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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 6: Musee Mecanique

What other museum allows you to play with the collection? The coin-operated amusements of the Musee Mecanique, now at Pier 45, had a long history in western San Francisco.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Feb 7, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 6: Musee Mecanique Outside Lands Podcast Episode 6: Musee Mecanique

(above) Musee Mecanique, circa 1975, 1975

A view from the Cliff House observation level of the Musee Mecanique, one the upper level a sign points to the display of models of the California Missions
WNP Collection


Podcast Transcription

WNP6 – Musee Mecanique

Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands, San Francisco. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: David, you've had your coffee, right?

David: I've had some of it.

Woody: So, you're, you're perked up and ready to go?

David: Yes, yes, absolutely.

Woody: Well, before we get into this week's topic, this week's discussion, I want to read you, we've got some mail.

David: Mail?

Woody: Yes. One of our podcasts actually solicited an email from somebody.

David: US, oh, not US Postal Mail.

Woody: No, I wish. No. This was actually an email from Leland Smith who's writing in about our first podcast, which was about Kezar Stadium, which…

David: That old place?

Woody: Yeah. And you might remember when we did that podcast, I asked you how you thought the 49ers would do in the playoffs.

David: They did well in the playoffs, it turns out.

Woody: Yes, but you said that they wouldn't, and I think we can blame the Super Bowl loss on you. But that's not what this email is [00:01:00] about. It is about Kezar. And Leland's writes in, he says, “Wow, am I old? I just listened to the Kezar tape” Well, he called it a Kezar tape, so I guess he is kind of old. “On iTunes. I always think of Kezar as 50,000ish seating. Here's one memorable Kezar tradition that always sold out. It was the little big game between Santa Clara and St. Mary's.

David: That's right. They played all kinds of college games there.

Woody: Yeah. And so, they, you know, the big game was Cal and Stanford. The little big game with Santa Clara and St. Mary's over Moraga. And he writes, they were both powers back in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. I remember, well the seats were $2.20. The real…

David: That's expensive back then.

Woody: I know that seems like a lot, doesn't it? “The real big game Cal-Stanford tickets were $4.40 at the time, and Cal usually opened their season against Santa Clara.” Anyway, so he enjoyed it a lot and he does, he, he actually [00:02:00] addresses a point you, a question you had, which was “Yes, indeed. There was virtually no parking around Kezar Stadium outside of City Streets”. He, he says, “I lived at 22nd and Clement and always walked there.” So, thank you Lee for writing in, and we'd like to know that somebody actually listened to the podcast. And if you want to send us an email or you have anything you'd like to say about these podcasts, please go to outsidelands.org and just hit the contact button and you can send us a message.

David: What are we talking about today, Woody?

Woody: Your voice seems a little high pitched.

David: What are we talking about today, Woody?

Woody: You're, you're a puppet mascot or something?

David: Hey Woody, what are we talking about today?

Woody: I thought we should talk about an institution, a west side institution, which has moved a little east now. The Musee Mecanique.

David: Oh. A place near and dear to many people's hearts.

Woody: Right. What is the Musee Mecanique, David?

David: The Musee Mecanique is a [00:03:00] collection of coin operated, arcade games and music boxes, player pianos, dioramas with all kinds of moving parts. And it's, the name has musee in it, but…

Woody: Museum.

David: Contrary to many museums, you can play all these games.

Woody: So, if I was to brush up on my French, it would be like mechanical museum. Is that what that means?

David: That's correct.

Woody: Okay.

David: And most people will remember the Musee Mechanique as being in the basement of the Cliff House where it was from, I think from around 1972 to about 2002.

Woody: Right

David: 2004

Woody: Maybe a little earlier.

David: Well, might've been a little earlier.

Woody: Yeah. Because I think it was like 2001 or something, they started doing [00:04:00] renovations on the Cliff House. Anyway, it was around that time. You're right.

David: Oh, so it left earlier.

Woody: Yeah. I think you know the thing, it's a great place to take a date. That's what I always thought. I used to take my dates to the Cliff House and for a roll of quarters, which wasn't very much to spend on a date, you could have a lot of fun and kind of get to know a person.

David: Yeah.

Woody: You have any favorite machines that…

David: Well, my favorite? Yeah. My favorite machine is the mechanical farm. Well, it's, it's, there are two of them. There's one is the mechanical farm and the other is the carnival. And, they're not games per se. You put the money in and then they play some music and hundreds of moving parts go animate the entire scene. And these are big, they're like 5 feet by 12 feet.

Woody: Wow. So, there's little automatons or little tiny, like, sculpted people and…

David: Yeah, little people. In the carnival, there are rides. There's a carousel and an [00:05:00] airplane ride, and there's a shooting gallery. There's, there's a boxing match where the big boxer is banging the little boxer on the head with his glove. There's a tiny photo booth, which is kind of funny because the Musee Mecanique has a, has two working photo booths.

Woody: Hmm. So, it's like a spectacle. You put in a quarter, 50 cents or whatever it is, and you can see all these little things move, all this craftsmanship.

David: Right.

Woody: My favorite game or machine was, it's a baseball game and it's like the 1934 All-Star Game or World Series.

David: The Rockola 1937 World Series.

Woody: ‘37 World Series.

David: It's a classic.

Woody: Ah, it's got all the little, like it looked like little iron baseball players kind of stuck around the baseball game.

David: All with real names of real players from the ‘37 World Series.

Woody: Yeah. And that always really intrigued me because I like baseball history as a kid.

David: You call it a pitch and bat game.

Woody: Yeah. So, the ball, it's like a big, what do you call those kind of balls?

David: Ball bearing.

Woody: Ball bearing. Yeah. It comes flying out and you hit it with the bat and [00:06:00] in front of each of the little players is a hole. So, if you get it in the hole, you're out. And if you get it past them to the outfield, you get a double or triple. It's very similar to a real game we would play as kids. You know, we're like strikeouts.

David: Sure.

Woody: You get it over the fence. It's a double, you get it over that back fence. It's a homer. Well, this is the same. It's like you hit it to this part of the outfield and get a double, triple. Anyway, I love that game. But how does the Musee Mecanique make any, what are the origins of it? How did it get to the Cliff House? Where was it before? Who, who's responsible for it? What's the history of this thing?

David: Well, now it's owned by Dan Zelinsky and is housed at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf. Which is really a great spot for it. It gets so much traffic. It's wonderful. They moved there in 2004, I think, after the Cliff House was being renovated, and the collection was largely, it, it continues to grow. Dan continues to add items to it. But a lot of the machines have been in the collection for years and years. Some of [00:07:00] them, many of them came from Dan's father, Ed Zelinsky, who I believe bought the entire collection from the Whitney brothers.

Woody: Yeah, the Whitney family at least.

David: The Whitney family. Yeah.

Woody: And the Whitneys owned Playland, they owned Sutro Baths and they owned the Cliff House at one point.

David: Right.

Woody: And so, they had inherited, I think a lot of these curiosities and machines and stuff from back in the days when Adolph Sutro had the Baths and had some of that stuff.

David: It’s possible.

Woody: Yeah. I think some of it came from there.

David: So, we've seen pictures of the, of the Musee Mecanique inside of Sutro’s.

Woody: Sutro Baths.

David: And Sutro baths. Right. And along the Great Highway in Playland too.

Woody: Yeah.

David: In 1952, we see signs of the Musee Mecanique at Playland, which I believe it was first at Sutro’s, and then it moved to Playland when Sutro’s was converted around 1952 from the swimming pools to the ice rink.

Woody: [00:08:00] Right. And it was gonna close, it was like a, a thought that Sutro’s was gonna close and then probably got all moved out then, and then it converted to this ice rink.

David: We don't know when it moved from Playland to the Cliff House. I'm, I'm guessing, maybe someone can correct this. I'm guessing that it was around 1972 when Playland was, was demolished, or maybe it was before that. I don't know.

Woody: Right.

David: But one interesting thing that I found, was a picture of a ticket from the Golden Gate International Exposition, the Treasure Island World's Fair in 1939. And in this ticket book, there was an admission ticket for Musee Mecanique. So, the name is, at least went back to the GGIE. Now I don't, I don’t have any pictures of that. I don't know anything about how, in what form the Musee Mecanique existed in the GGIE. But I know that [00:09:00] certain rides from Playland were, were purchased that, that were at Playland, originated at the Treasure Island World's Fair.

Woody: This is how it works, David. It's a very funny thing. So, there are amusements and little rides and Ferris wheel type things. Big things, small. They all kind of have a chain of custody. They start, a lot of them start with the 1894 Midwinter Fair in Golden Gate Park, which was around the Music Concourse. And then a lot of those get moved by Sutro over to near Sutro Baths up at Merrie Way. He takes a lot of that stuff on. So, they're at Sutro Baths, then they seem to move down to Playland. And then along the way, you have another World's Fair. You have, or you have a couple, you have the Panama Pacific International Exposition in the Marina, then you have the Treasure Island Fair. And a lot of that stuff seems to get repurposed and kind of added to collections. So, it's, it all kind of just keeps adding up and getting switched out and moved along to new owners. But a lot of it ended up, I think in Ed Zelinsky’s [00:10:00] collection. And if you were going to say one thing that Ed Zelinsky had, that is the, the big wow piece. What is it? What is the thing that Dan always points at in his collection?

David: Well, it's the, it's a 1912 steam motorcycle.

Woody: A motorcycle that actually ran on, ran on steam power.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And it's like ridiculous. One-of-a-kind type of thing almost.

David: Right, right. I keep, Dan's a friend and I always say, we should really crank that thing up and drive it and he said if we did that, people would come from all over the world to see it.

Woody: Hmm. It be, it probably, I mean, the thing's gotta be worth what?

David: I don't know.

Woody: It's a one of a kind.

David: A million dollars. It's priceless.

Woody: And he's got it there in like a big glass case.

David: Right. He can go right up to it and see it. And that was displayed at, at the Sutro Baths for years.

Woody: The one thing that seems to be missing, we still have the machines and it's great. You can go still play them. I recommend everybody go to Pier 45. For the price of a quarter, you can have so much fun. [00:11:00] But I miss the, all this sort of, what's it called when you stuff an animal? What's that called? Taxidermy, right?

David: Oh yeah.

Woody: So, Sutro’s used to have, like, seals and lions and tigers and I guess it's not politically correct to have taxidermy stuff, but…

David: Right.

Woody: I wish there was a place you could go see, you know, these like jaguars pretending to attack a little squirrel and stuff. I kinda liked all those things, but…

David: Aren't they at the California Academy of Sciences?

Woody: They do have some of that stuff there. Yeah. But I think a lot of it, kind of, has been taken out.

David: Well, there's a very sad picture on the San Francisco Public Library site that shows them loading taxidermied animals into the back of a, of a garbage truck, essentially. They're just stacked up all Helter Skelter.

Woody: Yeah, from Sutro Baths. That's the one you're talking about.

David: Sutro Baths, yeah

Woody: Yeah. I think we have that one on our site. Well, that's it. Do you have anything else to add about Musee Mecanique today?

David: It's one of the absolute treasures of San Francisco and we're, [00:12:00] we're glad to have it in any form. Yeah, we miss being able to go down in the dank basement of the Cliff House to, to play the games, but Pier 45 is a great place for it.

Woody: Yeah. All right, we'll go, go see it and, and have some fun. Price of a quarter, that's what I think. So. All right, we'll see you next time. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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