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The California Snatch Racket

San Francisco's Lost Landmarks

Playland at the Beach
The Early Years

Playland at the Beach
The Golden Years

I was born and raised in San Francisco, the city being my family's home since 1856. When I meet people who used to live in San Francisco or visited in years gone by, they often give me the tired old line, "I used to love going there but it's no longer the same." That's the point of my book, San Francisco's Lost Landmarks, published by Quill Driver Books / Word Dancer Press. San Francisco has never been "the same" in its entire history and it's not just because of the 1906 earthquake and fire. The city began in a state of metamorphosis and has never stopped. Fifty years from now, the complaints will be the same.

I've captured some of the fun places and events in the city with the goal of entertaining first, then educating. There's no test at the end of San Francisco's Lost Landmarks. With over 150 photos and graphic representations, it's written to be read. San Francisco's Lost Landmarks is available at local bookstores and through Amazon.com as well as from this site (autographed).

A second book, California Snatch Racket: Kidnappings in the Prohibition and Depression Years is now complete and will be published by Craven Street Books, release planned for Spring 2010. Co-authored with noted radio personality, writer and historian W. Lane Rogers, it offers a new looks at the kidnapping trend of the early twentieth century.

My first book about Playand at the San Francisco's Playland at the Beach: The Early Years was written with many thanks to the support from Playland-Not-at-the-Beach and friends. It's casual reading - nearly 250 photos with captions covering the period from the park's soft opening in the mid-1910s until 1940. See the Big Dipper Roller Coaster being built and then ride it through the "80 foot" drop - 21 pictures of the Big Dipper alone including the builders getting out to push. Nineteen rides covered as well as a slew of attractions, arcades and restaurants including the Hot House and Topsy's Roost.

The latest book about Playand at the Beach, San Francisco's Playland at the Beach: The Golden Years is a comprehensively documented and illustrated history of the park from 1940 until its closing in 1972. It is the definitive and authoritative look at one of America's landmark amusement parks, Playland at the Beach, a glamorous park that is still revered by San Franciscans more than 40 years after it closed. Rare photographs of Playland at the Beach include the Fun House, the famous Looff Merry-Go-Round, the clubs & attractions (remember Chet Helms' Family Dog and the Model Car Raceways?). Not to be missed are photos of the park's great rides like Shoot the Chutes, the Big Dipper and the Diving Bell. Take stroll down memory lane to San Francisco's Ocean Beach from World War II to 1972 when this beloved amusement park closed forever.

California historian James R. Smith is the author of San Francisco's Lost Landmarks and San Francisco's Playland at the Beach: The Early Years, as well as a number of historical articles. He co-authored The California Snatch Racket: Kidnappings during the Prohibition and Depression Eras with friend and noted author W. Lane Rogers.

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