STEEPLECHASE PARK – SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Written by Jeffrey Stanton
Little is known about George Tilyou's Steeplechase park located in Central Park at 8th and Market Streets in San Francisco. A search in the newspaper digital archives at the San Francisco Library for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Call yielded only several small advertisements in late 1899 and an article in January 1906 about new owners revamping the park.
George Tilyou, successful owner of Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, decided to open additional Steeplechase rides in selected cities in the United States. His gravity-driven Steeplechase "Horse" ride was a simulated a horse race. Four to eight riders (room for two riders on the saddle) coasted down a hill atop horses straddling metal rails, around turns, over dips and rises like a gentle roller coaster until one horse won as it crossed the finish line. The horse with the heaviest riders was most likely to win. It was an exciting English patented ride that Tilyou greatly improved.
Tilyou chose Central Park in downtown San Francisco at Market Street and 8th as his site. The park was previously a baseball field with grandstand bleachers so it didn’t take much to clear the area. Basically the large Steeplechase ride was surrounded by booths and other attractions. As one can see from the map below that only the large ride and a building depicting the Battle of Manila in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war are shown. The battle scenes were staged with miniature ships and special effects while its circular walls behind the spectators depicted the harbor and city.
Steeplechase / Central Park - 1899 Map
The park opened daily from 1 to 11:30 P.M. in early November 1899, (at least it was the first time advertised). Ten cent admission included a ride on the “Horses,” but there were 25 other attractions. There was a Great Roman Carousel, Razzle Dazzle rocking swing, Earthquake Floor, Aerial Trolley, Bicycle Circus (circular bicycle ride that riders had to pedal to cause the chain of hooked together cycles to move), and a Shooting Gallery with moving targets. There was an Edison motion picture theater that was showing the entire Jeffries – Fitzsimmons boxing bout.
Steeplechase Ride - Since no photos are available for the San Francisco park, the ride at Coney Island is shown.
Outdoor entertainment acts included Captain Beach, billed as an aquatic marvel who eats and smokes underwater. Professor Hill had a high wire act.
Since George Tilyou business was at Coney Island on the other side of the country, he relied on his manager to run the park in his absence. The man skimmed the profits and was fired in 1901 when Tilyou found out. It is not known whether the park remained open or how long.
It was announced in January 1906 that a San Francisco Company with Roy Mauvais as president and general manager, D.R. McNeil, who has held the park lease for several years, will spend $100,000 to transform the park. They will build a roller rink with a capacity of 2500 skaters on a floor 250 x 100 feet. In front of the rink will be a miniature Pike devoted to amusements and refreshments..In addition there will be a large main building built atop where the old baseball field was located. It will be suitable for different venues, perhaps an automobile show. Considering buildings were often built within a few weeks, it is possible the park opened before the April 18, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It is likely that what was left of the park burned with the rest of San Francisco west of Van Ness Avenue.
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