Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco

image of Fleishhacker ZooFleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco was named after its founder, Herbert Fleishhacker, who was a banker and Park Commission president.  Construction began in 1929 on the site adjacent to the largest outdoor pool in the world (Fleishhacker Pool) and soon thereafter the first tiger cubs had their paws and noses fingerprinted.  Thousands remember riding the Fleishhacker Playfield Limited affectionately known as “Little Puffer”.  You’d never guess that this fully functional steam train is pushing one hundred years.  Little Puffer is one of only three 22-inch gauge engines remaining in the world today.

The zoo is the birthplace of Koko the gorilla who can be seen in the photo cradling a kitten.  Visitors remember what a ham Koko was, often times seen holding binoculars and gawking back at them or drinking a cup of coffee or lifting the T-shirt of a trainer and tickling him. (more…)

Fleishhacker Pool in San Francisco

Image of Fleishhacker Pool in San FranciscoI can remember as a kid swimming at the largest heated saltwater venue in the world, the Fleishhacker Pool in San Francisco.   You would take a leap of faith and step off the top platform, a distance of some thirty feet to the water (at that end, it was fifteen feet deep).  The pool measured a thousand feet long (over three football fields in length) and a hundred and sixty feet wide in the middle section. 

The Parks Commission supposedly kept the temperature of the pool at 72 degrees as required for A.A.U. meets, but it felt much cooler with the damp sea breeze coming off nearby Ocean Beach.  In 1925, five thousand spectators watched Johnny Weissmuller, the reigning freestyle champion in the world and later of Tarzan film fame, win his event. (more…)

Seal Rocks of San Francisco

Image of Seal Rocks of San Francisco; tram-canvaImage of Cliff HouseSeal Rocks of San Francisco lies beneath the Cliff House at Lands End in San Francisco.  The restaurant has been remodeled in the old neoclassical style with a two-story dining room where you can enjoy the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.  In recent years patrons would witness only birds on Seal Rocks, but El Nino has driven hordes of the sea lions north looking for food.  Sardines, white sea bass, herring and mackerel are luring in the brown fury creatures.   Many use Seal Rocks as a resting stop before venturing further up the coast or into the bay to sunbathe near Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. (more…)

Cliff House of San Francisco

Image of Cliff House in San FranciscoThe Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco has been reincarnated five different times on the same site near Lands End.  Originally it was built in 1858 from the remains of a ship that crashed on the rocks below.  Three Presidents and such local luminaries as Crocker, Hearst and Stanford would drive their carriages through the dunes of the Richmond District to watch the horse races on Ocean Beach and have a bite to eat at the diner.  But its reputation spread to the unsavory types from the Barbary Coast region of the City and the area soon became overwhelmed with scandalous behavior. 

Adloph Sutro, entrepreneur and later mayor, had built his estate on Sutro Heights nearby and would have none of the shenanigans.  Money can solve any problem, right? He bought the Cliff House and chased out the riffraff.  But good karma was not on his side.  For the second time, a ship ran aground.  This time, however, the schooner was loaded with TNT and exploded, damaging the Cliff House above.  The explosion was heard throughout the City.  Sutro repaired the restaurant only to see it burn down soon thereafter. (more…)

Sutro Baths of San Francisco

Image of Sutro Baths Postcard from the turn of the century

Image of Sutro Baths in San FranciscoSutro Baths of San Francisco was built by Adolf Sutro, former mayor (1894-1896), near Lands End and the Cliff House at the western most edge of the Richmond District. In the 1890’s it was hailed as the world’s largest indoor swimming facility with seven pools. During high tide, water would flow directly into the six saltwater pools from the ocean,recycling 2 million gallons in an hour. A powerful turbine pump, which was built inside a cave at sea level, could fill the tanks during low tide at the rate of six thousand gallons per minute. (more…)

The Fun House at S.F.’s Playland

Image of Fun House at S.F.-playland-at-the-beachThe Fun House at S.F.’s Playland At the Beach was a must for any City kid looking for a laugh, especially since “Laffing Sali” was always obliging.  Her demonic cackle greeted you as you entered.  You first passed through a maze of mirrors, having a bit of fun at your own expense as twisty or lumpy or skinny figures posed for your entertainment.  After squeezing through the spin-dryers, you came across the main area of the Fun House where you might want to take on the Joy Wheel.  The challenge was to be the last one sitting on the spinning wooden disc, smirking at all those other kids who had slid off.  Nearby was the Barrel of Laughs where most would rush through the rotating wooden structure as fast as possible.  Not infrequently there would be a fleshy roadblock as others tumbled over each other, unable to get to their feet and exit. (more…)

Playland at the Beach

S.F.-playland-videoImage of s.f.-playland-4colorpics-canvaThe 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. (more…)