Shoot-the-Chutes in San Francisco

Shoot-the-Chutes was a very popular feature in San Francisco during the turn of the century.

Capt. Paul Boyton created the Shoot-the-Chutes in New York for the famous Coney Island. It proved a money winner, so he built one outside the 1893 World’s Fair at Chicago where it succeed beyond his dreams.

The people loved it.

The (flat-bottom boats) Shoot-the-Chutes traveled at 60 mph down an incline which rose 70 feet above the ground and down a slope 350 feet long into a man-made lake. The ride thrilled everyone. Accidents did occur and some took a bath when the boats overturned but the passengers only got a little wet. Boyton decided to go national so he sold rights to use his model to many cities. The first city to build a chute happened outside the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair in San Francisco, inside the Golden Gate Park. Railroad attorney Charles Ackerman acquired property on Haight Street between Cole and Clayton streets and opened it to the public Nov. 2, 1895. The site was within walking distance of the Children’s Park in Golden Gate Park’s east end. A trolley ran by the chute and ended at the Children’s Park in Golden Gate Park.

The Shoot-the-Chutes became an instant success. He charged 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for children. When it opened, it had only the chutes and a food concession stand. At the top of the chute, he had a Camera Obscura housed in a Japanese structure. It had a convex lens focused on a mirror that gave the view of the area around the chutes. It was totally dark in this structure and the operator suddenly pulled a lever that released the chute and the passengers suddenly dropped down the slope at 60 mph. What a thrill.

Later in the year, he enlarged his concession (for an extra fee) to include a scenic railway that was almost a roller coaster. It made dips and circled the perimeter of the park, almost a mile in length. At the end of the ride, it went into a 600-foot tunnel that had lit-up scenic worldwide views of foreign lands. The chutes offered food concessions but no alcoholic beverages were sold. It was a very clean operation and family-oriented. A miniature railway, named “Little Hercules,” that ran on a 9-inch track gauge was built for the park as well as a English-built merry-go-round named the “The Galloping Horses” that gave a gently up and down movement that the American merry-go-rounds were lacking at this time. This was free to the children.

Numerous activities were added to the Shoot-the-Chutes. A “bewildering London Door Maze” challenged patrons and drove many crazy in their effort to get out.

The zoo opened in 1896 with animals from around the world. Animals such as Wallace the Lion, a jaguar, bears, a small pride of lions, kangaroos, leopards and a family of Orangutans, plus other animals. A Darwinian Temple housed a variety of monkeys with a glass case in the middle of the temple that had reptiles in it.

A chutes museum of animals was built that housed dead stuffed animals. A great curiosity for the kids.

On June 27, 1897, a 100-foot-wide-by-130-foot-long theater was opened. It had seating for 2,000 on the lower floor and 1,000 in the gallery. This turned out to be a big money winner as it had class acts from the country as well as local amateur nights, etc.

All went well until the property became too valuable and houses were to be built on the site. Also, the area was becoming too small for all of the attractions so, on March 16, 1902, the site was razed and a new site on “D” street (now Fulton) between 10th and 11th avenues (on the north side of Golden Gate Park) was chosen for the new chutes. All of the concessions found their way to the new site and a new Pavilion Theater that could accommodate 4,000 patrons was built. The new site boasted the first movie house in the city, named Gillo’s Artesto. It offered silent film short movies. Many other attractions were added such as “Down the Flumes” that offered a boat ride that passed scenic panoramas over 10 scenes from foreign places and the Circle Swing that had baskets on a wire that swung out from the center that went faster and faster and higher and higher.

The 1906 earthquake shut the chutes down for a few weeks but things had begun to change and the business finally closed in 1907-08 for repairs. It finally closed in 1909 after having built a new skating rink. They promised the site would reopen, but it never did. The skating rink, however, reopened.

On March 9, 1909, the owners announced that the chutes would rebuilt downtown between Fillmore, Turk, Webster and Eddy streets. The site was too small for the chutes, so they built a less than thrilling “Down the Flume” and painted scenes around the site. On May 29, 1911, a fire destroyed the park.

The management assured the public that they would rebuild, but it never happened.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.

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