History and museums
The Musée Mécanique (English: Mechanical Museum) is a for-profit interactive museum consisting of 20th-century penny arcade games and artifacts located at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California. The museum owns over 300 mechanical machines, and is one of the largest privately owned collection of such games in the world.
Owner Ed Zelinsky began collecting at age 11 and his games were exhibited in the 1920s at Playland. In 1972 Playland closed and Musée Mécanique became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The museum moved into the basement of the famed Cliff House, just a few blocks north and across the Great Highway from the Playland site. Zelinsky's son, Dan Zelinsky, took a temporary job in the 1970s maintaining the collection. The museum was featured in the 2001 film The Princess Diaries and in a 2011 episode of the Japanese television show GameCenter CX.
In 2002 the National Park Service announced plans to relocate the Musée Mécanique temporarily to Fisherman's Wharf upon beginning renovations to the Cliff House. A portion of the $14 million renovation was devoted to the moving the museum, with support from the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and museum owner Ed Zelinsky.
The museum move instigated protests against the move by San Francisco locals. An online petition was created to protest the closure of the museum, with over 12,000 signatures being collected. Many of the protesters believed that the money was unavailable to fund the move and renovations, but many were emotional due to the historical and nostalgic meaning of the museum due to its history at Playland. Many of the protesters were also unaware of the museum's for-profit status, and many attempted to donate to the museum to keep it at its current location. Despite public frustration, museum manager Dan Zelinsky remained excited about the move, understanding the historical and emotional connections that San Francisco locals held for the museum: "You have to understand that people grew up with these kind of machines . . . . To the generation before, these were the video games. Many visitors haven't been here since childhood, but when they walk through that door, they are going back in time." Original plans were slated to have the museum return to the Recreation Area in 2004, upon completion of construction, however the museum remains at Fisherman's Wharf. Despite the locals' love for the original location, National Public Radio described the original space at the Recreation Area as "cramped, noisy, damp and a little dingy,"
The Musée Mécanique is a for-profit museum and is owned by and managed by Dan Zelinsky. The machines require constant maintenance, with some having undergone major restorations. More than 100,000 visitors a year visit the Musée Mécanique. While the museum is free, visitors must pay for use of each game. In 2011 U.S. News & World Report called the Musée Mécanique one of the top three "Things to Do in San Francisco". SF Weekly called it the "Best Old-School Arcade" for 2011.
The Musée Mécanique has a collection of more than 300 mechanical games including: music boxes, coin-operated fortune tellers, Mutoscopes, video games, love testers, player pianos, peep shows, photo booths, dioramas, pinball machines and more. The museum displays about 200 of the machines at their current location.
The museum has many rare and historical pieces. A large diorama of a traveling carnival with a Ferris wheel and other rides sits in the center of the museum. The museum owns what is believed to be the only steam-powered motorcycle in the world, built in Sacramento, in 1912. The Royal Court diorama features couples ballroom dancing and was featured in the Panama–Pacific International Exposition. Laffing Sal, which has been described as "famously creepy", is a 6-foot-tall, laughing automaton and a copy of the original. The museum also owns a collection of machines made out of toothpicks by prisoners at Alcatraz.