Do you have a quarter? Check out the bizarre ancient games of this arcade. – J.


Curator of the museum. Machinist. Awesome host. These are just a few of the hats Dan Zelinsky wears as the owner of the Mechanical Museum on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf. On a daily basis, he scours the internet looking for old arcade games and musical instruments he could buy, repairs dozens of his more than 300 old coin-operated machines with hand-made parts, and helps them. visitors who do not know how to use the old games. display.

Enter the 9,300 square foot museum and use one of 51 pianos to play from the 1880s to the 1920s, take on a 1970s showdown, try your luck in an Atari Star Wars arcade game from the early 1970s. 1980s or get your fortune told by a mechanical device over 100 years old. There’s also a 1927 penny arcade baseball game and a device called the Thimble Theater in which little wooden figures dance on a tiny little stage. Most entertainment only costs a quarter.

Zelinsky’s father, philanthropist and real estate mogul, Edward Zelinsky, founded the company in 1933 and made it one of the largest private collections of coin-operated mechanical art in the world. Fifth generation San Franciscan and member of Congregation Emanu-El, he died in 2004.

Children play an arm wrestling game inside the Mechanical Museum.

“For a long time my father’s collection was in the basement and we had amazing birthday parties there,” said Zelinsky, 69.

In the mid-1960s, the elder Zelinsky opened a small museum on Main Street in Tiburon. “Eventually he moved to Cliff House [in San Francisco], but dad also had machines at other locations, including the Hyde Street Pier, the Maritime Museum, a Mason movie theater, in Playland [before it closed in 1972] and the Sutro Baths, as well as in Redwood City.

The Mechanical Museum has been installed on Quai 45 for about twenty years. Zelinsky, who lives in Mill Valley, has worked there since 1972 and his days are generally long. There are only two employees, although a few volunteers stop by from time to time to help Zelinsky with the repairs.

Arcade games created in the 1800s feature gears, pulleys, and wooden or porcelain figurines, Zelinsky said, “with lots of leather belts, springs, and nails that activate other parts when they turn “. Games from the early 1900s are entirely mechanical. Modern video games tend to short out from time to time. “Some parts are stainless steel and the salty sea air is brutal on these machines,” Zelinsky said. “We have six dehumidifiers that extract 20 gallons of moisture per day from the air. Otherwise, due to corrosion and rust, the machines would freeze and stop working.

Agile wooden dancers show off their steps on the small stage of the Mechanical Museum's Thimble Theater.
Agile wooden dancers show off their steps on the small stage of the Mechanical Museum’s Thimble Theater.

Zelinsky manufactures most of the spare parts himself. “The time to find pieces for the collection is over,” he said, “so I took a machine shop course at City College. [of San Francisco]. Making parts is so much fun and it just works.

For decades, neighborhoods visitors fed in games and other machines paid for repairs and provided salaries for employees. Then the global pandemic closed the museum from March 2020 to June 2021.

“One of my sons set up a GoFundMe page and over $ 117,000 came in,” Zelinsky said. “It was a fit of tears, but we also received many wonderful notes and many prayers.”

Business is good again, he said, although the crowds are smaller than before the pandemic.

Finding machines to add to the collection is “the fun part” of his job, Zelinsky said. A woman called one day to report that she had a game taking place at Playland, the 10-acre amusement park next to Ocean Beach from 1913 to 1972., with 22 caliber rifles for players to play. used to shoot at moving cast-iron ducks, ”he said. “She found it behind a wall in her house here in San Francisco.”

Dan Zelinsky is working on his "The boy and the elephant," a machine from 19th century Paris.
Dan Zelinsky is working on his “The Boy and the Elephant”, a machine from 19th century Paris.

Asked about the value of the Mechanical Museum’s machines, he replied: “To a private collector they are worth a fortune”, adding that as an operator he sometimes paid “more than anything was worth to have me. can ride it. display for the public to play, and for pride of ownership.

He is mainly looking for interactive mechanical machines. “I’m always looking, especially for some of the machines I grew up with. I’ll run into them eventually, if I’m lucky.

Meanwhile, Zelinsky said, “It’s easy to make people happy here.”

The Mechanical Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Free entry.


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