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Musée Mécanique

When she was small, I used to take my niece to the Cliff House at the North end of Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  We'd head downstairs to a dark room off the terrace and throw a quarter into the box in front of the 8 foot tall doll with red, curly hair.  The giant's upper body would start moving, and hideous cackles and laughs issued from somewhere in her depths.  My niece and every other kid under the age of seven within view would begin to cry!  Laughing Sal had been terrifying children since her days across the street at the Playland amusement park, and when it closed, she found a home with Edward Zelinsky's collection of coin-operated mechanical creations.

We'd head across the terrace to the giant Camera Obscura after leaving the musée, and inside the giant pinhole camera, we'd watch the waves of ocean beach projected onto a white disc before going back out to explore the remains of the old Sutro Baths.  If it was late enough in the day, we'd have a snack at the Cliff House and watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  Alas, that routine is now broken up

Several years ago, the Cliff House renovated and recreated itself as a stark art deco building, and the musée was kicked out of its home.  It found a new space on Fisherman's Wharf, a better location for foot traffic.  When my niece, who is now a married woman, and I went by recently, we were not as impressed.  The space is brighter, cleaner and has higher ceilings.  But without the dark, closed-in feel, it lost a little of its charm for me.  Even Sal seems a bit less imposing!  I still enjoy the machines, though, and more likely than not, I'll be back.