Sandy and I were surprised with the closing of Dicky’s BBQ and Applebee’s in Fremont’s Pacific Commons shopping complex this past week. These closures join Toy’s R Us, Orchard Supply and New Park’s Sears store as recent victims of the evolving retail scene in our region. Hopefully all of the loyal employees will be absorbed quickly into surviving area enterprises! I’m disappointed with the permanent closing this past weekend of Playland-Not-At-The-Beach, a non-profit, family oriented storefront museum in El Cerrito that celebrated long gone San Francisco’s Playland at the Beach and Sutro’s Baths and Museum. If you never had the opportunity to visit this hidden treasure in the past 10 years, unfortunately it’s too late. On display were the original Laughing Sal who greeted you with a repetitive creepy laugh in the front window of the fun house, one of the Walking Charlie hand carved wooden figures that marched in a continuous loop on the terrace above Sal, and thousands of historical items including original signage, remnants of rides and games, rare photographs, historic dioramas, employee uniforms and prizes from original Playland arcade games. Everything will be auctioned off later this month and the Playland of our childhood will exist only as a memory.
I made one final return visit to Playland at the Beach on a photography expedition prior to its closing on Labor Day weekend 1972 and subsequent demolition. It was a typical cold and foggy San Francisco Day; few people were on hand and many of the attractions were already shuttered. Memories of happier times flooded back of visits with my folks and grandparents and enjoying the kiddie rides with my brother, collecting winning Skeeball tickets and munching on Yum Yum rice crispy treats.
Playlands humble 1913 beginning was a classic Looff Carousel located west of the city at Ocean Beach to be followed quickly with a candy concession, shooting gallery and traditional baseball knockdown game. A wooden roller coaster was added in 1919 followed by the thrilling Chute-the-Chutes water ride. “Chutes at the Beach” soon became a weekend destination for thousands of visitors. Rides, games and food concessions were added through the years and the park was touted as the “Coney Island of the West”.
It’s been a week of losses at many levels reminding me once again that nothing physical here on earth is forever, whether it’s a local business, popular attraction or a beloved heroic statesman. What we can do as seekers is to adopt a comforting belief system and strive for a thoughtful and meaningful long run. -Bill