Expedition 2: Dioramas, murals and games

July 19, 2023. Yesterday’s Wednesday Expedition #2 was so much fun I’m making it official. Every Wednesday is expedition day! I took the bus to Jack London Square. Did you know there’s an observation deck above the ferry entry? Not a heck of a lot to observe but fun to discover.

I had a bite to eat at the Ferry Building and then headed to the Chinese Historical Society to see some dioramas (dioramas!!!) that are on permanent display. Frank Wong created these from memories of growing up in the 40’s and 50’s in SF Chinatown. They show his grandparents’ laundry business and their home decorated for Christmas with a mah-jongg set on the table. I don’t think the SRO hotel room was a personal memory (anyone remember the old I Hotel on Kearny Street?). Great detail! I think I see See’s candy boxes in the Christmas scene. 

Next I walked up Grant Avenue and up the hill to Coit Tower. I was pretty sweaty when I got there so I was bummed out to discover the elevator to the top is out of service. I admired the murals on the ground floor and the decided it would be silly not to go all the way up, so I did. 234 steps! The view was clear in all directions despite the weather forecast of clouds. 

Back at the gift shop I asked about the murals I’d seen in the stairwell on the first two levels. They didn’t have any information about them because they are rarely on view. When the elevator is working, you must take it. So most people don’t even know those murals are there, much less have seen them. I ended up being grateful the elevator was broken! 

I really liked the mural depicting very calm and somber looking people enjoying leisurely activities. Unlike the lower floor and ground floor murals which are very busy and layered, these have a lot of space between figures which makes it feel like time is passing slowly, or as if they are out of time entirely. 

For my third stop I walked down from the tower on the Filbert Street Steps. They pass through many charming gardens. Apparently, there are 400 steps down to the Embarcadero, quite a few more than I walked to get to the tower top. I hoofed it up the Embarcadero to Pier 45 and the Musee Mechanique, which was relocated there from Playland in 2002. 

The Musee is filled with video games, driving and shooting games, real basketball games, fortune telling machines and many weird games that are over 100 years old, all crammed together willy nilly. I was only interested in the old games which you can play for a quarter. 25 cents, people! What else can you do in SF (or anywhere) for 25 cents! I’m so impressed this place is still here after all this time and not neatened up or improved. It was pretty crowded on an early Wednesday evening. 

These wacky games include an execution, dancing and singing crude wooden dolls, an opium den and a stagecoach abandoned in the desert. That was the most surreal one. I put my quarter in which caused wind to gently move the tattered coach fabric cover while you contemplate the human and animal skeletons. The entire soundtrack was the sound of wind blowing. Just wow. Then of course I had to get a photo with Laughing Sal. 

I got the streetcar back to Market Street and BART to Ashby. Once there I was pretty pooped so I rented a scooter for my final mile home. A very successful expedition! 

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