San Francisco

Playland Not at the Beach: Unusual Bay Area Museum to Go on the Auction Block

The unusual museum and arcade founded in an El Cerrito office building in tribute to San Francisco’s long-defunct Playland At The Beach will end its 10-year run this weekend with an “everything goes” auction that will include pinball machines, miniature cities and an original Laughing Sal.

Playland Not At The Beach, as it was named, closed on Labor Day after the landlords of the office building housing the museum decided to tear it down to make way for apartments. The museum and arcade was founded by late business man Richard Tuck in 2008 as a nostalgic tribute to Playland and arcades of eras past. Tucked died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer leaving the business to several friends who kept it running another seven years.

“This is very much who Richard was,” said co-owner Frank Biafore, who goes by the moniker Fabulous Frank. “He loved bringing people together, he loved teaching. The fact we were able to keep this going seven years after he passed is just wonderful.”

The auction to sell all the museum’s contents was originally scheduled to take place this Saturday at the museum but Michaan’s Auctions moved the bidding to its Alameda headquarters following a flood of interest. The company is hosting previews at the museum on Thursday and Friday with the auction taking place noon Saturday and going until everything is sold.

“A lot of these historic pieces as well you don’t see these anymore,” said Michaan Auction’s spokeswoman Talesa Eugenio. “A lot of the new games out there, are on everybody’s phones.”

The idea germinated after Tuck created a “fun room” in the back of the building housing his job placement company. But the collection grew and took over the entire building, eventually including a haunted house, a circus sideshow, an arcade and a miniature Santa’s Village. Visitors paid admission to access the collection and games.

The original Playland at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach closed in 1972 and was torn down. Biafore said Tuck visited the park as a kid and the memory stuck with him.

“Ironically we followed the same path as Playland,” Biafore said. “They came down for condos, we came down for apartments. They closed Labor Day ’72, we closed Labor Day this year.”

This week, Biafore and a team of workers stuffed historic pictures, office items and other mementoes into boxes. Biafore said during its run the museum hosted weddings, birthday parties — even divorce parties. He said he and his business partners made an attempt to find another location for the collection but found prospective sites too expensive.

So instead he prepared to part with colorful articles of yesteryear which he hoped would mostly remain in public view. Just beyond a stack of boxes, Laughing Sal wasn’t laughing. An original papier-mache clown from Playland sat in a darkened display case. Biafore described the scene as bittersweet.

“So many happy memories were created here,” Biafore said, “that I can’t feel sorry for what’s happening at this minute.”

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