A 10-pound plush bear head mount. Cast iron figures. A curved fun house mirror. Toys including a clown bank, vintage teddy bear and wooden carousel giraffe.
These are among the dozens of memorabilia items from San Francisco’s iconic amusement park Playland at the Beach — which was torn down more than four decades ago — that will be sold at an auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., next week, along with other historic artifacts, like a rare Civil War sword.
“It is the neatest stuff,” said Josh Levine, owner and auctioneer of J. Levine Auction and Appraisal. “We do a lot of high-profile or bizarre estates, but I’ve never had one this strange.”
What began as a collection of amusement rides and concessions in the late 1800s eventually grew into San Francisco’s iconic waterfront carnival, with more than a dozen rides and concession stands. The park was denolished in 1972 to make way for condos, though pieces of its history are still sprinkled throughout the Bay Area, from the Its-It ice cream sandwich that was first sold at Playland to its carousel, which is now located at Yerba Buena Gardens.
In addition to the some 70 items from Playland that will be sold at the auction, the previous owners comprise a slice of American history as well.
Neil Murray, whose estate provided the items for the auction, is a descendent of Civil War hero Gen. Armstrong Custer.
Murray’s late wife Patricia acquired the Playland items at a sale following the amusement park’s demolition in 1972. Next week’s auction marks the first time they will be available to the public since then.
Woody LaBounty, who co-founded the Western Neighborhoods Project that’s dedicated to preserving the history of San Francisco’s west side, said an assembly of Playland items this size could mark the largest collection ever available for sale.
“What I’ve mostly seen is little bits of pieces being sold, usually individually,” LaBounty said. “I don’t know of another auction that has that many items.”
Interestingly, at the auction immediately following Playland’s closure, it was difficult to find buyers for many of the items, LaBounty noted. In fact, a video depicting that challenging sale was shown at the Outer Richmond’s Balboa Theater on Wednesday night.
“You can see the auctioneer trying to sell this stuff, and nobody wanted it,” LaBounty said.
Next week’s auction will undoubtedly see different results — Levine expects the collection will sell for around $100,000.
Whether some of the items will return to San Francisco is another question. LaBounty said it’s possible San Francisco residents with ties to The City and extra money to spend will bid on the items, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be available to the public once they’re purchased.
“What’s kind of sad is I don’t know if the public will get to see [them],” LaBounty said of the collection. “It usually goes in somebody’s house. It would be great to have it back out in the public and people could learn the story of Playland at the Beach.”
When: July 28-30, 11 a.m.
Where: 10345 N. Scottsdale Road, Ariz.