Richard Tuck, Creator of Playland-Not-at-the-Beach, Dies at 63

Richard Tuck, the founding spirit of Playland-Not-at-the-Beach, El Cerrito's unique homage to San Francisco's Playland and the joy of amusement venues, has died.

Richard Tuck — the entrepreneur who founded with the help of many volunteers — died Tuesday at his El Cerrito home at age 63, according to the Contra Costa Times.

His business associate Tim Sauer said Tuck had suffered from gall bladder cancer that was discovered 14 months ago, the newspaper reported.

Tuck, founder of the executive search firm Lander International was an avid collector of historic amusement arcade items, including those from San Francisco's famous Playland at Ocean Beach, which closed in 1972.

Journalist Sewall Glinternick wrote of the how Tuck's passion gave rise to El Cerrito's unique homage to Playland:

"Tuck's personal tribute to the famed S.F. amusement park was born in the year 2000 when he bought the vacant Blue and Gold Food Market building at 10979 San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito to use as headquarters for his executive search business. A former part owner of a one-ring circus and long-time collector of amusement memoribilia, Tuck used the back of his new headquarters building to store his extensive collection of amusement items — including many things from the original Playland.

"Upon hearing of his collection, community members began volunteering to help Tuck organize and catalog the material — which led to the local businessman deciding to to turn the back of his business into a 9,000 square foot non-profit family museum dedicated to the memory of long-gone amusement venues.

"After eight long ycars of designing and construction by Tuck and his army of dediceted volunteers, the museum  — quite naturally named Playland-Not-at-the-Beach — opened for business on May 31, 2008, and has been growing as a major tourist attraction ever since."

San Francisco Chronicle writer Dave Ford began a 2004 profile of Tuck with these words:

"Amusement-park enthusiast Richard J. Tuck Jr. is a short, plump man of 56 who sees himself as a 12-year-old boy. He uses words like 'neat,' 'golly,' 'wow' and 'gee' without irony. A Peter Pan painting hangs in his office at the El Cerrito headquarters of Lander International, a recruiting firm he founded 25 years ago. He refers to other humans, from ages 8 to 80, as 'kids.' "

El Cerrito Patch writer Kyrsten Bean talked to Tuck last year when she , writing:

"Playland Not-at-the-Beach's creation dates back to when Tuck met Marvin Gold, Joe Mirante and Dave Warren. The four share a considerable penchant for all things Playland. Gold, Mirante and Warren had worked at Whitney's Playland as teenagers before it was torn down due to wear and tear...

" 'All three of us are kids who never grew up,' says Tuck.

"As they met repeatedly over time to share stories about their memories of Playland, Tuck formed a loose idea – the building he uses for his business, Lander International, would double as a substitution for idyllic funhouses of yore. People from carpenters to magicians showed up to help build this new place, though the current conceptualization was not readily apparent until a few years of trial and error had passed.

"While the building was being renovated to create the maze-like qualities inside, you could find laymen of many different fields working on projects in the hallways. 'We likened it to being on the steering committee for building Disneyland; with no Walt Disney,' says Tuck. He gave these volunteers free rein."

In 2009, Tuck received Inc. magazine's "Outstanding Stand-up Performance by a CEO" award.

Tuck earned a master's degree in English and taught English in college and high school before becoming a businessman, according to his online biography on the Lander International website.

Memorial services for Tuck, a Petaluma native who moved to El Cerrito in 1974 and obtained his master's and bachelor's degrees from Sonoma State University, have not been planned at this time, the Contra Costa Times reported.

Kyrsten Bean April 14, 2011 at 04:03 PM
This is very very sad news to me. Tuck was a very kind person and went out of his way to help me on numerous occasions. I am very glad I got the chance to interview him and spend some time with him inside his wonderful fun museum. He lived in a truly magical world and was very childlike and creative. He told me that he taught journalism once and was interested in hearing about me and helping me on my path. Just a very giving person. I wonder now what will come of Playland Not-at-the-Beach?
Renate Valencia April 14, 2011 at 04:53 PM
So sad. He was a lovely person. I hope his amazing Playland-Not-at-the-Beach continues on.
rink April 14, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Oh this is the saddest news ever. Richard helped me plan a milestone birthday a few years ago. He was so kind, helpful and enthusiastic. Due to his help my party was a huge success. I hope Playland NATB will live on.
Betty Buginas April 15, 2011 at 12:08 AM
Very sweet, open and friendly man who made El Cerrito a more special place.
Chris Simpkins April 15, 2011 at 03:12 AM
What a terrible loss. Richard had a gift for happiness, and our family will miss him so. Our condolences to his loved ones.
Annie Organ April 15, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Mr. Tuck had certainly brought a special magic to El Cerrito and we are very sad to hear of his passing.
Mark Ungar April 15, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Oh, what a shame! I had just met him recently, and had some nice conversations with him. He'll be missed.
K Murphy April 15, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Richard Tuck created a unique tribute to San Francisco's amusement park Playland at the Beach and was also an enthusiastic promoter of all kinds of Americana (old pinball machines, carnival items, games). Playland-Not-At-The-Beach was one of a kind and added something special to El Cerrito. I hope his vision continues and I send my condolences to those close to him.
Christian Matthews April 21, 2011 at 07:15 AM
Richard, you once said you had so many friends all around and yet always felt very alone. I wish you could know how much you are missed now. I saw you set out to spread a whole heck of a lotta joy over the years that I had the pleasure of your acquaintance, and I believe you really did achieve that goal, thru your amazing home and the fabulous ACE parties where I first met you, then of course thru the Circus and at Playland-NATB. Is there anyone who ever knew Ricahrd Tuck who didn't come away saying, "What an amazing guy!" Can a man ask for much more at the end of his life than that? You left a real legacy, Richard, and I thank you. Now you're on to something else! God bless you, peace, bliss, love. - Christian Matthews
Carol April 30, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Richard was one of the most caring individuals I have ever met in my life. The few times I was in his presence, he made me feel like a kid again. He was so full of life and so giving. I am ssad to hear this news but proud to have met him and been a small part of his life. He will always be in my heart.
Ruth Buerkle May 03, 2011 at 12:08 AM
Ruth I am heartsick over losing Richard -- for myself and for his many friends. He was fun and charming and loving and knowledgable - and had an unending fountain of wonderful stories that e told so well. Just listening to his presentation on the life of Chares Dickens was fascinating -- but this was one of his many specialties. I learned something new each time. I shall miss him greatly!
richard steele May 03, 2011 at 04:08 AM
Thank you Richard! Your smile shined on rainy days, birthdays or for no reason at all. The energy you put into Play Land was astounding. The result was fantastic. Carry on young man. Never neverland is calling. Richard Steele
gary sundburg May 15, 2011 at 11:00 PM
I met richard 34 years ago . He was a great friend to me and we shared commen interested in movies and amusement parks. I have many fond memories of happy times I spend with richard and his partner tim that I will never forget. He was a kind soul and will be missed. Gary Sundburg
Charles Kruger December 31, 2011 at 09:39 PM
A few years ago I was alone on New Year's eve and stumbled across an ad on CL. It invited anybody without plans to a dinner party. It was an odd thing, but something about it seemed strangely sincere and I answered. That night I found myself at Richard's home ("It Must Be Magic") in the hills of El Cerrito with several other lost souls. It was an unbelievable night. Richard feasted us on Prime Rib and Champagne and made each of us feel like long lost friends. He regaled us with wondrous stories of his very own circus. The company included folk aged 20 to 80+. We toured his home (an extraordinary showcase of all things amusing), played with vintage magic tricks, watched movies, ate like kings, and rang in the New Year. Later that month, I visited Playland Not At The Beach, which was a new vision at the time. Afterwards, it seemed as though I had dreamed the whole thing. Did a guy like this really exist? It was like encountering Santa Clause, or Willy Wonka, or Mr. Magorium and his Wonder Emporium—in real life! Of course, Richard did exist and his life was magical. He is certainly missed. What a remarkable guy!


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