Laffing Sal, San Francisco’s Creepiest Tourist Attraction

I moved to San Francisco, way out near the ocean, in 1972. Just a short walk from my house was a rubble strewn, abandoned theme park called Playland at the Beach. I wandered through just before the wrecking ball smashed it to smithereens. Playland had a roller coaster, a fun house, a replica of Noah’s Ark, a diving bell. Its creepy ambience costarred in Orson Welles’ “Lady From Shanghai,” “The Princess Diaries,” and many others, some of dubious distinction such Roger Corman’s “X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes.”

The Big Dipper - Playland at the Beach, San Francisco

Playland may be gone, but one attraction remains undead, a wire, fabric and paper mache’ mechanical action figure, a woman the size of a horse with a horse-like laugh, a recurring childhood nightmare named Laffing Sal.

When Playland was torn down, someone ripped off Sal’s head, but the man who developed the condos that replaced Playland commissioned a new one. There were probably dozens of Sals and variations herof around the country. They were produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company during the 20s and 30s. Sal’s voice was originally provided by a stack of 78 RPM records played on a turntable concealed in her base. That was replaced by a cartridge tape and now, like everything else, she’s gone digital.

One Sal was purchased by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for $50 thousand dollars. Sal also still lives at a museum of Playland artifacts in El Cerrito, California called Playland Not at the Beach. Playland’s carousel was restored and is operating at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center.

One Sal is still creeping out children and adults alike at the Musée Mécanique, an historic collection of carnival games, player pianos, automaton fortune tellers and the like at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. We bribed her to “laff” by inserting some quarters.

So give the old girl a watch…and sweet dreams.

Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop: A Playpen for Artists and Makers (Video)

Fog Bank – Kristina Larsen and Sebastian Martin – Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop, San Francisco

Do it yourselfers! You could only wish for a workshop like this.

Autodesk, which makes Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) software that designs everything from sports stadiums to videogame characters has built a playpen for artists, architects, furniture-makers, and other creative types (even chefs) to stretch their imaginations using some very expensive machines.

Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop in San Francisco is an offshoot of do-it yourself web site Instructables.com, a web hub for the so-called “maker movement.”

Here, artists design using the company’s software and build some marvelous things with tools which consist of everything from 3D printers to CNC machines, Computer Numerical Control contraptions that drill, mill or cut with computer guided accuracy.

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A Space for Place: Photography at SF’s Pier 24

Pier24 Shapshots

At first glance the hill looks like a bunny slope only that this one is covered in snapshots. Yes, real snapshots. 350,000 of them to be exact, a representative sampling of the over one million photos uploaded for public viewing on Flickr in one given day during 2010. The exhibit was part of San Francisco’s Pier 24 Photography gallery’s current show, “A Sense of Place.”

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