Musče Mčcanique

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

The Gypsy Queen fortune telling machine at the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, CA.The Musče Mčcanique is a great place to entertain yourself and the kids for a rainy hour or a day depending on how many quarters you’re willing to part with. Even if you’re not a fan of the usual arcade games, you can admire the craftsmanship of the antique mechanical wonders and read up on the history of carnival and beach boardwalk culture.


Ed Zelinsky started collecting coin-operated games and machines when he was just 11 years old. His first was a penny skill game that he bought for a nickel. He soon discovered that he could get a quick return on investment by having his friends and family put in their pennies to have a try. Over the years he has amassed a collection of over 300 mechanical games, musical instruments and carnival attractions. Most of the collection is on display in the Musče Mčcanique in San Francisco. Visitors to the city prior to 2002 would have found the Musče Mčcanique on the lower level of the Cliff House Restaurant a couple miles down the coast. When the Cliff House remodeled, the Musče relocated to its current home at Pier 45, Shed A at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Machines

The End of the TrailYou can have your fortune told by a wizard or a carnival gypsy, have your palm read by the Mystic Ray or let the Kiss-O-Meter tell you just how hot you are in a range from blah to burning to uncontrollable. For a quarter, the Mystic Ray tells me “You are very prudent, never taking a move without lengthy deliberation…”

I probably should have deliberated longer before investing a quarter in the nearby End of the Trail tableau. It showed a western desert scene with a broken down and tattered wagon and miniature skeleton parts sticking out of the sand. It didn’t look like there was much that could happen mechanically, which made me curious to see what my quarter would do. As the coin clinked, a light came on and lit up the scene and a fan blew gently so that the tattered fabric on the wagon moved ever so slightly. Got me on that one.

The Mechanical Farm at the Musee Mecanique at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, CA.Most of the mechanical tableaus were much grander and had lots of action going on. A carnival scene has hundreds of moveable parts that come to life with the insertion of a few quarters. The Ferris wheel turns; sideshow characters come to life and jungle animals perform. The Unbelievable Mechanical Farm is even more complex with farm animals, a saw mill, hay barn and dozens of characters doing everything from plowing to shoveling coal, from baling hay to reading the newspaper with lots of folks just sitting around chatting.

The "Barber Shop Quart" put on a song and dance for a quarter at the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, CA.Puppets in glass cases dance, sing and ring bells. A whole array of mechanical instruments and music boxes from the turn of the century play a wide variety of tunes – so many in fact that there are three CDs of tunes played on these instruments available in the gift shop or online. Some are straightforward player pianos, others, like the Orchestrion, include a multitude of instruments within a single case.

There are old fashioned tests of skill and strength. The 1928 National Novelty Knockout Fighters pit Zelinsky's "The Hammer" at the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco.two opponents against each other operating a precursor to Rock’em Sock’em Robots. In the Marathon Cycle Race, two players race bicycles around a vertical track. In Zelinsky’s own 1989 creation, The Hammer, two people can match strength by trying to use a lever to lift a heavy hammer and ring a bell. An Arm Wrestling machine warns of the mechanical arm’s “superhuman strength” and gives you two tries to best the machine for a quarter. There are also more modern games of agility, speed and ingenuity from a Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine, to early Atari arcade games and Super Chexx table hockey.

Laffing Sal cackles at visitors to the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, CA.A lot of the machines are too tall for little kids to play easily, but the traditional mechanical horse is always popular and there are step stools around to give the little ones a boost. Some of the machines are definitely PG – especially the giant Laffing Sal and her smaller laughing buddies who have been giving kids nightmares and inspiring horror films for generations.

Musče Mčcanique – Mechanical Museum
Pier 45 Shed A at the end of Taylor Street
Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel: (415) 346-2000

Museums with a View: The Fine Art Museums of San Francisco

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Even on a rainy day, one of the things that the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco have in common is that they both have an interesting view of the city, as well as a distinctive view on art. A ticket to either museum is good to visit both museums on the same day.

The Views Outside

View from the Legion of HonorThe Legion of Honor has commanded its impressive view from Lincoln Park since Alma de Brettville Spreckles gave it to the people of San Francisco in 1924 in honor of the Californians who lost their lives in WWI. A few steps to the north of the parking lot, a path looks out from the park to reveal a striking panorama of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge. To the west, Cypress trees frame a foggy view of the Pacific Ocean, like a Chinese painting hung over the city’s oldest municipal golf course.

The de Young got a new soaring view overThe Observation Floor at the de Young Golden Gate Park when the funnel-shaped 8-story tower was built as part of the new building that opened in 2005. The glassed-in Observation Floor gives you a 360 degree view over the park to the ocean. The tops of downtown skyscrapers can be seen over the neighborhoods to the east and the distinctive orange tips of the Golden Gate peak out above the lush green rise of the Presidio to the north. To the southeast, you can see the construction progress on the new California Academy of Sciences building, scheduled to be completed in 2008.

The View Inside the Legion of Honor

A Dali and a Picasso at the Legion of HonorThe classic colonnade of the Legion of Honor is an appropriate entrance to the Fine Art Museums’ collection of European art from ancient times through the 20th century. Here you will find Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts and their Egyptian predecessors. The Dutch and Flemish Masters of the 17th century give way to the neoclassical works of the 18th century and the early impressionists in the 19th century culminating in the requisite Picasso, Monet and Dali in the 20th century. Other highlights include Medieval French tapestries, 17th century decorative arts, and 18th to 20th century porcelain.

Rodin's The Kiss at the Legion of Honor in San FranciscoThe Legion has one of the most impressive collections of Rodin sculptures in the world, with over 80 pieces on display. The Thinker greets you in the courtyard before you even enter the museum. There are three large galleries and two additional alcoves dedicated to Rodin’s work. Other museums may have more of his large scale bronze pieces, but here you can see the development of the artist through his use of stone, plaster and bronze and the detail of tiny figures to larger than life stone portraits. Some of the more famous works on display are The KissThe Three Shades and The Prodigal Son as well as a small-scale modčle of the Burghers of Calais.

The View Inside the de Young

200 year old Mating Dogs from Mexico.The Legion of Honor covers Europe; the rest of the world is at the de Young. It takes a bit of getting used to transitioning from American classics like John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt to the tribal arts of Africa to pre-Hispanic crafts and Mesoamerican architectural icons. Once you wrap your mind around the culture contrast, it becomes an adventure in artistic diversity.

There’s a certain sense of playfulness to be found in three-thousand-year-old Olmec crawling baby sculptures, two-thousand-year-old pre-Columbian mating dogs and Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick’s giant blown glass Fruit Still Life from 1997.

Switchin' in the Kitchen by Mildred Howard at the de YoungThere is also an air of social commentary in such diverse pieces as Mildred Howard’s vinyl and plaster exposé on racism in the early music industry,Switchin’ in the Kitchen, William Gropper’s portrayal of politicians as monstrous green creatures in his painting, Senate Hearing, or Cornelia Parker’s moving Anti-Mass, a 3-D explosion of suspended debris constructed of the burned remains of a Southern Black Baptist church destroyed by arsonists.

A Culinary View

The Thai Beef Sandwish at the de Young Cafe.The cafes at both the Legion of Honor and de Young are both operated by Bon Apetit Management Company – no relation to the magazine. The Legion of Honor Café is located downstairs and has a quieter, more intimate atmosphere. At the de Young, the Café is on the main level with an outdoor terrace. The glassed-in interior is painted in the same shade of green as the surrounding evergreens, providing a harmonious transition between the inside and outside view.

Since they share the same executive chef, the menus at both restaurants are similar, featuring primarily unique variations on sandwiches – like Thai ginger beef – and organic salads. All dishes are created with local ingredients, and although you place your order at the counter, the food is prepared fresh on demand. You can eat at the café without paying the museum admission if you’re not visiting the museum.

The Legion of Honor is included in the Go San Francisco Card . Once you get your Legion of Honor ticket with the card, you can also get in free the same day to the de Young.

Rodin's The Thinker at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.


Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park
34th Avenue & Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 863-3330

The de Young Museum in San Francisco, Young
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
Cross streets are John F. Kennedy Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
(415) 863-3330

Beach Blanket Babylon: The Little Show that Could

story by Kayte Deioma, photos Š SSPI 2005 David Allen

In the beginning there was sand, a lifeguard and some middle aged hula dancers in a back room at the Savoy Tivoli Restaurant. Thirty-three years later the sand and lifeguards are gone, but the name stuck on the ever-changing panoply of characters and grand millinery that calls itself Beach Blanket Babylon. Within its first year in 1974, the show moved to its current digs at Club Fugazi in North Beach where it still plays to a full house for eight shows a week.

What gives Steve Silver’s little musical review such staying power? In part, it’s the quirky way the show matches itself to the character of its home town of San Amanda Blatchford as the Pineapple Princess Š SSPI 2005 David AllenFrancisco. But much of its longevity can also be attributed to constantly being reinvented to reflect the news of the day. Many long time fans see the show over and over again because the spoofs change from month to month, and because there are always new and bigger hats.

The premise of the show is that home-girl Snow White, played by Shawna Ferris, is looking for her prince, but having a hard time finding him in San Francisco. Enter Renee Lubin as Glinda the Good, a fairly godmother type who sends her off on a round-the-world trip in search of Mr. Right. Along the way she runs into a host of celebrity and political figures parodying your favorite songs from the last five decades. The characters are distinguishable by their gaudy costumes, huge hair and giant hats – from the Carmen Miranda pineapple extravaganza to a grand San Francisco Skyline chapeau that wears Val Diamond, rather than being worn by her.

Val Diamond as Miss Italy Š SSPI 2005 David AllenDiamond, a 27 year veteran of the show, plays a bevy of characters from Rome to Japan and back to San Francisco, belting out classic tunes to fit the moment. In Rome she is a pizza waitress with a giant order pad and pencil on her head dancing with the Chef Boy R D Chefs singing That’s Amore. She’s a Maid in Japan, a Cowgirl and a Jewish Mother. In Paris she entreats Snow White to drop the good girl persona and get trashy as she does the cancan with a bunch of dancing trash cans.

Between appearances as Glinda the Good, Renee Lubin returns as an Italian Oprah, complete with book club on her head; Janet Jackson with a wardrobe malfunction; a blue-clad blues singer with a dynamite version of Ain’t Misbehavin’; and Tina Turner with a wig that looks like she’s wearing Cousin Itt from the Addams Family on her head.

Doug Magpiong as Arnold Schwarzenegger Š SSPI 2005 David AllenThe Monica Lewinsky character has been written out of the show, but Hilary Clinton puts in an appearance as the Statue of Liberty singing You Done Me Wrong while Bill Clinton hangs out with Paris Hilton and the Governator shows up on crutches. A big-eared G.W. Bush appears with a gun-toting Cheney and Condaleezza Rice-a-Roni-head to the tune of Annie Oakley’s You Can’t “Shoot” a Man with a Gun. The political spoof of the week is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as a biker chick in leather toLeader of the Pack.

Some characters, like John Travolta and the Beatles hang around long enough for a song or two. Others, like Ashton and Demi on a tricycle, Tom Cruise, Katie and their alien baby, and the Brokeback Mountain cowboys tucked in giant jeans pockets, appear just long enough for a laugh.

Christa Noel Hunter as Senator Hillary Clinton Š SSPI 2005 David AllenThere are probably 90 bits in 90 minutes, leading up to the ultimate makeover by the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy boys and a happily-ever-after wedding-cake-hat ending. Through all the camp and kitsch, the cast give really stellar performances. All the singers are top notch, but Diamond and Lubin really carry the show.

Club Fugazi is set up cabaret style with cocktail tables on the main floor and balcony. Wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase (cash only). Performances are Wednesday through Sunday. You must be 21 or older to attend any of the evening shows. People under 21 are welcome at the Sunday matinees when no alcohol is served. The theatre opens an hour before the show.

Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi
678 Green Street
San Francisco, CA