Residents capture Playland for posterityThe Neighborhood/Independent/Outer Richmond District
By Johnny Brannon
The corner of Cabrillo Street and La Playa came alive with memories of Playland on February 25, when dozens of people showed up to dedicate a public-art installation and to bury a time capsule full of mementos from San Francisco's late, great, beachfront amusement park.
The intersection now sports five 15-foot-tall sculptures made from perforated stainless steel, each representing an icon from Playland's glory days: a carousel horse, a clown, a 1940s-era streetcar, a rooster (reminiscent of Topsy's Roost, Playland's famous fried chicken restaurant and dance club), and, of course, LaughingSal, the gap-toothed mechanical woman whose cackle frightened generations of San Francisco children.
The corner is used as a terminal for several Muni bus bus lines, and a restroom facility for drivers is being constructed just behind the statues, which will be illuminated at night. The statues are complete, and the restroom is scheduled to be finished by May 1, according to Muni projects planner John Katz.
Attached to each statue is a photographic plaque with information about Playland, which operated from 1914 to 1972 and spanned four square blocks. In its day, Playland was the largest amusement park on the west coast.
"Playland at the Beach is now dead, but it's nice to remember with these wonderful sculptures," said David Warren, a local Playland historian, who showed up to the dedication ceremony decked out in a fire chief's helmet, red frock coat with gold epaulettes, and green trousers with an alarm clock and several whistles dangling from his belt.
Warren collected a variety of Playland artifacts and memorabilia from various people for the time capsule, which was buried and covered with cement. Among the articles donated: flyers and posters, personal accounts of times spent at Playland,
and the handle from an old valve that blew a stream of air through a hole in the funhouse floor when unsuspecting peoplr walked over it-usually women in dresses.
That was some time ago, noted Warren, and times have changed quite a bit.
Ray Beldner, who designed and constructed the statues at a cost of $50,000, said he remembered coming to Playland as a kid and had met a lot of interesting people researching its history for the project.
"This was a group effort," he said. "Now we can all enjoy Playland in some way for years to come."
Remembrances of Playland Beldner's mother, Marie, said one thing she remembered most about bringing him to Playland was that he was terrified of Laughing Sal.
"He was deathly afraid of her. Every time he was bad, we'd say we were going to bring to Sal," she said. "Who ever thought he'd be doing this."
Joseph Carivello, a Playland aficionado, said he went to the park many times as a kid and especially remembered the bumper cars and the merry-go-round.
Norma Bianucci, who greq up on 46th Avenue, a few blocks away from Playland, stopped by to see the statues and said they brought back a lot of memories.
"I remember the fun house, the merry-go-round, I remember it all," she said. "We used to put our noses against the window and watch them cook the fried chicken at Topsy's. Remember, this was before Disneyland, so that was big time."
"You could meet girls down her too," said Bianucci's husband, Mario. "This is okay, but it's kind of bland by comparison."