Last days to see Playland Not-At-The-Beach before the museum shuts down

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A replica of the original Laffing Sal entertains guests Playland Not-At-The-Beach in El Cerrito, Calif. (KGO)

History is being repeated for fans of San Francisco's last amusement park. Playland At the Beach closed on Labor Day in 1972.

Now, a museum dedicated to preserving some of the park's memorabilia is closing as well, and it will also happen on Labor Day.
Playland Not-At-The-Beach opened ten years ago in El Cerrito, kind of by chance.

The person behind it was Richard Tuck. He collected amusement memorabilia and stored it at his office in El Cerrito. Eventually, people heard about his collection and fate took over.

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The museum, which pays tribute to the original Playland amusement park in San Francisco, will close on Labor Day to make way for condos.



"People literally started showing up at our front door and they would bring little mementos they had at home. And they said, 'Can we donate it to you.' So we became a museum," said Frank Biafore, the self-described Fabulous Fun Facilitator at Playland Not-At-The Beach.

The museum is a mish-mash of amusement collectibles. There's a Santa's Village with thousands of Christmas collectibles and lights. Biafore describes it as Las Vegas meets the North Pole.

There's a miniature circus with hundreds of thousands of hand-carved pieces, and about 30 pinball machines.

"One of the best things about pinball is finding a 5-year-old playing next to a 55-year-old," said Biafore.

And of course, there are lots of tributes to original Playland At The Beach. There is a car from the Alpine Racer roller coaster that was built in 1959 to replace the Big Dipper, which was demolished because of safety regulations.

"The scariest thing at Playland at the Beach was the roller coaster because it was wooden framed. And you'd get on it and you swear you weren't going to survive," said Sarah Rhodes, who stopped by the museum with her husband.

The Big Dipper was a sister coaster of the Giant Dipper that still thrills visitors at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Despite the name, the Big Dipper was bigger and faster than the Giant Dipper.

A 1955 film about San Francisco by Tullio Pellegrini shows the original Playland (view at 7:47)


One of Biafore's favorite attractions at Playland Not-At-The-Beach is Laffing Sal, a giant clown with a manic laugh and waving arms that welcomed visitors to Playland.

"Sal wasn't supposed to cause nightmares. I'm sure it did," said Biafore jokingly. There were four different Laffing Sals at Playland. One of the originals is now at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Another is at Musee Mecanique at San Francisco's FIsherman's Wharf. The one at Playland Not-At-The-Beach is a replica of one of the originals.



Just like the original amusement park, Playland Not-At-The-Beach will close on Labor Day to make way for condos. It was too expensive to move, so all the items will go up for auction in September, including Laffing Sal.

"They are going to get scattered again. It's sad they are going out of the public eye, but glad they are being preserved," said Biafore.

The museum closes on Monday, September 3. The memorabilia will be sold at a public auction on September 15.
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