Memories Of Laffing Sal And Playland At The Beach – Part 1

laffingsalGodlessmonkey will be away from the computer for a month on a much needed holiday. While I’m gone I’m rerunning some of my multi-part stories for the benefit of those who might not have read them the first time around or would like to read them again. I’ll be back with new stories from October 16th. Thank you all for your support.

I grew up in San Francisco in the ’50’s and ’60’s. I have always felt, and continue to feel privileged to have done so. San Francisco was an amazing city back then. It continues to be, but the last time I was there, five years ago, it was getting a bit tarnished around the edges. No matter, I want to talk about one of the best parts of being a kid there back in the innocent days of the late ’50’s and early 60’s.

The part I refer to was called Playland at the Beach. It was 10 acres of fun and magic on the Northwest corner of San Francisco, just across the street from Ocean Beach on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. I was blessed to be able to go there during it’s golden era, and I have so many wonderful memories of weekend and Summer days spent alternating between the beach and amusement park.

The park had the usual rides one associated with such places back then, the Diving Bell, the Octopus, the Dodg-Em Cars, a Ferris Wheel, and all the carnival games of chance, the shooting gallery, the dart throw and the rest of the scams that relieved you of your small change. Best of all, though, was a roller coaster called the Alpine Racer. It was a German-made mousetrap type coaster with lots of hairpin turns and a gut-wrenching drop. It was a wooden coaster, which any roller coaster lover will tell you is the best type. It had lots of give to it, so there was a constant sense of danger when you rode it.

Playland at the Beach was also the home of one of best gastronomic treats ever invented, the It’s It ice cream sandwich. A large scoop of premium quality vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two freshly made oatmeal cookies, which was then dipped in melted chocolate and frozen. No visit to Playland was complete without an It’s It. After the park closed they disappeared for a while, but then resurfaced in groceries stores. I understand they’re now available in 15 different states in various flavors. That part is a scandal, the original cannot be improved upon!

But back to Playland. Near the entrance was a separate attraction you paid extra to get into called The Fun House, apparently originally called The Crazy House. The name I knew it by as a kid was far more ironic, for although the Fun House was indeed fun, it was also dangerous as could be. This was back in days before bicycle helmets were mandatory, and kids could play on monkey bars and other equipment without hand-wringing adults standing by. The entrance to the Fun House was presided over by Laffing Sal, an oversized paper-machete woman fitted with cogs and gears that allowed her to bend at the waist and wave her arms about as she emitted a relentless hollow laugh. That’s her picture at the top of the post. She scared the hell out me when I was little, especially as her companion was a bug-eyed imp with a gigantic head and a manic stare.

So getting past Laffing Sal was the first obstacle to entering the mysterious and magical Fun House. Once inside, things got really strange.

Part 2 tomorrow.


5 responses to “Memories Of Laffing Sal And Playland At The Beach – Part 1

  1. I’m pretty sleepy, but I’ll come back tomorrow with some things to say about Playland. Man, that fucking diving bell used to scare me crapless.

    • Yes, it was fearsome. Thanks for having a look.

      • I’m 61, and can remember Playland from a time before yours, and I can do nothing but support the positives you’ve mentioned. Though my parents never let me go on the old roller coaster, it took my young breath away to see it go out over the street like it did…LOL

        I don’t know for certain, how old my memories of those times are. I’d guess I must have been four or so, five, maybe. So that would make it the very early 50’s.

        My dad would take me on the diving bell the very first thing, and, though it used to make me askeert, I loved it. Remember how they used to make it surface with almost no warning, and you’d be RUSHED to the surface and sit there bobbing up and down while it settled down? Used to make me his my head…LOL

        Thanks for the good memories, man.

      • …hit…hit my head…

  2. We’re not that far apart, I just turned 58. I’m glad someone who was there replied. Thanks for sharing your memories. I was there the last weekend it was open, and as I recall I lost about 30 bucks to one of the carnies. Ah, memories…

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