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.
San Francisco’s giant camera obscura near the now abandoned cliff house was recently damaged by the bomb cyclone pineapple express atmospheric river pic.twitter.com/0HVrIgvRyV— Michael Pfister ❼ (@pfista) January 9, 2023
“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.”
Just got photos of the damaged Giant Camera at the Cliff House: siding stripped off, roof partly gone. Yikes. Sad historical note: the lettering reading "Camera Obscura" (the attraction's original name) revealed by the destruction. (Thanks for the sad photos Erik Butterfield) pic.twitter.com/HOmcUj4qdw— John Martini (@johnamartini) January 6, 2023
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.
"The recent storms have peeled off part of the modified 1957 exterior of the Camera Obscura to reveal a glimpse of the earlier, pre-1957 façade — which hasn't been seen for 65 years." https://t.co/8zHFldBmut pic.twitter.com/L0kgaH9beU— cfMC FEROX (@cfmceroz1) January 8, 2023
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.
This speaks to my SF soul:— Zack Seward (@zackseward) January 10, 2023
"The Camera Obscura faced a new challenge with the recent storms. The high winds tore off the part of the structure that had been added to the southeast side during the 1957 widening and caused damage to the roof."https://t.co/4S0kY2hpcq pic.twitter.com/0mSzZS6ioF
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.