Pacific City

Pacific City (Click to enlarge.)

Pacific City (Click to enlarge.)

“The Coney island of the West”

An amusement park was promoted by the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce, local businessmen and civic leaders who envisioned the area would rival Coney Island and Atlantic City. Surely the greatest on the West Coast. Mid-peninsula would be transformed in to a resort area. Optimism was common in the 1920’s when speculation in financial ventures, stocks and land developments were considered to be an endless “cash cow.”

David Stollery, a real estate developer and manager of the Howard estate, owner of Coyote Point, conceived the idea of the giant amusement park on land that was a favorite beach and picnic area for residents of the Peninsula.

In September 1921, a syndicate of San Francisco investors purchased 90 acres of beachfront property, land between Peninsula and Burlingame Avenue and from what today is the Bayshore Freeway to the eucalyptus studded, Coyote Point. The purchase price of $100,000 included 200 acres of submerged land.

This was a period of great vitality. San Francisco and San Mateo capitalists financed a major portion of the construction expenditure, one million dollars, while a substantial amount of money came from the pockets of many local businessmen. Developers, investors and merchants envisioned great prosperity from the hoards of pleasure seekers who would invade their towns to visit Pacific City.

Construction progressed quickly after the financing was in place. At the end of Howard Avenue, Burlingame, the tall impressive arches, the entrance to Pacific City, reached skyward. Just inside the arches was the frame of the world’s most terrifying roller coaster,’the Comet’. Operators of the hair-raising thrill ride, with an 80-foot dip, claimed it to be the highest, longest, and fastest roller coaster west of Detroit.

Crowds enjoy Pacific City. (Click to enlarge.)

Crowds enjoy Pacific City. (Click to enlarge.)

July 1, 1922, the grand opening, a four-day celebration began. A crowd of 17,000 each paid a dime to pass through the gates, anxious to experience the park that investors poured-in nearly a million dollar to develop. Crowds increased by the thousands, each day until July 4, 1922, the single most glorious day in the brief history of Pacific City. 100,000 people entered the park. A special Independence Day parade began from the Burlingame railroad station to pacific City. Marchers wore costumes, some as symbolic figures like Uncles Sam, Miss Columbia, Dolley Madison, and Martha Washington. At the park, flags were flying, bands were playing and concessionaries were busy. Food was dispended at a rapid pace. 24,000 hot dogs were sold in a single day. Lines formed quickly for rides on the Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and Dodg-em cars. Nurses were hired to care for toddlers so that parents could enjoy the park.

Jutting into the Bay, a 468-foot pier accommodated excursion steamers that arrived from Mission Street, San Francisco and other landings in the Bay Area. Berthed at the pier, The Ocean Wave, a converted navy ship, provided elegant dining with ‘the most unique setting in California’.

Next to the pier and fronting on the 3200-foot boardwalk, a spacious dance pavilion, capacity 2000 couples, featured some of the finest dance bands of the time.

Along the boardwalk,’the greatest bathing beach on the Pacific Coast’ was created after 2,000 tons of white sand was trucked in from Monterey.

The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Market Street Railway provided expanded service to Burlingame. Elephant trains waited at the depot to whisk the anxious revelers to the park. Others saved the nickel fare by walking. The El Camino Real was the main artery for auto travel, while the Bayshore Highway was only a dream.

Before sunset on the 4th, fog rolled in along with cold winds. As a $5,000 fireworks display was set off from the end of the pier, the crowd’s enthusiasm was soon diminished by the cold. Weather records for the past ten years, at this time, were fogless and windless.

Conventions and gatherings were drawn to the new park. In August 1922, 2000 fire chiefs held their national conference at Pacific City, and later in the month, American Legion Day was celebrated by veterans from San Francisco to Gilroy. Big name entertainers appeared at Pacific City including renowned Harry Houdini. For children, Pacific City was the place to celebrate a birthday.

As crowds dwindled, the ‘takes’ of the concessionaires dropped below their opening records and finally maintenance costs. When it closed in November to make repairs and additions for a gala 1923, one million people had entered the park.

The gates opened the following May 1923 to an optimistic public on a cheerful note; however, a new obstacle confronted Pacific City. Burlingame’s rapid growth did not provide for sewage disposal. Raw sewage was discharged to the bay. The undesirable odor of sewage cast a shadow over park attendance and, because of polluted water, the county health officials closed the beach for swimming.

At the end of the 1923 season, the lights went out at Pacific City. Little was torn down, merely deserted. Owners faced bankruptcy. In 1925, the property was sold and some parts reopened for a few years. Vandalism and fires eventually caused all to be torn down except the grand entrance gates to Pacific City and the dance pavilion, later used as a roller skating rink. In 1946, the roller skating rink with its white maple floor was demolished. The pier remained until after 1950.

Today, a lone palm tree, west of the Peninsula Humane Society, stands as a last reminder of the once elegant Pacific City.

Note: Please visit “Exhibits” to see the Pacific City – Coney Island of the West story and photos

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