can be afraid of Laughing Sal for a variety of traumatic reasons that burrow down into your soul. Yeah.
Judy: I did, I did find a photo of her when I started getting involved in [00:39:00] the history community. I won a photo of her, strangely enough, and I put it up in my office with the words underneath it, face your fears. Kind of like an affirmational Laughing Sal affirmation.
Nicole: Well, that’s a form of therapy that, that w might have just podcast. Way to go Judy.
Judy: We'll call it a laughfirmation. There we go.
Nicole: So, from the Facebook group, Playland and our memories of it, we have another fond memory of the Fun House. Kitty Rutherford, which wins the award for best old timey actress name ever. She posted and I quote, “I loved Playland. I lived on 45th and Quintara and my best friend and I rode our bikes there almost every weekend in the summer. Laughing Sal was the best and the slide inside the Fun House was awesome.”
Arnold: We thank you Kitty. Although we're not sure yours is the universal opinion of Laughing Sal, as we've already discussed [00:40:00] here. We have heard a lot of stories over the years about how people were scared of Laughing Sal, including Nicole herself has admitted it in this podcast.
Nicole: Hate it.
Arnold: And she was born 12 years after Playland was demolished. But Nicole, have you actually seen Laughing Sal at Musee Mecanique?
Nicole: Yeah. And I've seen her in Santa Cruz too, and I don't like it. No. Like, I don't like these green eggs ‘n ham.
Judy: And then I think I found out from one of the Zelinskys that the voice of Laughing Sal was actually recorded by a man. Can you corroborate that?
Nicole: I have heard that as well, and I have heard that as well. Okay. Arnold, does Julie Alban also remember the Fun House?
Arnold: She does. She said, quote,” the Fun House, where we got the most for our money was a favorite. Big slide, walkways going up and down, occasional surprises [00:41:00] of glass, of air blowing skirts up, maze of mirrors, getting through the rotating tunnel without falling down, and of course, Laughing Sal.”
Nicole: Again, trial by Laughing Sal, I think is what the Fun House was. And not to make this into a Naiad Cove promotional spot again, but, and hear Sal cackle once again, if that's your thing, by pressing a big red button in one of our rooms, the Playland Room. And we also have an original hand painted sign from The Fun House by Reino Niemela. So, if you're enjoying this podcast, you have to come visit us.
Lorri: Just before we leave Laughing Sal, I thought I would mention that at this 25th anniversary of the dinners, I guess, of the San Francisco History Association, Ron Ross asked us to dress up. And so, I dressed up as Laughing Sal. And it took a long time to find the black stuff that I could black out a tooth with. And I got a wig and wore these weird clothes and then I [00:42:00] made a recording from YouTube of her laughter and I would press the button and, and I forgot all about that.
Lorri: I was Laughing Sal once.
Judy: We need pictures.
Kevin: That's a good one.
Lorri: I have pictures. I have a picture of me with Charles Frock. Yeah. And he looks very normal. I don’t.
Arnold: You know, besides Laughing Sal, when you're at The Museum at The Cliff, you can also hear the immersive sounds of the Big Dipper rollercoaster world by you. And Nicole, I think Jim Smith had something to say about the Big Dipper too.
Nicole: Yeah, he says, “you can't talk about Playland without talking about the Big Dipper.” And when the grandpa of all that is Playland is right, let me tell you, he is right. Jim goes on to say, and I quote, “the Big Dipper was put together in just six months. It replaced the Figure 8 Dipper that was there before. It was put directly into the sand dunes. And twice [00:43:00] it kind of rotted out and they had to repair it.” Which is the most super sketch and terrifying thing I've ever heard. Like, anyways, “it was one of the better roller coasters and certainly had one of the tallest drops.” It was 17 feet as Jim recalls.
Nicole: What's that?
Arnold: 70 feet.
Nicole: 70 feet. Yeah. “And people say well, no, I was like 60 feet tall, but, and that's true. But it also had a 10-foot drop underground. So, it was a true, like gut-wrenching drop. And when you started to go down that final drop, it was amazing.” Were any of you able to ride this terrifyingly rickety…
Lorri: It was torn down the year I was born, so.
Nicole: Alright. So, maybe that's why you all made it to adulthood.
Lorri: Well, I, what about the others? Anyone remember it?
David: I was too young. I never rode it. Even if it was there, I wouldn't have ridden it.
Nicole: Oh, not a rollercoaster guy.
David: Cause I [00:44:00] haven't ridden that one either.
Nicole: I’ve been on the one…
Kevin: I think I rode it once. My dad was developing character for me too. and but only once. That’s all I remember.
Arnold: Similar to what you guys have said, Paul Judge
Arnold: Said the Big Dipper was quote, “the bomb,” but an action that he'd have to wait a few years to ride because he was too young to ride it when it, when he first started going to Playland. But in, you know, of course the cruel irony, he never did since it got demolished in the mid-‘50s before he got old enough to actually ride it.
Kevin: Oh my God, poor Paul.
Nicole: That means his dad loved him. So, after hitting up the Fun House, Diane Guaraldi Robinson said, and I quote, “next on our list of attractions was, of course the notorious Big Dipper. The size of the ride was enormous and I made sure that my brothers and I were tucked in tight as we flew down the gut-wrenching [00:45:00] 80-foot drop. As we rounded those sharp turns, I was relieved that our car did not fly off into space. I must say that I preferred other attractions over the Big Dipper, but whatever my brothers did, I did.”
Arnold: And her brother Paul, who was her, I believe her younger brother, also said quote, “I recall going on the Big Dipper as often as our mom allowed us to. Its impression upon me is why I still love to ride the Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where one of the Laughing Sals still lives today.”
Nicole: Yeah, this is a crowd favorite. So, Faith Fullmer also posted on the Playland and our memories of it group on Facebook, and I quote, “in the mid-‘50s on Saturday nights, we'd skate at the roller rink until it was closed. Then we'd run down to the rollercoaster to be the last ones in the first car of the coaster ride with our hands held high as we screamed.” That's a great memory.
Arnold: Although I would have to say that holding your hands up as the rollercoaster goes down the big dip, that was, I was like a rite of [00:46:00] passage when you were a kid for any rollercoaster. It's like, you know, did you have the courage to hold up your hands as it went down?
Nicole: Okay Arnold, Ray Shanahan, it's the Ray Shanahan hour. Get into that.
Arnold: Yeah. You know, his Facebook group is a wealth of shared memories and also Ray himself is a wealth of shared memories. He said, quote, “he lived on 40th Avenue between Balboa and Cabrillo Streets from 1948 until the closing of Playland.”
Arnold: “In the evening when the fog was rolling in, you could hear the laugh of Laughing Sal and the Big Dipper. The screams would fill the air even from eight blocks away with the laugh of Sal making it all sound like it was a fun experience.”
Nicole: Is anyone getting like a Woody Allen and Annie Hall vibe where he like lives right next to Coney Island and, just me?
Judy: I mean, that's the thing about living in the Sunset, that I'm sure Lorri can relate to, is there were these sounds, right? [00:47:00] The siamangs screaming at each other in the zoo. You know, there were certain zoo sounds that you associated. There were the sounds at Fleishhacker Pool that are a big part of my childhood memory and these Playland sounds that you just talked about, absolutely, that are just burned into my memory as wonderful sounds of childhood.
Lorri: The two-tone foghorns were mine.
David: Mile Rock.
Nicole: Also sounds you can hear at Naiad Cove at The Museum at The Cliff.
Lorri: What time is it open and what days?
Nicole: That a little bit later, Lorri. But thank you for teeing me up.
David: Good job Lorri.
Lorri: I try.
Arnold: Anyways, Ray went on to say, “the Big Dipper was quite the thrill it was supposed to be and was removed in 1956. Aside from the many twists and turns and the several ups and downs until you picked up speed and climbed slowly to the top, click, click, click, click, up to the crest, and [00:48:00] suddenly falling 70 feet like from a seven-story building. The rush was so sudden you actually went 10 feet into the ground and then back up to the end of the ride. It was all that the Figure 8, its predecessor, was and more.”
Nicole: Again, just emphasizing how terrifying and rickety this entire Playland experience was.
Lorri: I just read some, I just did some research about it and found that several people died and it didn’t, it wouldn't pass certain…
Lorri: That's why it got torn down, cause it was so considered, so dangerous. Yeah.
Nicole: These kinds of places are alive.
Kevin: Too much character.
Nicole: Too much character. I'm gonna use that phrase a lot now Kevin.
Arnold: Take it…
Kevin: I got a million of them.
Arnold: You know, back at the beginning of this podcast, we asked our guests here how they got to Playland and we also received some responses, [00:49:00] Nicole, from people, about how they got to Playland.
Nicole: Yeah, some folks lived far away and had to trek out to the west side to experience this world of rickety wonders. Jim Smith says, and I quote, “living in the Mission, it wasn't easy getting to Playland all the way across town. So, people in some organizations sponsored us boys to, to on trips for here. Mayor George Christopher, owner of Christopher Milk, which is a local dairy, and supported a lot of kids activities throughout the city, including a section of bleachers at Kezar Stadium, so that little ones could see the 49ers games, and, of course, the Whitneys, along with the Rotarians. They sponsored buses, lunches, and rides, and life was really good,” he said
Arnold: Also, our good friend Paul Judge, who lived close to Playland, he described what it was like living near there. He said, quote, “the upslope of the Outer Richmond District where my family lived, served [00:50:00] as an acoustic amphitheater that drew the sounds of the surrounding environment. The fresh westerly winds brought the sound of the ocean waves, the sea lions barking on Seal Rocks, the fog horns, ship horns and clangs of bell buoys were a constant. Playland offered its own soundtrack, the pops and wheezes of the hydraulic mechanisms of park attractions and even the smell of amusement rides mixed with fragrance smells of the cafes and food stands, the pitched screams and laughter of Playland patrons, and of course, the cackle of Laughing Sal coming through my bedroom window that influenced a few nightmares.”
Nicole: Oh my God.
Arnold: “Taken as a whole with the influence of weather, colorful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean and the presence of Golden Gate Park Sutro Heights Park, Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, Lands End, and Lincoln Park, and the entire nearby backdrop was one dramatic setting to live amidst. My earliest sensations of Playland at the Beach were [00:51:00] as a child of three. After we moved to the Outer Richmond District, my attention was drawn to the sounds of the amusement park rides, particularly the Big Dipper rollercoaster and the screams of its riders. At night, the neon lights of the spinning and whirling park attractions could be glimpsed rising over the rooftops of neighboring houses.
My earliest visit to Playland was with my parents and sisters when we dressed up,” sounds cute, “and walked the Midway, taking in the sights and sounds. Everything that night for me was fantastic and sensory overload, attempting to absorb the general commotion and air of excitement. My older sisters rode attractions using money from their babysitting jobs. Myself and my younger sister were content settling for a spin on the Merry-Go-Round.”
Paul continues by saying, “my first daytime visit to Playland was with my next oldest sister Barbara when she was saddled to babysit me. A phone tree of her friends organized a rendezvous at Playland, and [00:52:00] I got to tag along. I don't have much memory of that event as it was a chilly, foggy day. Money was tight and my sister and her girlfriends mostly spent their time gabbing together, eyeing boys and brushing off their advancements. No rides were ridden, but I took in the sights and thrills and got an ice cream cone out of the deal. Cotton candy and corn dogs look suspicious and were yet to be discovered and added to my palette.”
Nicole: They do look suspicious.
Nicole: I think WNP has a new programming plan. We're just gonna do fireside chats where I read Paul Judge’s reminiscences in like an old time Jack…
Kevin: Yeah, really.
Nicole: Kerouac voice.
Kevin: Yeah, really.
Arnold: He’s got the best writing. It's just wonderful description of things. So, I think we need to end this podcast here and pick it up in a [00:53:00] week.
Arnold: But before we go, what do we say, Nicole?
Nicole: Oh, say what now?
Arnold: So, as we do with our interview podcasts, this is where we ask our guests some Barbara Walters-style questions that bear down into your soul.
Arnold: And if our dear member, Barbara Canella, is listening, autocorrect always automatically changes Walters to Canella.
Nicole: Every time.
Arnold: So Nicole, why don't you start it off?
Nicole: Yeah. We're gonna do this real fast, round robin, because this is an epically long podcast already, but each of you can go in sequence. So, number one, if you could bring back any restaurant from Playland, what would it be? Starting with David Friedlander.
David: Bull Pup.
Nicole: Nice. Judy Leff?
Judy: The IT restaurant, whatever it was.
Nicole: Whitneys’ This Is It restaurant.
Judy: Thank you. Yes. Whitney's, This Is It.
Lorri: I agree with Judy. I don't, I didn't go to any of the restaurants, so I don't know any.
Lorri: But It’s [00:54:00] Its, we all love.
Kevin: The hot pies.
Nicole: Okay. Number two, what was the weirdest thing you ever did at Playland David?
David: Well, It wasn't really at Playland, but climbing down from Sutro Heights along the cliffs down there where Point Lobos curves around and watching people look at you as they drove around the corner, they looked up and saw us climbing down the cliffs. So, not quite a Playland memory, but close enough.
Nicole: Don't do that at home. Okay, Judy?
Judy: I got stuck and scared in the middle of something in the Fun House, and my poor dad, who was an older dad, had to come rescue me, as I had a kind of meltdown and I don't exactly remember what it was. I just remember needing my dad to rescue me.
Nicole: Oh, I've been there in a very different circumstance. We can talk about that later. Lorri?
Lorri: Can’t think of anything. Maybe everything I did was weird.
Nicole: Great answer.
Kevin: [00:55:00] Yeah, I'm, I follow on that, the everything was weird because it was the Fun House. So, you know, it changed your whole, your whole universe changed, it changed when you walked in there.
Arnold: Because we're running a little long here. I'm gonna cut this short a little bit and just go straight to our last question and say, besides Playland, what was your other place to go to when you were a kid? A favorite place. Judy?
Judy: Oh, absolutely, the zoo and the Academy of Sciences, when it was free, like it should be.
Nicole: Uh oh. Fighting words.
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, anything in the Park, everything was free, right? So, we go from the de Young, across the street to the aquarium, Japanese Tea Garden. It was all part of a circuit that we did, either on bikes or on foot.
Arnold: David, how about you?
David: Yeah, I agree with Kevin, but also for me, again, Playland was just the stop to Sutro Heights, to the Cliff House, to Lands End, to after the Baths were gone, all [00:56:00] around there, and the tunnels and the cliffs. And that was just a place you could spend most of your time when you were a kid just hanging out, just be home before the lights came on, you know.
Kevin: There you go.
Arnold: Let's wrap this up with Lorri.
Lorri: I just have to echo a lot of what Judy and Kevin said. I mean, all the things that were free, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Zoo. My mother would hand me a, what did they call them then? A car ticket.
David: Car ticket.
Lorri: Yeah. Yeah. Take the 28 or take the L and go to the Zoo. And I did. And my friends, that's what we did.
Arnold: Well, I have to say thank you all for joining us for this podcast, and we look forward to having you join us again next week on next week's podcast, But now it is time for Listener Mail.
Nicole: Arnold, first of all, isn't this one big Listener Mail?
Arnold: It is. So, instead of actually reading [00:57:00] a listener mail, we'll just say, you know, send us some listener mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with your own memories of Playland, or find us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and send us a message through one of those platforms. So, no need to read you even more listener mail because you've been hearing a lot of it throughout this podcast.
Nicole: And you're all ready to go to sleep, or get to work or however, whatever you, wherever you listen to us in your day. Hot tip. Arnold runs the Facebook and I run the Instagram and Arnold's on Twitter as well. So like, you're actually reaching real people from WNP when you, when you hit us up there. I feel like right now we might wanna talk about the benefits of membership and donating.
Arnold: Indeed, we probably should, because this podcast is made possible by your membership and your donations.
Nicole: Listeners like you.
Arnold: Listeners like you. Your membership also gets you a quarterly membership magazine, discounts on events, which [00:58:00] you'll hear more about in our announcement section and other exclusive perks. And yeah, it also helps support, you know, again, the podcast, the Cliff House collection, OpenSFHistory, all these things that we do. So, become a member and make, become a part of the local history fan base.
Nicole: Join the family. You can do this by clickety, clickety clacking the big orange button on any one of our webpages at outsidelands.org and OpenSFHistory.org. And Arnold, what are our big announcements right now?
Arnold: Well, of course, the biggest is that we still have The Museum at The Cliff going on every weekend through September 25th.
Nicole: Still doing it.
Arnold: If you haven't been there. What are you really waiting for at this point? It's free after all. You can see Judy there as one of our docents. You should reserve your spot, particularly since we've been getting some pretty huge crowds there. And you can do that by getting [00:59:00] a reservation on the events page of our website outsidelands.org.
Nicole: We're open 11 to 5, Saturdays and Sundays. And if you're listening to this podcast on the date it’s released, it’s Ben Wood's projection party. That's right. He has a brand-new projection that goes out the back windows of the Cliff House, looking over Kelly's Cove. It's a Playland theme in Kelly's Cove-themed projection. It's absolutely, it's incredible. I got to see a beta test of it last night. You can go to our events page, or we're on Eventbrite as well. We're doing a fancy pants party that's indoors and we feed you snacks and we give you alcohol and you get to not be standing outside the whole time. So that's $15 for WNP members and $30 for non-members. That's 6 to 8. And then at 8:00 PM we go outside and that's when everybody can join us for the actual unveiling of the projection. That part's totally free. It's BYOB, but you didn't hear me say that. And I also should point out [01:00:00] that restrooms are only available for those who reserve a ticket to the fancy pants party. So, little incentive there cause there is no bathroom anywhere on Point Lobos Avenue after dark. So go to our website. OK you're doing so many other things. Arnold, can we quickly run this down?
Arnold: Yeah. We're doing a history happy hour next Wednesday with the delightful people at San Francisco Neon. We are also having a guided curator’s tour of the museum next Friday, September 9th at 6:00 PM. You can get tickets for either of those events on our events page. And then we also have a Sutro Heights history walk coming up on September 17th with our favorite National Park Service Ranger, John Martini. Again, tickets are available on our events page, so go to outsidelands.org/events.
Nicole: And Arnold, what the heck is our preview for next week? I can't imagine what we'll be talking about.
Arnold: Yeah, I can't imagine either. But yeah, maybe come back next week for part [01:01:00] two of this trip down the Playland memory lane.
Nicole: What a long, strange trip it is. Okay, we'll see everybody here tomorrow and meaning by tomorrow, I mean next week. Oh boy. Okay.
Arnold: Come back for more.
Nicole & Arnold: Good night now.
Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.
Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.
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