For over half a century Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey came to the city by the bay every year without fail, and on almost every Labor Day weekend.
They played the Cow Palace, where they had turned crowds away by the thousands in 1948, above, the year the building was built. I saw the circus there in 1955, during a labor strike when more than half the seats were empty
The Ringling side show, in front of the Cow Palace, 1955
The show returned in 1957, and would play the Cow Palace every year without fail, up until a few seasons ago, when the modern scene with its many issues coming into conflict with circus made it near impossible to pull decent crowds without animal rights protestors spoiling circus day.
In San Francisco, the city of my birth, I saw my first circus, Polack Bros, at the Civic Auditorium. Three images would stay with me: the flying trapeze net, elephants entering the arena, and a clown gag that made me laugh: They lit off a cannon, which only made a squeak, then a small firecracker which produced a huge cannon blast.
The San Francisco I was born into was a real city. Working class families. Factories and produce, and all the ships of commerce that came in and docked, were off loaded and on loaded, and sailed back across the sea. After graduating from high school in another town - Santa Rosa, I went down to live in San Francisco, still enamored of the city. I worked as a bus boy in Foster’s restaurants and as a clerk typist at Planters Peanuts in the warehouse. The SF stint lasted less than a year. I would never live there again.
Because a thriving middle class once lived there, it had a great amusement park that entertained the masses.
Today, Playland-at-the-Beach is long gone, which may tell you something. Most American cities have retained their amusement parks. But San Francisco has dehumanized itself into a cold and heartless, elitist and greedy metropolis for the one percent crowd. Here, the rich make an art of it. And here over precarious landfill by the bay, buildings continue to rise. Nauseating. Now the developers are reaping engineering nightmares: One of the new towers is leaning, believe it or not, and owners of million dollar condos are beside themselves, filing lawsuits, fearing the unthinkable. I feel little sympathy for these high rise hedonists.
All over town, renters, some up in years, are being callously evicted or run off by steep rental hikes, the owners lusting after the new crowd willing to pay anything to live here, or the tourist trade.
I have little feeling for this city. They can’t destroy its natural beauty, but they can and are destroying its character and spirit.
What remains is a freak show of in-your-face liberation fanatics. A smug “sanctuary city,” driven by white guilt. A navel-gazing playground for digital airheads.
San Francisco has a circus school, Static Trapeze among its studies, and some in places of higher leaning point to it as one of America’s best. The roster of teachers is so long, I wonder if there are more instructors than students. I have yet to come across an artist or act at a real circus that came out of the school. No surprise, for that is the state of the States. This country simply does not produce world class acts. Too long a story to substantiate here.
I thought that Ringling might play the Cow Palace to show off their new circus without elephants. But they did not. That's right, the show still flaunts wild animals in the big cage. For this reason alone, not exactly a surprise that Out of This World was panned by the S.F. Chronicle.
I suppose the Felds have had their fill of this place. I can’t blame them.
My mother once saw Sells-Floto Circus in San Francisco. And once upon a season, every labor day, I went to see Ringling Bros. at the great and glorious old cement barn, the Cow Palace.