Storms and high winds blow walls off Camera Obscura at Land's End

Storms and high winds blow walls off Camera Obscura at Land's EndImage: @johnamartini via Twitter
Joe Kukura
Published on January 10, 2023

The historic Land’s End San Francisco amusement park Playland-at-the-Beach was demolished more than 50 years ago, but one photo-worthy component of it remains. That’s the optical attraction Camera Obscura, built in 1946, and a survivor of the 1972 demolition. Well, a survivor of the demolition until the current round of storms, as SFGate reports the Camera Obscura suffered major storm damage, as seen in a number of tweets embedded below. 


“There was a mudslide and I couldn’t even get down Point Lobos Avenue,” the attraction’s operator Robert Tacchetto told SFGate. “Then I saw the bad news. I was kind of shocked, but it was expected. This is one of the biggest storms we’ve had in over a hundred years.” 


Ironically, the damage exposes what the Camera Obscura used to look like, or at least, part of it. Walls ripped down by the wind were 1957-era walls, not the originals. In 1957, the outer facade of the attraction was rebuilt so that architecturally, the small building represented an oversize Kodak camera. At that point, it was renamed Giant Camera, a name that never quite took, and the original ‘Camera Obscura’ lettering is now once again visible.


But most importantly, the camera contraption itself is not damaged. (Of course, it’s not a camera; Leonardo da Vinci is credited with inventing the ‘pinhole camera’ concept, though earlier versions date back as far as 500 B.C.). The attraction Holograph Gallery is also unharmed by the weather, and Tacchetto is hoping insurance covers the repair costs.


On the occasion of this sad damage, OpenSFHistory has a rundown of all of the Camera Obscuras in San Francisco. “The Camera Obscura at the Cliff House is not the first one in San Francisco,” that site notes, adding that there had been other such devices at Woodward’s Gardens (late 1890s) and the Haight Street Chutes (early 1900s). And oddly, there had also been a camera obscura at the original Cliff House that opened in 1896, at the very same location. That camera obscura was likely destroyed in the 1907 fire.