I grew up in the east bay, in El Cerrito, and I remember going to Playland twice, once in about 1969 and then for my 9th birthday party in 1971. In '69 I was too short for the bumper cars and I stood outside and bawled as my dad and two older sisters whooped and crashed the cars. I remember walking up to the height line and hearing the young man staffing the ride tell me I was too small to drive the cars. Talk about a crushing moment for a kid! I can still smell the graphite and see the sparks from the conductors scraping along the ceiling. In 1971, my main memory is of the Fun House. I wasn't expecting the air jets and I jumped 10 feet when they went off under me. I looked up at the operator and he was grinning because he'd zapped me and I jumped like a scared cat! The big spinning floor disc was fun but unless you sat in the very center you'd go flying off after about three or four revolutions. The big wooden slide was my favorite with it's burlap sacks to ride down on. I must have gone down the slide 100 times. The other challenge was to run through the spinning barrell. My friend Richard Leonard just trotted right through but I kept thinking too hard about it and falling on my rear. Richard finally explained that you had to angle your feet into the rolling motion of the barrell and run 'sideways' rather than straight through. Yes, I remember Laughing Sal and thinking she was just awful. What adult thought her up? My older sister Gail thought Sal was fascinating. I don't remember the run-down aspect of Playland, we kids were just too excited to be there and have fun. Lastly, I remember my mother telling us that Playland was closing and would be replaced by apartments. That was another sad moment for a kid. Oh, and on the day of my birthday party in 1971, we first went to Fisherman's Wharf to go through the Wax Museum. We took two cars, my friends and I were packed into my mother's '66 Ford Falcon while my dad and two sisters and one more friend were packed in dad's '67 Austin Healey 3000.
Side story: An older friend of my family remembers working in the Whitney's house in the Marina district in the late 1950s. He and his crew had been hired to paint the inside of the house. He remembers that there was a 1948 Tucker car in the garage and that Mrs. Whitney would get angry if they left a door ajar (cats would get out) or if they left a light on in one room and worked in another. I figured it out when he mentioned that there were things in the garage that had been used at Playland. I guess there were old, unused items from Playland that Mr. Whitney kept and stored in his garage. When I asekd him if the name was Whitney he said, "Yeah, that was the old lady's name." Fascinating.