The area that was Playland at the Beach in San Francisco was once a squatter’s settlement known as “Moneysville-by-the-Sea”. A steam railroad and a trolley line reached Ocean Beach at the western edge of the Richmond District, delivering you to the Cliff House restaurant, Sutro Baths and a roller coaster (built in 1880’s). By the 1930’s, the Midway had 14 rides, 25 concessions, and 5 diners including Topsy’s Roost.
I can remember my folks taking me on the mini-dipper (also known as The Bob’s), the carousel, the Ferris wheel, Noah’s Ark, the Aeroplane Swing and the Whip, which was a 2-seater car that ran on a track. When you sped around a turn, the car would whip to one side, sliding you across your seat. If you dared to ride the Big Dipper, you had to hold both hands above your head as you dropped eighty feet, the sound of whooshing wheels chasing after you. I read once that a man was thrown from the ride and killed back in the fifties.
If you wanted to cool off on a scorching day at Playland, you could ride Shoot-the-chutes. You’d board a flat bottom boat and sail down a steep, watery ramp. A humongous splash was waiting for you in the lagoon. Do you remember the Skyliner where you could float across the entire area from a cable above? Another favorite of mine was the Diving Bell where you would enter a metal chamber, which took you underwater before returning you to the surface with a resounding thud. Only after I was completely exhausted would I be treated to a Bull Pup enchilada. I can still taste that one-of-a-kind sauce. To top off the day, an It’s It ice cream sandwich waited for me (Sidebar: It’s It started at Playland). My parents would ignore my cries to go to the Fun House, promising to take me there another day. Laughing Sal awaits us. Until then, my City friends, take care.