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Camera Obscura

Kitsch is just about the best word we can think of for this fantastic little building on Point Lobos, near San Francisco. It's called the Giant Camera, and that's pretty much what it is. It doesn't exactly take pictures – it's a camera obscura, or collection of lenses that project a 360-degree view of the scenery around it onto a large dish inside the hut. However, on the outside, it is designed to look like a 35mm camera with its lens facing skyward.

Built by Gene Turtle and Floyd Jennings in 1946 at the Playland amusement area behind the Cliff House restaurant, the camera obscura itself is based on 16th-century designs by Leonardo Da Vinci. The building's design, though, was inspired by Cliff House owner George Whitney, who thought it would help draw the crowds. Playland closed in 1972, and today the Giant Camera is all that remains of it. Enthusiasts have put up several great fights to keep it there, and in 2001 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The periscope-like camera takes six minutes to turn, showing you a rotating picture of what is going on outside, but if you pay your $2 entrance fee you can stay and watch it for as long as you like.

Image: (top) Joseph Appelbaum

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