Things I Miss: Playland-at-the-Beach

At Playland, on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, you could be a king for a dollar. You could hear the latest music. You could play ancient arcade games. You could ride a rotting old wooden roller coaster, take a ride in a diving bell, visit a creepy-wild fun house. You could eat things you couldn’t find anywhere else – It’s Its, for example, two oatmeal cookies pressed on either side of a slab of vanilla ice cream and dipped in chocolate (the ones you get these days in stores simply don’t compare). Or Mexican food at The Hot House. Later, after Playland fell, The Hot House moved to Balboa Street. Never the same.

All kinds of people went there. All kinds. Every time I went to Playland, every single time, and I must have gone there a thousand times, mind you, my mom told me to watch out for myself.

In the summer, my dad used to come home from work when it was still light out. He’d grab my brother and me, and a cigar or two, and out we’d go to Playland, just ten blocks west of our house. We’d always run into guys he’d known growing up. They’d be cops now, or bus drivers, or short-order cooks, but in the old days, they would’ve been my pop’s running buddies. Learned a lot about the old days in the city (and about who my dad had been as a kid) from listening to their stories.

In the really old days, way before I was even born, Playland had a wild nightlife, including a place called Topsy’s Roost, a sort of mash-up of chicken coop and big band club. Think you could find something like that these days? Don’t bother trying. You can’t.

People would go out to Playland as a quick escape, a hit of fresh sea air, a few laughs, a little fun, maybe forget their troubles for a little while. During the Great Depression, not the little-assed depression we’re having now, I’ve heard Playland kept a lot of people going when they were down at their lowest; I believe it.

It closed forever in 1972 to make room for condos, because that’s what our city needed, alright, was more condos. Here’s the plaque, beloved and irreplaceable Playland’s headstone.

There aren’t places like it anymore. I wish there were; we’d all be happier and better off. Damn condos are ugly as hell, by the way.