WNP93 – Giant Camera
Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.
David: And I'm David Gallagher.
David: Yes, Woody?
Woody: You know, I was listening to some of our first podcasts.
David: Were you?
David: That's over a year ago, you know
Woody: And we were not very excitable sounding then.
David: No. In fact, you gave me some notes about not being, upbeat enough. And so that's why we're pepping it up today.
Woody: Da-da-nah Daaah! Okay.
Woody: No, I do want to apologize. Last week's podcast, we, it was about Laurel Hill Cemetery.
David: Yes, it was.
Woody: Lone Mountain Cemetery. I think we had kind of done that podcast maybe fifty podcasts ago on the cemeteries.
David: Oh, repeating ourselves. Are we?
Woody: Worse. We’re forgetting that we're repeating. We're not even intentionally…
David: And we have a list if we wanted to ever refer to it. Which I mean, why would we refer to it? You [00:01:00] regular podcast listeners know that we don't refer to any notes when we're doing our podcast.
Woody: Yeah. It allows people to write in and correct us.
David: That's right. And to that end, Woody, we have a few letters from recent podcasts.
Woody: Great. I love this sort of community participation aspect.
David: Right. If you ever hear us say anything wrong or incorrect or…
David: Inflammatory or vague in our podcast, feel free to write in and let us know.
Woody: That'll bring in the letters.
David: We might just read your letter on the air. Are we on the air?
Woody: Yes, we are. So go ahead, read our letter.
David: So, noted Richmond district historian John Freeman, wrote in about…
Woody: Oh no! This is going to be bad.
David: We should just have John on our podcast again.
Woody: And get all our…
David: Maybe he should replace me.
Woody: And get all our facts straight the first time.
Woody: All right. What does John say?
David: He wrote in about the Bison Paddock episode.
Woody: The buffalo in the Park.
David: The buffalo [00:02:00] there. He says that at the time the animal collection in Golden Gate Park was called “The Park Zoo.”
Woody: When you say animal collection…
Woody: You don't mean just bison?
David: No, there were, we were vague. He says, validly, he says, “we were vague on the early origins and exact location of the bison and other animals that were displayed in Golden Gate Park.” There were a lot of different animals displayed in Golden Gate Park, Woody.
Woody: We mentioned that though?
David: Yeah, we did. We were vague about it. And, though, because that's what we do! He says, “The animal collection in Golden Gate Park was called ‘The Park Zoo’ and was originally located in separate spots, but all within a short walking distance of each other. John McLaren…” He doesn't say where they were either, by the way.
Woody: He’s a little vague. I think he does later. You know, we have to kind of say here that zoos were not a thing like they were in the 20th century. [00:03:00]
Woody: In the 19th century, so, this whole idea of a zoo that we think of it today, was not really a common thing that cities had. Now, you know, when we grew up, every city had a zoo.
Woody: But, so, it was like, “we’re going to put some animals in the park,” you know?
David: Well, anyway, he, John Freeman writes, “John McLaren lobbied for years to get the animals out of his Park, and finally got Herbert Fleishhacker in the mid-1920’s to start a subscription drive to raise funds to create a proper zoo on Sloat Boulevard near Ocean Beach. The Depression, delayed the project, but by the late 1930’s most of the animals, except for the buffalo, were moved to Fleishhacker Zoo.” So, there were a whole lot of different animals in the Park. They were all kind of pushed over to the Zoo site that we know today.
Woody: What kind of animals? Deer?
David: There were deer. Ostriches, reindeer, peacocks…
David: Elk, kangaroos.
Woody: You think I'm kidding about the kangaroos? [00:04:00]
David: No, I don't. But I mean, when the Park started and they were looking for animals, people offered all kinds of animals from across the country. This is another thing that John writes in his long letter to us.
Woody: Accurate letter.
David: Long, accurate letter. He says, “there was a guy in Texas who wanted to catch and transport prairie dogs to San Francisco to be released in Golden Gate Park.”
David: That offer was rejected.
Woody: I'll just say I think the gophers are a bit of a problem, already. Right?
David: So, you've heard of Woodward’s Gardens?
Woody: I have.
David: It was kind of an amusement park and grounds in the Mission District.
Woody: And it had animals in it too.
David: It had animals also. By the late 1890s, it was on its way out and it had closed. And the heirs of…
David: Robert Woodward just wanted to sell all that property.
David: And, so, they were trying to dump whatever animals they could. And they offered all kinds of animals to the, [00:05:00] to Golden Gate Park
Woody: This is a common thing. People are always trying to quote, “donate things.”
David: Don't you want this alligator I got for Christmas?
Woody: It’d just be perfect for the Park. The kids will love it! Right?
David: Yeah. But I mean, they offered a lion, a lioness, a zebra. Cavies? Which I guess are like…
Woody: I know what those are. Those are little South American things, right?
David: Yeah. It's like a giant Guinea pig.
David: It's not a capybara.
David: Capybara, it's different.
Woody: That's, that's different.
David: All right. A kawati, a civet, two kangaroos, a llama, three bears, a dingo, three coyotes, four monkeys, three jaguar, a hyaena, a zebu.
Woody: A zebu. Now wait a minute, none of these ended up..,
David: A zebu and a baby camel.
Woody: None of these ended up in the Park?
Woody: All right, all right. Let's get to the gist here, let’s so…
David: That’s John Freeman telling us what we could have had in our Park.
Woody: Next time we got to have John on the podcast to handle this properly upfront.
Woody: Sorry John.
David: I will say though, in 1894, William Randolph [00:06:00] Hearst donated a bear. The California bear.
Woody: That was taken though, right?
Woody: That was accepted.
David: That was.
Woody: That was a grizzly or something?
Woody: Or was it a black bear, or was it a brown bear, or was it a polar bear?
David: John is vague on the subject. Anyway, there were all kinds of animals.
Woody: Thank you John, for writing in.
David: John Freeman, thank you.
Woody: I'm sticking this letter in our files because this is something I can refer back to. He went, he went date by date about when every animal is added.
David: We're going to get John Freeman back on the podcast.
Woody: Come back, John. We want you back.
David: We got another letter.
Woody: We did! From who?
David: Yeah, from Timothy McIntosh.
Woody: He listens.
David: He’s a listener to the podcast.
David: And he is talking about… What!? I don't even know what…
Woody: I know what he's talking about.
David: I don't even. This is from the Bison Paddock one too, right?
Woody: I think so.
David: This is also in reference to the Bison Paddock. He says, “that he did a search in the Internet Movie [00:07:00] Database and found that Ray Walston never had been on Mister Ed and Alan Young had never been on My Favorite Martian. So, there was no crossover show.”
Woody: This is because…
David: That sounds like he's commenting on a very broad digression that…
Woody: This is when we said, “Spooky San Francisco,” about our movie.
Woody: And it sounded like Mister Ed. And then we got into this whole conversation about a crossover, where somebody from My Favorite Martian was in the Mister Ed episode and it sparked a memory, a weird memory, that came back to me. And he's telling me that I was wrong.
Woody: There was never a crossover.
David: But I…
Woody: There was a Beverly Hillbillies…
David: There was.
Woody: Mister Ed crossover is what I think.
David: You’re right, there was.
Woody: Okay, that was the one I was thinking of.
David: There was. I read about it today.
David: Using my nonprofit time wisely. He also says, “if Woody doesn't know the difference between Spreckels Lake and Stow Lake, he should be replaced by Nicole.”
Woody: Already done! [00:08:00] This is Nicole.
David: Next week.
Woody: Yeah, I spoke mistakenly. I meant Spreckels, I said, “Stow.” I thought we were clear in the podcast that I made that mistake at the time. But Nicole would be a great replacement. We're grooming her, you know, we pulled her into the podcast last week.
David: Yeah, she's going to be great.
Woody: But we just got to get her up to speed and soon she can be the Woody in this program.
David: Yes. Are you sure she wouldn't be better suited to be David?
Woody: Maybe she can do both our parts.
David: He goes on to say, “that last Friday he was at the St. Francis Yacht Club to see Fleet Week. And on his way home, he stopped at the Balboa Theater.
David: To purchase, in person, a ticket for Spooky San Francisco.”
Woody: Wilber [Mister Ed voice]!
David: Well, what's Spooky San Francisco?
Woody: Spooky San Francisco is a movie night that you are [00:09:00] organizing for the Western Neighborhoods Project at the Balboa Theater on Balboa Street near 38th Avenue on Halloween night, which is October 31st.
David: Starts at 7:00 and ends about 9:00. So. you've still got time to do your trick-or-treating either before and eat all your candy after.
Woody: That's right. Or you can buy some popcorn and candy at the Balboa and just skip the whole thing.
Woody: But the movie night is going to have some secret spooky surprises. But, also, some historical footage, that maybe we shouldn't talk about. And Trina Lopez's documentary, which is celebrating its 10th year, all about the cemetery removals from…
David: A Second Final Rest:
Woody: From San Francisco, yeah.
David: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries.
Woody: It's a good movie. I think we're going to have Trina there.
David: Yeah, she's going to do a little Q&A afterwards.
Woody: Excellent. It's worth it. So, buy your ticket if you haven't already. It will sell out.
Woody: And we're running out of time, so get on it. Go to our website and there's a big link, right?
David: There is. There's a picture right on the [00:10:00] front and you can click on that and buy a ticket or more than one.
Woody: Spooky San Francisco, it'll be a historical evening. David, all that was very interesting. We're ten minutes into the podcast and we haven't even talked about what this podcast is about this week.
David: Well, this week, Woody, were going as far west as we can and still be in San Francisco (not really.) Because I think we could go to the Farallones and still be in San Francisco.
Woody: I don’t know if they’re in City limits. But, okay, go on.
David: Well, we're going to the very edge of the cliff below the Cliff House. I'm talking about the Camera Obscura.
Woody: The Giant Camera.
David: The Giant Camera.
Woody: That's how I think of it, as the Giant Camera. David, when you say it's below the Cliff House, the Cliff House is right out there at the end of Point Lobos Road or Point Lobos Avenue. What is it called nowadays?
Woody: Yeah, and right, you go Geary Boulevard all the way out, you hit the water, Seal Rocks are there, the Cliff House is there. And just to the South is [00:11:00] this funny little structure on it.
David: Right behind it. I mean, you're yeah, it's at the Cliff House.
Woody: Yeah. It's just on the patio or whatever that is there. What is the Camera Obscura or the Giant Camera, some people call it? What is this thing? It’s an odd shed, but what is it?
David: What it, it's an attraction where you can go inside and be mesmerized by the view! Of the outside.
Woody: I don't understand if you're outside already, you have the view. Why would you go inside a building to see the view?
David: Because it's strangely transformative, Woody. You walk inside the Camera Obscura…
David: What are, why are you laughing about that?
Woody: Because you're talking about what it feels like and you're not saying what it is. I'm going to help you out.
David: What it…
Woody: I'm going to help you out.
David: You're going to help me out?
David: Why are you? Why didn't you just…
Woody: Because you're not…
Woody: You're not answering the question! So, this building, David, looks, it's a little shed, but it looks like a camera. An old-fashioned camera. The building looks like it.
Woody: Like a camera. Like [00:12:00] one of those, kind of...
David: Like a Brownie Camera kind of. I mean…
Woody: That you kind of looked down.
David: Like a ‘50s camera or something. Sure.
Woody: That's what it looks like. It's a building that looks like a camera.
David: Woody, that's called “Duck Architecture.”
Woody: And that comes from?
David: A building that looked like a duck.
Woody: Right, so Duck Architecture is a building that kind of looks like what they're offering, the business or something.
Woody: So inside, I assume they sell cameras?
David: Inside is the inside of a camera.
Woody: So, the whole thing is a camera?
David: The whole thing is a camera, Woody.
Woody: So, a Camera Obscura, what is a Camera Obscura? Because that is what we're talking about is inside this building.
David: Well, it's, isn't it Latin?
Woody: It is. It means “dark room.”
David: Dark room, right. So, you go into this dark room, and on the roof, there is a small aperture that has a mirror in it that projects the view from outside down [00:13:00] onto a large platform in the middle of this dark room.
Woody: Yeah. It's the, so…
David: Just like a camera does.
Woody: Right. It's like…
David: Or your eye does.
Woody: It's like what was that invisible planet or whatever? When the people got shrunk down to tiny size. It's like you get shrunk down to tiny size and you get stuck in a camera.
Woody: Like in that ‘50s movie or whatever.
Woody: But it's not really a camera anyway, because it's sort of like a series of mirrors. But there's no film, right? We're looking at basically the view of the outside, inside this six-foot-wide diameter…
David: It's like a parabolic dish, yeah.
Woody: Parabolic, yeah, exactly. So, you walk in. It's all dark and they get the camera spinning around up there, or the mirror spinning around.
David: There's a little, it's rotating. So, the view continues to change around the circular table.
Woody: And the colors are a little muted on the parabolic thing, so it kind of has a painting feeling to it.
Woody: Maybe because it's dark in there too. But it's neat. It's like, you see this giant sweeping view of what's outside and it's in [00:14:00] a very prominent viewpoint area, right?
David: Yeah. I mean, the view is beautiful and, like I said, it's different than standing outside the Camera Obscura and looking out at the ocean.
Woody: That's what you were talking about, heightened senses and all that.
Woody: It's a mystical experience.
David: You were focused on the table. Now, Woody, now a Camera Obscura is not a new thing. It was first drawn, I think, by Leonardo da Vinci in 1500-something.
Woody: Well, I think he sketched…
David: The idea of it was drawn out then. And you know, you say, so… And you could build a Camera Obscura in any room. You could have a darkened room and you could make a little pinhole in the window or whatever, and project the image of the outside onto a wall inside.
Woody: Yeah, so it's like: mirror, mirror and then…
David: You don't even necessarily need a mirror, but.
Woody: Right. The way the Camera Obscura works though, or the Giant [00:15:00] Camera is, it's a down-facing one where it hits and then hits a mirror and then goes straight down…
Woody: So that people can stand around it and look down at this…
David: It points it at the floor, right.
Woody: Right. So, a little history about this building. There, although there is some rumor or some evidence that there may have been a Camera Obscura there in the 1890s in the old Cliff House.
Woody: At least on the blueprints it says in one of the towers of the old Cliff house, they were going to have a Camera Obscura up there. Whether they…
David: That's in the, that’s the Victorian Cliff House?
David: Oh, neat.
Woody: Whether they had it or didn't have it, we're not quite sure. But then the Victorian Cliff House burned down in 1907.
Woody: So, this Camera Obscura may be the first one out there. And it was put there by a gentleman named Floyd Jennings. And he was a businessman and apparently, he proposed this idea of having a Camera Obscura there to the Whitney's and the Whitney Family owned, at the time, the Cliff House and Playland and Sutro Baths.
David: And when was that?
Woody: Well, this would've been, well, maybe they didn't [00:16:00] own everything then. This would've been the late 1940’s after World War II.
David: All right.
Woody: Some people say ‘46, it might have been a little later.
David: And I've seen pictures of it. It didn't look like a giant camera back then. It looked like a little shed.
Woody: That's right. And it kind of looked, it had a nautical sort of thing. Because it was the building, with a railing on top, and then the tube that went up that had the…
David: Periscope sort of thing.
Woody: Yeah. But that's what… It did look kind of like a periscope. But it had little decorative tubes added to make it look like a capstan on a ship.
David: Oh, neat.
Woody: Or, I don't know, a battleship with guns.
David: Sure. But it wasn't this Duck Architecture then?
Woody: No. That happened in the mid-1950s, maybe ’57, 1957. Apparently, Whitney is the one who suggested it to Jennings, and said, “you should make it look like a camera, so people know what the heck they're getting into.”
Woody: So that's when it was redone. A little bit of addition was put on it and made to look like a camera from the 1950s.
David: And that, those details are what saved it in its location, right? When the…
Woody: Later, [00:17:00] yeah.
David: When the Cliff House was remodeled in 2002, they were like, “Hey, we're…we need to do something about this Giant Camera. What's the deal?”
Woody: Well, there's a couple of times it almost got torn down. I think in the late ‘70s, it was imperiled. I think the, there were people who didn't want it there. They thought it was old and kind of detracted from the whole Cliff House. Just to go back for a sec, Floyd Jennings owned it, and then in the early ‘60s he sold it to a guy named Gene Turtle. Who, I think, Gene had actually something to do with building the Giant Camera. And Gene Turtle owned it until the late ‘70s. And that's when a guy we know got involved: David Warren.
David: Aaah, David Warren.
Woody: And we can do a whole podcast…
David: A well-known Playland aficionado.
Woody: Yeah, a lot of things. David Warren was the first guy to light the first Burning Man statue at Ocean Beach.
Woody: He has a long history with lots of things, but, like I [00:18:00] said, we could do a whole movie on him. But anyway, he owned it and I think they kind of fought to preserve it then. And he added all the sort of late ‘70s, early ‘80s mystical aspects to it.
Woody: Where it had, like, an eyeball, I think, painted on one part…
David: Oh, yeah.
Woody: And he made a holographic gallery on the door.
David: Yeah. I know the fellow that made the holograms they put inside there.
Woody: Okay. So, David Warren kind of re-championed it then. But here's a little funny bit of trivia, David. You'd think the Cliff House, which has been out there since the 1860s, or at least a business has. You'd think they re-did it and everything, that would be a Landmark. That would be some kind of thing on the National Register of Historic Places.
David: The Cliff House would be on it? Yeah, of course.
Woody: Or the Sutro Baths site.
David: Isn't the Cliff House on the National…?
Woody: No. Or the Sutro Baths site, you'd think that's some Landmark, right?
Woody: That's going to be listed. No. The only thing out there that's on the National Register of Historic Places is the Giant Camera.
Woody: People fought for it, they fought to save it. And because it was rare, it was this Duck Architecture, it was one of [00:19:00] the only working Camera Obscuras that was still in its original site.
Woody: That a whole bunch of people came together, including Joe Durrance and Tom Roop, and they created like a Friends of the Giant Camera. They fought and fought and fought to keep it. Because like you said, the Park Service was going to tear it down when they were going to renovate the Cliff House. And they got the paperwork done essentially and it got put on the National Register.
David: Wah, wah, wah. Park Service.
Woody: No, that's good! Oh, yeah, yeah, okay. “Wah, wah, wah, Park Service.”
David: I mean, yay!
David: Yay, for the people!
David: I love the Giant Camera.
Woody: It's great. And Floyd Jennings, he went on, he made a Giant Camera in the Garden of the Gods, which is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Another one in Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. Those are gone. So, this is the last one of the ones he made.
David: The ones he made. But there are others. I mean, there are many others. As I say, it's pretty easy to make one. The concept is pretty simple. In fact, the neatest, newest one I've seen is one that they made [00:20:00] at The Exploratorium. They put it on the back of a bicycle. It's like a little trailer that sits on the back of a bicycle, and you go in, it's got room for two people in it. You get in there, you shut the door real tight, and then you lay a platform down right in front of you, like a desk, and then the prism is up on the roof, and you can turn it with your hand to look out at what's out there. They don't ride the bicycle around, it's usually just parked in one place though.
Woody: So, is it like… to explain to people who’ve never…? Well, people should just go. People should just go and check it out. It costs like two bucks, three bucks to go inside when it's open. But how do you explain this? Is it sort of like watching TV? What is it? What is the experience that you're really talking about here? Is it sort of like just getting a view of outside that you can…? You're talking about turning the thing inside that box.
Woody: That you can just kind of look around like a periscope, but on a big screen? Is that kind of what it's like?
David: Well, like I said, it's sort of this weird transformative experience of reality. [00:21:00] You walk into this darkened room and it takes a minute for your eyes to get used to the dark. And once they do, you see this amazing projection on this platform in front of you. It's slowly turning around the table so if you want, you can follow it along as it points in different places. But it’s somehow, it's kind of hyper-real. When you're looking at it through this prism.
David: And you said the colors were muted and I don't think so. I think they're more vibrant somehow.
David: Maybe it's because you're in the dark.
David: And it's projected on a white table and everything. It’s just, it's just, different.
Woody: I guess muted was the wrong word. It feels more painterly. Like it's got a bit more of a pastel feeling to, I don't know, something about it.
David: It's interesting that you would use that phrase because there's some theories that old masters, painters, would [00:22:00] use this sort of projection. Use a Camera Obscura to project their subjects onto a canvas inside a Camera Obscura. And they would trace the images along. That's how, that's a theory that some people have espoused.
Woody: Interesting. When is it open? I mean, the guy who runs it, his name’s Robert Tacchetto. And he's owned it, or his dad has owned it, at least since the early 90’s.
David: I think it's opened most every sunny day out there. The weather has to be nice. But it is open, seems to be on the whim of the operator.
Woody: Okay. And, it's kind of a funny thing, we were talking about before the podcast, that it's owned by somebody, but it's also on National Park land, essentially, with the GGNRA. So it's kind of confusing. It's a funny thing. It's like a private ownership, but it's going to stay there. It's on the National Register, right?
Woody: So, we don't know how that all works, but hopefully, I know Robert Tacchetto is [00:23:00] totally dedicated to it. And I'm sure he is taking very good care of it. So that's the good news.
David: I would say that if you're out there and it's a sunny day, go in, spend two or three bucks to get in there and spend as much time as you want inside because it's just, it's like a dream!
Woody: Transformative, David.
Woody: You make it sound like…
David: I think it's great!
Woody: Your life changed when you went into the Camera Obscura. David!
Woody: Don't you think everybody should be a member…
David: I know you’re going to…
Woody: The Western Neighborhoods Project?
David: This is where the pitch starts, folks. You can turn it off right now.
Woody: How do you become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project?
David: Woody, you go to our website, which is at outsidelands.org. You can also see some more information about the Camera Obscura there and many other subjects. And, anyway, if you're going to be a member, go to our website, click on the “Become a Member” link. Which is on every page. And fill out the form and send us a donation, and you will become a member and you will have the [00:24:00] satisfaction of membership and you will support this effort that we are doing here.
Woody: And when we own the Giant Camera, will we give a membership discount?
Woody: Instead of $3, it'd be like $2.50.
David: Yeah, maybe. Maybe even a dollar. We're not in it for the money, Woody! If we…
Woody: If you would like to sell us the Giant Camera, we will buy it at any price.
David: If you want to donate to the Western Neighborhoods Project to help us buy the Giant Camera, please do.
Woody: All right, I'll see you next week, David.
David: All right, Woody.
Woody: We're getting close to a hundred episodes.
David: Oh no, what will be the special topic?
Woody: I don't know! We have to think about it.
Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org. [00:25:00]