Playland At The Beach.
I suppose most British folk wouldn’t know about this place. You might think of it as a low rent Blackpool if you can imagine such a thing. You may have seen glimpses of the fun house in movies like Harold & Maud and Orson Wells’ Lady From Shanghai. What? You haven’t seen those movies? Well stop reading this post and get yourself some culture!
Don’t worry, I’ll be right here when you’re done.
Very well, so you know that crazy maniacally laughing puppet woman from those two movies? Her name was Laughing Sal. She used to sit in the corner window of the fun house and scare the piss out of little kids. Which is probably a good thing because it’s best to get all that fear out of your system before you risk your life on all the dangerous rides inside.
If you’d like to know more about this amusement park from a bygone era, check out this preview for the documentary Remembering Playland.
Now that I’ve built all this up, I have a confession to make. This article isn’t about Playland At The Beach. This is a story about Richard Tuck; businessman, circus owner, and long-time collector of amusement memorabilia and pinball games. In the year 2000 Tuck bought a 9000 square foot store in the city of El Cerrito, located across the bay from San Francisco. Besides serving as the headquarters for a very respectable Financial Staffing company, Richard also used this as a storage place for his amusement collection which did happen to include a number of items from Playland At The Beach.
On Friday nights Richard would invite friends over to play pinball. His friends would call and say, “Rich is Funland/Disneyland/Boardwalk open for pinball tonight?” Until one time when a friend asked him if he was going to have pinball at Playland, and his immediate reply was, “Yes, but not at the beach.” and Playland Not At The Beach was born. Over the years Richard built a volunteer network of over 150 people who helped him catalogue and build displays for his collection, and in 2008, Richard’s “museum of fun” opened to the public.
What’s especially cool about this place is that it’s not like any other “for profit” amusement venture. It feels more like community recreation centre, but with lots of really cool stuff. The museum also has a whimsical ad hoc feel to it, which also adds to its charm. Richard once told a local newspaper, “While the building was being renovated to create the maze-like qualities inside, you could find laymen of many different fields working on projects in the hallways. We likened it to being on the steering committee for building Disneyland; with no Walt Disney.” Essentially the volunteers had free rein to do whatever they wanted.
One of the key centrepieces to Richard Tuck’s collection is a massive hand-carved wooden circus.
Here is an excerpt from the playland website which nicely describes this wonderful exhibit:
The “Circus World” display area reaches back to a day in 1930 when the great Sells-Floto Circus rolled into town. This astonishing exhibit features thousands of hand carved miniature figures that realistically depict the Circus’s side-show, menagerie of exotic animals, the three-ring big-top (complete with flying trapeze artists, tigers and clowns), dressing rooms, cook house, dining tent, horse farm, veterinary and blacksmith shop. It is one of the greatest examples of American folk art ever created. Carved by Don Marcks, a life-long circus enthusiast, and his father Isaac, the circus took over 50 years to complete. The project was originally intended to provide Don, who suffered from scarlet fever as a child, with a creative outlet and pastime.
Did I forget to mention that this is a video series? I visited Playland Not At The Beach a few weeks back and I’ve made some cool short films. Our first instalment features “Circus World” and some cool circus and Playland memorabilia. And look out for Sinister Sal, an evil 2.0 version of Laughing Sal that Richard commissioned.
In upcoming instalments we will check out some Spooky Pinball, visit Santa’s village, and check out even more games and memorabilia.
“GoddTodd visits Playland Not At The Beach” is a four part video series showcasing the legacy of Richard Tuck, founder of Playland Not At The Beach, Emeryville California, USA.