Sunday, May 9, 2010

Remembering Playland at the Beach

I made it out to the Balboa to see Remembering Playland at the Beach.

Remembering Playland at the Beach; documentary; (2010) - Official Website

The barebones documentary is a treat for anyone with an interest in San Francisco history. I moved out here long after Playland closed but am aware of what it was. At the far western end of San Francisco, they had an amusement park for over 50 years. You used to be able to take a cable car and later a streetcar out there. Playland was home to Laughing (aka Laffing) Sal, a number of arcade games and amusement rides. Some of the attractions are preserved at several locations - Playland Not-at-the-Beach in El Cerrito, the Musée Mécanique at Pier 45 (Laffing Sal and some arcade games) and the Zeum Child Museum at Yerba Gardens (historic carousel).

The film is a loving tribute to bygone days. When I first heard there used to be an amusement park where the condos and Safeway currently stand at Ocean Beach, my first thought is that it’s awfully foggy and chilly out there for an amusement park. The proximity to the beach and Golden Gate Park must have been the main advantages. I’m sure that the weather contributed to the declining attendance at the park. The filmmakers posit that poor management was the root cause of the park’s decline and eventual demise. Walt Disney hired away Playland’s owner’s son and heir apparent to help design Disneyland. One interviewee stated that while in high school, a teacher led discussion digressed to Playland and the comment from another student was that “It wasn’t cool to go there anymore.” The film deals less with the demise of the park than loving memorials to Playland from former patrons and employees with particular emphasis placed on the various rides such as the Shoot-the-Chutes, the Big Dipper Roller Coaster and the Diving Bell.

Clearly a labor of love, Remembering Playland at the Beach is a film perfectly paired with the Balboa. Located 10 blocks from the former site of Playland, the Balboa conjures the same memories as the film – old time San Francisco when Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, Playland and the Balboa reigned in the Outer Richmond District. The lobby of the Balboa is festooned with photos and other memorabilia from Playland which was as entertaining the film.

The film was just over an hour but was augmented by film clips that were shot or inspired by Playland including clips from The Lineup (1958) which screened at last year’s Best of Columbia Noir at the Roxie and The Lady from Shanghai (1947) starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.

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