Project: Playland not at the Beach aka "A Playland for All" - 2005
Medium: Acrylics on Canvas / Sheetrock
Dimensions: 10' x 30'
Location: Interior hallway of Lander International
                 Corner of Jefferson and San Pablo, El Cerrito

Richard Tuck had loved the legendary Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park in San Francisco, near the Cliff House. As a child growing up in Santa Rosa, it was his favorite place to go, and his fondest memories were of being there, enjoying its pleasures to the fullest. 

In homage to it, Richard had built an indoor amusement center, Playland--not-at-the-Beach, which was a nostalgic look back at Whitney's original oceanside amusement paradise that ran from 1927-1972.  In a converted grocery store, a small group of dedicated individuals had created a mini fantasy 

wonderland for both kids and adults. Richard's "regular" job was running Lander International, a corporate headhunting firm, and he'd prospered with it. I'd also had a longtime interest in San Francisco history, including Playland, Sutro Baths, and the Cliff House, so we had made an immediate connection. He also had about 30 pinball machines in the arcade area there, which solidified our common-interest bond.

I was given a tour around the Playland complex before it opened, and Richard identified no less than 55 walls that needed murals, both indoor and outdoor! I did an estimate, and told him that there was about 5.5 years worth of work there, even with the help of assistants and volunteers. 

Undaunted by the scope of the project, we decided to plunge in, beginning with a long hallway in the far back of the area. An enormous amount of research went into the Playland For All mural. I tried to find everything visual I could at that particular moment in time, and came up with about 1,000 images. Today there are perhaps 1,500 publicly available historic views of the original Playland amusement park.  

A design was created, and, at this point, I asked Ed Cassel to be on the painting team. Ed had created the geometric spiral mural on the exterior of the Oakland’s Public Library main branch, and had extensive experience, so he was an obvious choice. His suggestions and technique were welcomed, and his knowledge of popular culture, music, movies and enjoyment of Americana / Amusement Parks, made him a perfect fit for this massive project.

Over the course of a year and a half, we worked in this tight, four-foot-wide hallway, and because we couldn't back up to view the mural as a whole like one would usually do, everything had to be photo-realistically precise, to leave no margin for error. Around 6-8 volunteers pitched in to help on this piece, including Isabelle Graser, Forest Eliyah, Ben Bush, and Katherine Gressel. Working at Playland was unusual in a number of ways. Tuck had actually built it all once before, but had had to tear it all down to satisfy the City of El Cerrito building codes.

Normally, if one was painting the interior walls at The Louvre, you would take the Mona Lisa down and put it in safe storage. In this case we were working directly around the historic exhibits, so we had to be extremely careful.  People who had personal history with the old amusement park were constantly dropping by with 

photos and souvenirs, adding to what was already known about Playland SF. On some special days, Richard would stop work on both businesses and take everyone out to lunch, ordering everything on the menu for us!

The mural changed over time, and many other walls were painted parallel to the hallway (the decorative Midway ceiling, the Kewpie Doll wall, the Marks Miniature circus area, and the Laughing Sal architecture, just to name a few) and it was wonderfully challenging. We also painted a 3-D room with Wildfire paints, so that when you put on special glasses, the room took on visual depth.

Richard passed in 2005. He was the most fun and generous person I've ever known, and I miss him very much. Today, Playland-not-at-the-Beach has the great Frank Biafore at the helm, continuing with the parties, birthdays, adult nights and special events that make it what it is. Unfortunately, Playland’s future is in doubt and there is a crowd sourcing page on line that is trying to keep it open.  Please visit to help.

Photos by Rob Perica.