Amusements of Yesteryear

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A zoo in the Mission?  Water slides in the Richmond?  As early as the 1890s, there was no shortage of places to seek thrills and fun in San Francisco, though almost no trace of these attractions exist today. Here’s a few of the spots where San Franciscans used to go to have fun:

  • The original and once-exclusive home of the It’s-It ice cream sandwich, Playland, also known as Chutes At the Beach, was an amusement park at Ocean Beach that operated from the 1910s-1972.  Visitors could enjoy rides like the Big Dipper, the Aeroplane Swing, and the Ship of Joy, as well as a 68-horse carousel, a fun house with a Laughing Sal, game booths, and an enormous camera obscura (which still exists today near the Cliffhouse).
  • If you weren’t in the mood for sugar and adrenaline, you could visit another seaside institution not far from Playland, the Sutro Baths.  Operating from 1896-1966, the Baths were a gigantic indoor pool complex with six salt water pools ranging from ice-cold to 80 degrees.  Less of a lap pool and more of a place to play in the salt water, you could enter the pools through slides, by swinging on trapezes or rings, or by jumping off one of the many diving boards.  Non-swimmers and spectators could watch from the stadium-style seating.
  • Over in the Mission in the late 1870s, you might spend a sunny weekend day exploring Woodward’s Gardens, located on a four-acre plot of land near Mission and 15th streets.  For 25 cents you could take in live animal attractions, including bears, lions, monkeys, wolves and kangaroos, as well as the extensive collection of taxidermy animals (seen in the slideshow above) arranged in curious groupings not found in nature.  As if that weren’t enough, there was an extensive aquarium, four art museums, an art gallery, a rollerskating rink, hot air balloon rides, and various live performances, including acrobatics and other feats.
  • Finally, if thrills were what you sought, you could visit any of the Chutes locations that cropped up around the city in the early 1900s.  For a dime you could take an elevator to the top of a tower, where 8-person boats awaited to plunge you at break-neck speed to the man-made lake at the bottom.

1-3: The Chutes at The Beach (a.k.a. Playland at the Beach)

4-6: Sutro Baths

7-9: Various Chutes

10-17: Woodward Gardens

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About bancroftlibrary

The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at the University of California, Berkeley. It is one of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in the United States.
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