Inspired by the musical archives of the SFPL, Josh Kun's Hit Parade examines contemporary issues of gentrification, eviction, and neighborhood change through an engagement with local music history.
Hit Parade

 

   

What is the sound of your San Francisco?

What is the music of your neighborhood?

 

Led by Josh Kun, Hit Parade is a project of Public Knowledge, a collaboration between SFPL and SFMOMA. Inspired by the musical archives of SFPL, Hit Parade examines contemporary issues of gentrification, eviction, and neighborhood change through an engagement with local music history.

Hit Parade is where San Francisco memories meet musical memories. It is a project interested in community musical storytelling and grassroots musical memory. As the city continues to undergo rapid changes, the Hit Parade team will be gathering musical histories of the Western Addition, Bayview Hunters Point, and Mission neighborhoods.

 

What music has disappeared?

What music lives on?
 

Radio Center at the Palace Hotel

In 1937, the Columbia Broadcasting Company took over a local San Francisco radio station and effectively adopted the controversy that this station came to symbolize. That station was KSFO and in 1937 it was part of the KNX network that CBS purchased. But KSFO wasn’t the station’s original name and San Francisco wasn’t its original home. The station started out as KTAB in Oakland. It was owned and operated by Tenth Avenue Baptist Church until 1935, when debts forced the church to sell the station to Wesley I. Dumm. As the new owner, Dumm promptly moved the station to San Francisco and changed the call numbers to KSFO.

Once CBS acquired KSFO, the company set out to build a new studio to house the station. This new studio was a “Radio Center,” a complex attached to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and designed by the San Francisco architect William Lescaze. The construction, captured in these photos from SFPL’s Historical Photo Collection, took a year and cost roughly $250,000 (reports vary).

[Photos courtesy of SFPL Historical Photo Collection]

 

Clyde Doerr

Clyde Doerr is known today as a pioneer saxophonist, who first got noticed playing with the Art Hickman Orchestra in San Francisco. Born in 1894, Doerr was originally from Michigan and while he played the sax since high school, his formal musical training was as a violinist (jhe studied concert violin at the King Conservatory in San Jose). In 1919, however, Art Hickman hired Doerr to play the saxophone in his band and Doerr’s career took off.

 

For a great overview of Doerr’s accolades and biography, check out Tim Gracyk and Frank Hoffmann’s book Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925. And here is Clyde Doerr and his Dance Orchestra performing in 1927.

 

What both of these excellent sources are missing, however, are an explanation of how Doerr ended up in San Francisco. Doerr’s photo in the SFPL’s Historical Photo Collection has an answer. Here is the copy that accompanies this portrait:

 

“Who says musicians aren’t as romantic in their private lives as in the music they make? Here’s Clyde Doerr, who directed orchestra and played saxophone in his own distinctive style on NBC programs in the East – until a wedding anniversary came around. ‘Let’s celebrate it in San Francisco where we first met’, suggested his wife and the two packed their car with baggage and trekked all the way across the continent to the city where they were married – between performances of the Art Hickman band, all those years ago. They discovered so many loved corners and scenes in San Francisco that when the program department there suggested Clyde stay awhile, he signed on the dotted line. He is the musical director of ‘Night Court’ popular new hour-long variety show broadcast over KPO every night except Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 o’clock P.S.T. Colorful, brilliant rhythms mark his music, and originality his own compositions, ‘Impromptu’, ‘Technicality’, ‘Valse Chromatique’, ‘Saxophist’s Dream’ and a tribute to Mrs. Doerr – ‘Valse Hilda’. NBC Photo 5/16/34.”

 

[Photo and copy courtesy of SFPL Historical Photo Collection]

 

Idris Ackamoor

Hit Parade’s July “Live Rehearsals,” held July 11 – 13th at the Mission, Bayview, and Western Addition branch libraries, featured five San Francisco-based musicians. Together, Idris Ackamoor, Minna Choi, Akheel Mestayer, Diana Gameros, and Marcus Shelby interpreted and re-invented songs composed in honor of the city.

 

On the saxophone (and a few other instruments) was the legendary Idris Ackamoor. Originally from Chicago, Ackamoor settled in San Francisco in 1970s, after an extensive tour and having founded his first jazz collective, The Pyramids. Max Cole, of the Red Bull Music Academy, writes of the collective:

“The Pyramids and their avant-garde, theatrical performances are part of a long lineage of musicians who used jazz and free improvisation to express a global, humanist music. With one foot firmly in the camp of John and Alice Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Horace Tapscott, and the other in the politically-conscious funk of James Brown and On The Corner era Miles, they captured something of the quest for alternate ways of living in the 70s, as America looked to the stars and ripped up the rule book.” (For more, check out the full piece here).

 

He later founded the SF-based performance company Cultural Odyssey with frequent collaborator Rhodessa Jones. Ackamoor has received numerous awards – including two lifetime achievement awards – and as we saw during Hit Parade’s Live Rehearsals, is as committed to musical experimentation and innovation as ever.

 

Here Idris Ackamoor performing with The Pyramids on a 1975 TV special:

 

 

Bimbo’s 365 Club

One of the images that energized Hit Parade as a project early on was this photo from 1970/1971. Three men are shown inside Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco. Oscar, the man seated in the middle, was a music promoter in the city and was the one to donate this photo to SFPL’s collection.

Located on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s North Beach district, Bimbo’s 365 Club opened in 1931 and has been something of a local institution since then. The club, opened by Agostino Giuntoli (whose nickname was Bimbo) and Monk Young, was originally located at 365 Market Street and moved to its current location on Columbus in 1951. Regardless of address, though, Bimbo’s popularity never waned. Over the years, it saw a steady stream of musicians, performers, comedians, gamblers and chorus girls. Of its many attractions, the club was known for its “girl in the fishbowl” act, which, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “allowed patrons a glimpse of a shapely dancer writhing on a black velvet couch a floor below the lobby of the nightclub. A system of mirrors reduced the woman to a tiny size and made it seem as if she were swimming in air.”

 

Here are a few photos that serve as just a small sample of the performances that took place at Bimbo’s: (left) undated – patrons watching the “girl in the fishbowl” act; (middle) 1943 – chorus girls in a dressing room; (right) 1960s – hair show, featuring Jose (the proprietor of the hair show), Francis (the “queen” of the show), and Tonida.

 

[Photos courtesy of SFPL Historical Photo Collection]

 

 

 

 

 

The Halcyon Days of ‘49

Some of the major questions that Hit Parade has been exploring through research, community storytelling, and live rehearsals have been about the exploration, settlement, expansion, and growth of San Francisco as both a city and an idea. Looking back to the economic agendas and dreams that drove the settlement of San Francisco in the mid 1800s, we have been asking what it is that we can learn from that period to better understand the city’s current expansion, its shape-shifting dreams and of course, its’ changing demographics.

 

Here are A.J. Waterhouse (lyrics) and Maurice Levi (composer), writing in 1898, looking back at “The Halcyon Days of ’49”:

 

It’s all very well, the story to tell,

Of the days that are growing old

When the men of might first turned to the light

That shone from the country of gold

It is very well to praise the halcyon days

When our world was so virgin and fair

But I wish to remark ‘twas not all a lark

‘Twas a different thing to be there

Of the days of old and the days and the days of gold

The poet may merrily sing

A lack of pay dirt was the thing that hurt

And it wasn’t so seldom a thing

[Full sheet music courtesy of SFPL Sheet Music Collection]

 

 

Open Rehearsals: Mission – “The California Pioneers”

We began out Open Rehearsal series at the Mission Branch Library. Musicians Idris Ackamoor, Minna Choi, Ahkeel Mestayer, Diana Gameros, Marcus Shelby played together for the first time. The piece of sheet music selected by Josh Kun was The California Pioneers. Photos by Beth LaBerge.

Depicting two rifle-holding explorers, mountains, wilderness and pine trees on the cover, The California Pioneers declares itself as “the first piece of music published in California.” Published in 1852 by San Francisco’s Atwill & Co., the song was written and composed by Dr. M.A. Richter and dedicated to Mrs. J. Emerson Sweetser, who was the wife of a “leading merchant of the city,” according to Erika Esau. Esau sees this dedication as “further indication of the small circles then constructing a cultural life in San Francisco and the important place that Atwill, as owner of a music shop and publisher of illustrated sheet music, occupied in this incipient society” (88). You can check out Esau’s full essay here.

The song’s lyrics and its cover art capture the popular imagination surrounding the mid-1800s settlement of the city and Northern California more generally. Like the cover, the lyrics move between celebrating the state’s “sunny clime” and “golden sands,” on the one hand and romanticizing the figure of the quintessential explorer, who left his home in search of conquest and significantly, to “make this land renown’d & free.”

Open Rehearsal: Bayview – “Sounds From the Golden Gate: Schottische”

The second evening of Open Rehearsal was held at the Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library in the Bayview district. Musicians Idris Ackamoor, Minna Choi, Ahkeel Mestayer, Diana Gameros, Marcus Shelby played Sounds From the Golden Gate: Schottische.

 

Composed by William Voit and published by W.B. MacKellar (Clay St. in SF), “Sounds From the Golden Gate: Schottische” is a song that is deceptively simple; it is a song that manages to be both hyper local and global all at once, gesturing to the city’s permanent changeability and its shifting sites of belonging.

Today, the moniker “Golden Gate” is synonymous with San Francisco and its immediate surroundings, so much so that it is hardly surprising to see song after song – both old and contemporary – refer to the city’s golden gates. The reference is meant to conjure up the city’s early days of gold mining as well as its reputation as something of a welcoming jubilee. The notion of “golden gate,” however, predates both of these legacies. In 1846, California U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont likened the strait between the Bay and the ocean to a “golden gate” for trade. The name was solidified when is observations were published two years later along with a map.

By 1878, when this song was published and when settlement and urban growth was in full swing, the “golden gate” went global and acquired its very own “schottische.” The Schottische, which means “Scottish dance” in German, is a folk dance performed in a circle of partnered dancers (it is similar to the polka in rhythm). The dance traces its stylistic roots to Bohemia, becoming popular across Europe, US, and South America around 1850.

Open Rehearsal: Western Addition – “At That San Francisco Fair”

The finalOpen Rehearsal was at Western Addition Branch Library. Musicians Idris Ackamoor, Minna Choi, Ahkeel Mestayer, Diana Gameros, and Marcus Shelby gathered one more time to play the song At the San Francisco Fair. Photos by Beth LaBerge.

Composed for the Broadway musical Nobody Home, the song At That San Francisco Fair was written by Schuyler Greene, with music by Dabney & Europe and Jerome Kern. The reference is to San Francisco’s 1915 Fair, heralded as a sign of the city rebirth after the 1906 earthquake. Unlike the majority of San Francisco songs in LAPL’s sheet music collection, this one was published in New York, by T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter and the credits reveal a few names critical to understanding the role of African American composers in the history of the NY music scene. The Dabney & Europe duo consisted of Ford Thompson Dabney and James Reese Europe, two influential African American composers, whose works included ragtime, musical theater, jazz standards, among other genres and forms. The two began working in 1910, when Europe created the Clef Club, which functioned as both an orchestra and a society of African American musicians. For more on Dabney and Europe’s legacies, check out Tim Brook’s book Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919.

Sam Jordan’s Bar & Grill

Opened in 1959 in the Bayview’s Third Street corridor by Sam Jordan, the Bar & Grill was originally a nightclub and later transformed into a bar and restaurant. The nightclub beginnings were fitting for Jordan who was a Navy veteran, business owner, activist, politician (in 1963, he was the first African American to run for mayor in SF) and boxing champion, known as “Singing Sam” for singing before and after his fights. The establishment was the first African American owned bar in San Francisco and today, remains the oldest of its kind.

 

Over the years, the bar hosted many musicians including Sammy Davis Jr. and Big Mama Thornton, and in 2013 it became an official San Francisco historic landmark. Today, the bar is run by Sam’s children – Allen and Ruth – and you can find out more about its history and offerings here.

Playland at the Beach

In 2014, the San Francisco punk band Great Apes released their latest EP called “Playland at the Beach” with one of the more well-known Bay Area indie labels, Asian Man Records. You can listen to and buy the record here. The album is about the city’s history, politics and culture and each song on “Playland” references specific SF landmarks. “There’s a lot here about growth, alteration, corruption, demise, and new beginnings,” the EP’s official description explains. That description is telling, particularly the word “demise” since the EP takes its name from a now-defunct amusement park that occupied the northern portion of Ocean Beach from the 1920s to 1972. The EP cover seen here, in fact, is a photo from 1949, from the sixth annual Playland-at-the-Beach Day of Days for boys club members.

Carousels and roller coasters started to appear beachside in this area of San Francisco in the 1910s, but it wasn’t until 1926 that George Whitney began buying up and consolidating these attractions into an amusement park that he called “Playland at the Beach.” The park was a popular destination in San Francisco and saw several expansions and acquisitions during Whitney’s ownership until it closed in 1972. Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “If you were born in the 1970s or later, the legend of Playland-at-the-Beach is one of joy and fun and a working-class San Francisco that newer generations never got a chance to experience.” But the park’s final years, as Hartlaub and others who have written about this history argue, were more desolate and “haunting.” Plenty of photos from the park’s last years corroborate this story, but the SFPL’s historical photograph collection reveals other realities too. Above is a photo gifted to the Shades of Bayview collection at the SFPL History Center. It is dated 1971 and bears a simple caption: “Melba and Carol at Playland.”

 

Historic Fillmore Jazz Preservation

“Jazz” preservation is a misnomer… a pretty name imposed onto a much more complicated history, a history that centered around R&B much more so than jazz. That was the gist of Bobby “Spider” Webb’s complaint about the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s Fillmore preservation efforts when we interviewed him during Hit Parade’s community storytelling day in the Western Addition library. The city is camouflaging the Fillmore’s real musical identity, he seemed to be saying.

The famous saxophonist, music administrator and today, DJ on San Francisco’s KPOO, was referring to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s establishment of the Fillmore district as the Historic Fillmore Jazz Preservation District. His words are particularly significant this month, as the city hosts its annual Fillmore Jazz Festival during the 4th of July weekend. The festival has been touted for not only keeping the city’s jazz legacy alive but also, for increasingly incorporating other genres, like hip-hop. It was started in the mid 1980s and by the 1990s became associated with the Redevelopment Agency’s efforts to identify and cultivate the Fillmore district as the official Historic Fillmore Jazz Preservation District, a designation that was formalized in 2000 and that seeks to honor the legacy of the Fillmore as the “Harlem of the West.” Today, at the center of this effort is the SF Jazz Center. Check out this video to learn more about the Center’s history and the stories it looks to preserve.

Philippines in American Popular Music

American popular music is no stranger to war propaganda and to political influence, so when political forces started consolidating around anti-Spanish sentiment in the 1880s and 1890s, popular music composers and publishers joined in. The Spanish American War began in 1898, and at issue was first Cuba and then eventually (with the Philippine Revolution), the Philippines. Music publishers didn’t miss a beat and popular music about the Philippines from this era reveals the kind of romanticism that works to shore up interventionist efforts. Two songs, both published in San Francisco, are representative of this moment: “The Belle of Manila” (1898), which is below, and “My Philippino Lady” (1899), which was published by the San Francisco Examiner and included in the paper’s special Sunday Supplement. Miss Georgia Cooper at the Tivoli Opera House in San Francisco sang it.

The full musical score is available at the San Francisco Public Library, in the Sheet Music Collection.

Zeno Mauvais Music Store

Selling sheet music, band instruments, pianos, and music boxes, the Zeno Mauvais Music Store and Publisher was located at 769 Market Street in San Francisco, but the enterprise originally began in Oakland, where Mauvais lived most of his life. Having come to the Bay Area from Watertown, NY at the age of eighteen, Mauvais established himself as a music store operator and sheet music seller in Oakland and later, in San Francisco. References to the Mauvais piano selling business appear as early as 1879 and by 1880 several issues of The Oakland Tribune reveal an ad by Mauvais, stating: “I am now prepared to lend money on pianos at reasonable rates. Zeno Mauvais, 420 12th Street, Oakland.”

 

The business settled in San Francisco (at the Market Street location) more firmly after Mauvais died in 1890 and his widow sold the shares to the Zeno Mauvais Music Co. The publishing side of the music store took off but by 1896, legal troubles familiar to scholars of Tin Pan Alley era music publishing began as well. That year, two simultaneous song copyright infringement suits were brought against the music store and publisher. One by Broder & Schlam of San Francisco and the other by White-Smith Music Company of Boston. Both music publishers alleged that Zeno Mauvais had taken popular Vaudeville songs and re-published them under a different name. The case brought by Broder & Schlam targeted “Ma Angeline,” published by Zeno Mauvais, is particularly interesting. It was dismissed because the court ruled that the plaintiff’s “indelicate and vulgar” use of the word “hottest” made it ineligible for copyright protection. For more on this case and to compare the lyrics, check out the Music Copyright Infringement Resource, sponsored by Columbia Law School and the USC Gould School of Law.

 

And here is the cover of one of Zeno Mauvais’s less contested pieces: “Sobre Las Olas: Valse” (Over the Waves, or Dancing Waves) by Juventino Rosas, published 1889/1890. The full sheet music is available at the San Francisco Public Library, in the Sheet Music Collection.

 

San Francisco’s “Music Week”

In 1921, from October 30th to November 6th, San Francisco held its very own “Music Week.” The first of these weeks occurred in New York the year before and given its success, the “movement,” as The Chronicle called it, found popularity in large cities across the country the following year. San Francisco’s week was organized by the Community Service Recreation League, in collaboration with local musical societies, schools, and musicians. The Chronicle’s Ray C.B. Brown reported that this musical movement was intended as a community building event, rooted in “the conviction… that more can be accomplished for the musical progress of the Nation through mass psychology than through individual efforts.” In anticipation of the city’s first “Music Week” – before the lineup had been announced and before the sponsors had been lined up – Brown added: “That San Francisco’s music week will be a success is a foregone conclusion.”

Brown was right. The week was indeed a success. One notable performance happened on November 2nd, when 10,000 San Francisco music students gathered together to give a concert in Exposition Auditorium. The students ranged from 7th grade to high school and were led by the public schools’ director of music Estelle Carpenter.

Here is a photo of Estelle Carpenter teaching a music class in Golden Gate Park in April 1906.

Musicians at Sinaloa Restaurant

Interviewing SF musicians for Hit Parade, we often get around to asking them about their favorite performance memories. Local clubs, concert halls, house parties, and festivals all appear with equal frequency in these stories of joy, camaraderie, and musical innovation. One type of venue, however, stands out as both particularly interesting and as one musician told us, increasingly precarious: restaurants.

Here is a 1943 photo of the Senoritas Gomes – Dora and Nieves – performing at Sinaloa Restaurant, on Powell Street in San Francisco. Text accompanying this photo attributes the performance to the restaurant’s “authentic South of the Border entertainment.” This was indeed the restaurant’s reputation. Sinaloa opened in 1928 and offered an “all Latin revue floor,” according to the San Mateo newspaper The Times. By 1971, its performers included Willy Vargas, the Dino Benetti Trio and Yolanda, who was “a Flamenco dancer with clacking castanets and that proud aura of defiance that makes her special dance an art,” writes Lloyd Johnson of The Times.

The Stricken City

In the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco was often referred to as “the stricken city.” Arthur Welshans’s reporting for the Los Angeles Herald (April 1906) is a good example of the coverage: “The flames have been conquered and the pall of disaster is now lifting from the ruins of San Francisco, leaving bare to the gaze of the world a specter of desolation such as the people of the United States have never before witnessed.” Welshans was not alone, of course. The flames, darkness, destruction, and crime were chronicled in newspapers throughout the country.

On May 20th of that year, national attention took a more musical turn. The Boston American included a piece of sheet music as part of its Sunday supplement. “The Stricken City,” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, with music by Prof. F. Fanciulli, was composed “expressly for the Hearst San Francisco Relief Fund.”

The Seastrunk Brothers

Kearney, Donald, Johnny, and Orlando are the four brothers who make up the famous Seastrunk Brothers. Performing together for over 40 years, the brothers grew up in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood and specialize in soul and Motown.

Check them out live in concert

and more on their musical and family history.

They have played with plenty of big acts, like The Whispers and The Delfonics, but the group is also something of a local institution. The Seatrunk Brothers played alongside other local musicians like Pat Wilder, Destiny Muhammad and B.A.D. at the first annual “3rd on Third” arts celebration in Bayview in 2013. And the 2016 release of their latest album “California Gold” was held at the Fillmore Heritage Center (the space that Yoshi’s San Francisco used to occupy) in November of that year.

Community Music Center

Opened in 1921 on Capp Street in the Mission district, Community Music Center has been a consistent musical destination for its immediate community and the city in general. Throughout its 96—year existence, the school has been known to focus on access, prioritizing students from underprivileged backgrounds and aiming to make music more widely available, regardless of income. And it has thrived using this mission and model. In fact, the school, which offers classes to students across a wide spectrum of skill-levels and ages, has undergone expansions (there is a smaller location in the Richmond, which opened in 1983). For a brief video of the school’s history and its legacy of women leaders, check out this video, narrated by KDFC’s Dianne Nicolini.

The school actually started in 1912, when it was the music department for the Dolores Street Girls Club settlement house, under the direction of Gertrude Field. Starting with Field, who was a violinist, and throughout its history, the Community Music Center has prided itself on its faculty of musicians and musical directors. The famed African American conductor Paul Freeman, for example, was the school’s director in the 1960s. Take a look at this 1967 photo of Freeman.


And here is a 1973 photo of the Flowing Stream Ensemble performing at Palace of Legion of Honor concert. Betty, seated on the left and Shirley, seated on the right, were both instructors of Chinese Folkloric music at the Community Music Center.

Photos courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
San Francisco Opera and War Memorial Opera House

The San Francisco Opera was established in 1923 by the Italian immigrant and conductor Gaetano Merola who arrived in opera-obsessed San Francisco in 1906. As early as the 1850s, the city’s new Italian population (mostly in North Beach) patronized opera and made San Francisco a major opera destination on the international performance circuit, which consisted of US and South American companies. San Francisco’s first opera event was held in 1851 and by 1914, the city hosted an Operatic Festival.

 

Merola had grand visions for an opera company and importantly, an opera house in San Francisco and it is through his fundraising and lobbying efforts that the War Memorial Opera House (dedicated to San Francisco residents who served in WWI) finally opened in 1932. The debut performance was Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca – take a look at the packed house that opening night, with a photo courtesy of SFPL’s San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

San Francisco, You’re the Town for Me

Written and composed by Richard Lancaster, “San Francisco, You’re The Town For Me” was published in 1947 and dedicated to “His Honor Elmer E. Robinson.” The song was published the year before Robinson, who was then superior court judge, was elected as San Francisco’s 33rd mayor, serving from 1948 to 1956.

 

The San Mateo newspaper The Times describes a small scandal trailing Robinson’s win, prompting the winning candidate to opt for an early swearing-in: “Former Superior Court judge Elmer E. Robinson was taking no chances today on being next mayor of San Francisco. Robinson and a number of lesser city officials… who take office with him on January 8 were sworn into office yesterday [December 30, 1947]…as a ‘precautionary’ measure after it was discovered their certificates of election were dated December 1st.”

 

The sheet music cover is a collection of odes: below the title and the photo of Robinson are two images of San Francisco: a drawing from 1847 and a photo from 1947.

Sally Rand’s The Music Box

Located on O’Farrell, between Polk and Larkin, the Great American Music Hall as voted as the sixth best club in America by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2013. Its website will tell you that the club is “San Francisco’s oldest and grandest nightclub,” having opened in 1907 as “Blanco’s,” thanks to the efforts of Chris Buckley. Blanco’s, both envisioned and championed as a celebration of the city’s revival after the 1906 earthquake, was not short on dazzle. In November 1907, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “With hundreds of lights flashing merry welcome, with love songs of France and melodies of Hawaii and to the laughter and gayety of 600 guests, the opening of Blanco’s… which is conceded to be the most magnificent of its kind in the country, proved to be last night as gorgeous an occasion as any that has taken place in the city since the disaster.”

Throughout the mid-late 1930s and into the 1940s, club goers were treated to Sally Rand’s fan dances. Rand was a Vaudeville star who had been catapulted to stardom during the Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair (“Century of Progress”). In 1939, having leveraged her new stardom, she arrived in San Francisco for that year’s Treasure Island World’s Fair, holding court at the Fair’s “Gayway,” which consisted of the Sally Rand Nude Ranch. After the Fair, Rand stuck around, performing at Blanco’s as Sally Rand’s The Music Box. Below on the left is a 1939 photo of Rand performing at the Music Box (photo courtesy of the SFPL’s San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection) and on the right is a Music Box flyer from that year’s New Year’s celebrations (photo courtesy of Virtual Museum of City of San Francisco). For more details on Sally Rand’s life, take a look at the entry from the Virtual Museum.

Performance at Stonestown Shopping Mall

In 1956, enclosed, climate-controlled shopping malls were all the rage. It is the year Southdale Center opened in Edina, Minnesota and became not only a model for modern shopping malls but also, its famous architect’s calling card. Victor Gruen, who was a Jewish refugee from Vienna, Austria, is typically accepted as the father of modern shopping malls. He revolutionized – for better or for worse – American consumerism by designing Southdale as a “retail environment [that] could entertain Americans better than any show, exhibition, or performance,” writes M. Jeffrey Hardwick in his 2005 book Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream. Gruen’s strategies are legendary: “grand fountains, twirling sculptures, and rose gardens” (Hardwick, 4). And of course, performance!


It is no surprise then, that in 1956, one of San Francisco’s most long-standing shopping malls took up Gruen’s call for performance! Stonestown Galleria (“Galleria” was added to the title in 1987) opened in 1952 and its first major tenant was the now-shuttered Emporium department store (it has now been replaced by Macy’s). The below photo, from SFPL’s San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, is dated march 15th, 1956. It shows two San Francisco Players Guild performers – Patric Hickey and Sybil Siegel – in their “Puss in Boots” production at the Emporium department store in Stonestown Galleria.

Mission High School

Mission High School’s musical identity is well known in the city. The high school, which opened in 1897 and is the first comprehensive high school in San Francisco, has not only boasted a variety of bands and signing groups over the years, but it has also played host to many city-wide musical performances and festivals. As early as 1929, in fact, the Oakland Tribune reports that the Mission High School band performed at the annual California music teachers’ conference held at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel on March 25th of that year.

 

In 1946, Mission High School hosted the first annual high school choral group performance in its auditorium. Check out a photo of the event below. Some 700 San Francisco high school students participated in the performance, which was introduced by the director of music for public schools, Charles M. Dennis.

 

And it was choral music that Mission High School was known for throughout most of the 20th century. Today, however, according to the high school’s current musical director, veteran musician Osvaldo Carvajal, the high school also has a popular mariachi band and a modern music band.

Storytelling Day at Bayview/Linda Brooks Branch Library

Alonzo Menelik Walker brought by fellow drummers Claude Carpenter, and Larry  Williams, to be interviewed by Tamara Porras and the delighted us with a performance as well. Josh Kun sat down with Ite Goodyear and Miguel Garcia.

Storytelling Day in the Mission

Josh Kun interviews the members of the band Soltron, Charles Unger and Cesar Ascarrunz. Our team of interns hit the street for the Cesar Chavez parade and Festival and interviewed people on 24th street.

Storytelling Day at Western Addition

Josh Kun and Inna Arzumanova interview Bobbie Webb, Tanya Yule, Josh Yule, Mohammed Soriano and John Santos at the Western Addition Branch Library on April 15, 2017.

Open Rehearsals (For a New Song, For a New City) July 11-13

Join us for this special free, open to all performance by a super-group of San Franciscan musicians coming together for the first time to rehearse publicly one historic San Francisco song that they have never played before. The songs will be selected by scholar and artist Josh Kun from the sheet music collection of San Francisco Public Library.

The goal is to gather together as we watch a group of strangers from different neighborhoods as they get to know each other, listen to each other, learn how to play together, and learn to think collectively about how to interpret music from the past in the present of contemporary San Francisco. As San Francisco continues to struggle with crises of gentrification, eviction, and extreme neighborhood change, can music be a model for imagining a new city?

Musicians: Idris Ackamoor, Minna Choi, Akheel Mestayer, Diana Gameros, Marcus Shelby

Join us on:
Tuesday, July 11,2017 @ Mission Branch Library, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 @ Bayview Branch Library, 7 p.m.

Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ Western Addition Branch Library, 6:30 p.m.

Juan Trasviña

Juan Trasviña was a San Francisco radio announcer and broadcasting mainstay throughout the 20th century. Having begun his career in radio, Trasviña was one of the first San Francisco State University students to receive a Broadcasting B.A. and M.A. degree.

 

His 2013 obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle gives a small snapshot of his wide-ranging radio career: “His radio career spanned from announcing the first Trans Pacific short wave news from the 1939 World’s Fair at Treasure Island, to his Army unit transmitting sensitive information for the State Department at the Yalta Peace Conference, to sound effects work for popular old-time radio shows, to serving as engineer for 42 years at The National Broadcasting Company as KPO, KNBC and KNBR Radio, to assisting World Series broadcasts from Oakland to Latin America in 1972 – 74. Shortly before and after retirement, he trained the next generation of broadcasters in Spanish and English courses at the College of San Mateo.”

Below is a 1940 portrait of Trasviña working for KGEI broadcasting at the Golden Gate International Exposition, as well as photo of Trasviña and his wife Carmen, taken in 1945 at San Francisco’s Monaco Theater Restaurant. As the below brochure cover shows, the famous restaurant and nightclub was located at 557 Pacific Avenue, in what was briefly known as the International Settlement (the name was a rebranding of the old Barbary Coast entertainment disctrict).

Bayview Opera House

Built in 1888 by a Masonic Lodge chapter, the Bayview Opera House stands at 4705 Third Street, in the heart of San Francisco’s Bayview. The name on the entrance still says “South San Francisco Opera House,” a leftover from the hall’s first years, when South San Francisco was not yet incorporated as a city. The theater’s history is a full one – vibrant Vaudeville productions, disrepair after the 1906 earthquake, sales, functioning as a dance hall, a social hall, an arts space. In 1968, it was designated a city landmark (#8 to be exact) and in 1989, the Bayview Opera House began its most current life as a community arts programming destination (the programs are funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission).

 

Perhaps the Opera House’s most infamous scenes, however, are from September 1966, when Bayview Hunters Point community members started demonstrating, to protest the police killing of a sixteen-year-old boy. The protests lasted for three days, when the governor called in the National Guard. To protect themselves from police clad in riot gear, community members (including many children) took shelter in the Opera House. Below is an SFPL photo showing officers in front of the old Opera House. Next to it, is a contemporary photo of the renovated Opera House, at the center of Bayview Hunters Point community life (photo from https://www.bvoh.org/).

Cesar Ascarrunz and Cesar’s Latin Palace

There was a time when Cesar’s Latin Palace was the city’s salsa destination. The club hosted musicians like Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, and New York’s Orquesta Broadway. Opened in 1977 and located at 3140 Mission Street, the club was a place you could hear legendary musicians, stop in for dance lessons, or just spend your weekend nights dancing beside both your neighbors and the city’s power brokers (club owner Cesar Ascarrunz told Chuy Varela of SFGate that Bill Graham was not only a frequent visitor but also, a great dancer). The club was shut down by the city in 1991 for liquor license violations. Roccapulco nightclub now occupies the space.

 

Perhaps even more well-known that the Mission neighborhood club is its owner – Cesar Ascarrunz, who arrived in the Bay Area in 1960 (first in San Jose and then eventually in San Francisco) in order to attend UC Berkeley and stayed, transforming from musician, to club owner, to politician and to community leader. He ran for mayor several times in the 1990s and as recently as 2011.

 

Check out Matt Smith’s piece in SF Weekly for a glimpse into Cesar Ascarrunz’s political life and the below photo of the man himself (photo is taken from a handout, per the San Francisco Chronicle).

“A Frisco Girl”

Published on November 7, 1897 as part of the Sunday sheet music supplement to The Examiner, “A Frisco Girl” was written and composed by James H. Marshall and Walter Wolff. It was performed by Don McCann and Lillian Leslie.

“A San Francisco girl am I, And only plain at that;

I’ve Been to Monte Carlo,

And have played at Baccarat, In Paris, London, and Berlin, And far away Moscow

I must admit they’re very fine, But give me dear Frisco

Where flowers are blooming the year round

And sun shines bright

Where girls are beauties to gaze on in broad daylight

For a nighttime or daytime, or Winter, or Summer

You’ll see pretty girls on the street,

For Frisco, you are quite a wonder,

And can’t be beat”

 

Sheet music is available at SFPL’s Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection.

Forbidden City Nightclub

The Chinatown we see today is not the same as the Chinatown that existed pre-1906. After the Earthquake destroyed the original architecture, anti-Chinese sympathizers went through great lengths to push the community to Hunters Point. As an effort to maintain its location, community leaders redesigned the layout of the neighborhood. These leaders created a Chinatown with red angled rooves and various other “oriental” signifiers in order re-create the space as a tourist destination. Using existing racist sentiments of Chinese otherness and “exoticism,” these leaders were nevertheless able to hold onto their real estate. With this reimagining of the area came the introduction of Chinese nightclubs. Nevada born entrepreneur Charlie Low started the first of these cocktail bars. Eventually, he created Forbidden City nightclub, which featured all Chinese entertainers, near Union Square. Noel Toy was a popular entertainer at Forbidden City, whose nude dancing ultimately brought fame to the nightclub. Check out the below spread from Beauty Paradise Magazine for an example of the kinds of narratives that dominated at Forbidden City.

Storytelling Days at the San Francisco Public Library

What is the sound of your city? What is the music of your neighborhood?

 

Join us for a day of community musical storytelling and grassroots musical memory.

Western Addition Branch Library  April 15, 2017, 2-5 p.m.

Mission Branch Library April 29, 2017, 2-5 p.m.

Bayview/Linda Brooks Branch Library May 13, 2017, 2-5 p.m.

The Fillmore

Known simply as The Fillmore since about 1952, the Fillmore Auditorium remains one of the most important music performance spaces in San Francisco and a major landmark in the Western Addition neighborhood. The list of recognizable names who’ve graced The Fillmore’s stage is endless: Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Otis Redding, James Brown, Tina Turner, and many more.

 

Aside from the big name headliners, however, the auditorium has also been an important neighborhood institution, serving the Western Addition community since well before the 1950s. After all, since its opening in 1912 as The Majestic Hall and Majestic Academy of Dancing, the space has been several different dance halls, a place for masquerade balls, and a roller rink.

 

Found in the “Shades of Western Addition” series of the SFPL Digital Photo collection, below is a photo of Clarence and Emma Jean going to a concert at The Fillmore in 1961.

The Screemers

While jazz is often seen as the North Beach district’s most prominent musical export, the neighborhood’s famous clubs played host to musicians from many musical genres. The Screamers, a punk rock band from Los Angeles, for example, performed at Mabuhay Gardens in 1978. The Mab was located at 443 Broadway and was a famous punk club venue, until it closed in 1986 and the building underwent several renovations as various clubs and currently, a rentable conference and performance space. The Mab didn’t constitute the building’s first life, however. Before it was a punk destination, the building housed a Filipino restaurant and club owned by Ness Aquino.

The SFPL has a recording of the “Screamers: Live in San Francisco” 1978 set and you can check it out on the 6th floor of Main. For a sneak peek, however, see the below video from Youtube.

 

 

Ever heard of the Cockettes?

Founded by George Edgerly Harris III Jr. – better known as “Hibiscus” – the group was a theater troupe of drag performers. The original troupe consisted of fourteen people, including an infant and specialized in vibrant, extravagant performances, full of glitter and over-the-top (often homemade) costumes. Often performing at the Pagoda Palace Theater (a vaudeville theater, which was located on Columbus Avenue, across the street from Washington Square, from 1907 to 2013), the Cockettes had a large underground following in San Francisco.

You might recognize Hibiscus from his appearance in the 1967 photo “Flower Power” (he is placing a flower in the barrel of a gun during a Vietnam War protest). Another Cockettes member, Sylvester, later went on to become San Francisco’s “queen of disco.” For more on Sylvester, check out Joshua Gamson’s book The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco.

More photos are available in the Peter Mintun collection at SFPL’s photo desk

Mabuhay Gardens

Laura Havlin, chronicling The Mab’s history for AnOther Magazine, writes that the club was a place for sexual exploration and experimentation, unfettered creativity and notably, “bad taste.”

“The venue in the North Beach area hosted punk nights, vaudeville-style cabaret, and, due to its location in the seedier area of town and its proximity to the stripclubs, became a hangout for off-duty strippers from nearby clubs The Galaxy, Carol Doda’s and The Roaring 20s. The club’s emcee was Dirk Dirksen – another local legend, who would welcome bands on stage with acerbic intros,” Havlin writes in “The Mabuhay Gardens: Where Punks and Strippers United Forces.”

 

The SFPL Digital Photo Collection – specifically, the San Francisco Historical Photograph series – has several performance photos from The Mab, including those included in this post. They depict frequent Mab performers, the Dead Kennedys, in 1982.

The Blackhawk

Established in 1949, at the corner of Hyde and Turk, this jazz club was known first as The Stork Club and then, more famously, The Blackhawk. Ted Gioia called it “the most illustrious jazz corner on the Barbary Coast.” The club hosted many famous names, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Dave Bruebeck and Cal Tjader. Derrick Bang, in his book Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, explains that the club was not just a performance space, but also a place where music was often recorded and then pressed. The latter was often managed by Fantasy Records, one of the city’s premier labels, known for helping develop and promote a uniquely San Francisco style of modernist jazz. “The club was also unusual in another respect,” writes Bang, “it maintained a section for minors, separated from the rest of the bar by chicken wire” (p.26).

Hunter’s Point Musical Mystery

There is both a mystery and a commercial industry surrounding this poster for the June 1967 Hunter’s Point Festival honoring Muhammad Ali. The poster announces the free two-day concert, featuring the Steve Miller Blues Band, the Sonny Lewis Quintet, Radha Krishna Temple, and others, including many special guests. The problem is that there is little to no record of the festival actually taking place. One of the bloggers over at Rock Prosopography has followed the trail closely and you can check out that post HERE. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, for example, lists the event but reviews of any kind are harder to come by.

In the meantime, this has not stopped entrepreneurial resellers from giving the poster, which is apparently a limited edition work of psychedelic art, a second life. One seller cites Christie’s as declaring there are only three posters available in the world.

San Francisco Welcomes You

Words and music by Chief Caupolican, “San Francisco Welcomes You” was published in 1945 in San Francisco. The sheet music lives in the San Francisco Public Library’s Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection.

Born in 1876 in Chile, Chief Caupolican was a major Vaudeville star and a well-known performer at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, where, as the New York Times put it in 1922, he “h[eld] vast audiences in thrall.” Among many other entertainment industry accomplishments, Chief Caupolican also starred in the Ziegfeld-Goldwyn Technicolor screen adaptation of “Whoopee” in 1930 with Eddie Cantor.

Chief Caupolican lived in San Francisco in the 1940s and 1950s, until he moved away to Seattle in 1959.

Bill Melander’s The Record Exchange

Known as “The Old Man’s” or “The Hangout” (ideal for record collectors because you could get records for 5 cents) Bill Melander’s The Record Exchange was located at 172 Eddy Street until 1965. It was demolished as part of The City’s program to renovate lower Eddy Street.

“Pops Melander’s Eddy St. establishment looks like a lesson in how not to run a record shop. Instead it’s become a favorite hangout of record collectors and familiar jazz musicians, who delightedly sniff the aroma of musty shellac and shuffle around the grimy floor, where the worn needles are sprinkled like sequins. Youngsters starting to peddle platters cannot hope to achieve this patrician air overnight: It’s taken Pops 27 years to get his shop into the state of homely chaos shown in the pictures above.”

KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Musical Festival

The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival was held in June 1967 at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater in Mount Tamalpais. It was a rock festival sponsored by KFRC and produced by Top 40 DJs. All proceeds went to the Hunters Point Childcare Center. The concert was intended to draw the Bay Area’s youth, or as the San Rafael Daily Independent Journal notes in anticipation of the event: the concert is “expected to draw 30,000 ‘teenyboppers’ and others to the mountain’s amphitheater.” In the end, some 36,000 people, including those ‘teenyboppers,’ adults, members of the Hell’s Angels, and others, showed up to listen to performances from more than two dozen Bay Area bands. According to The Times Standard, the Sheriff’s deputies testified that, “the crowd behaved ‘like ladies and gentlemen.’”

Keystone Corner

Introducing, the Keystone Korner Jazz Club. Located on Vallejo Street (and now transformed into a restaurant), it was first a blues club and then one of the most important jazz destinations in San Francisco and arguably, nationwide. In its heyday, the club hosted musicians such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey and Bill Evans. In her 2012 book Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club, Kathy Sloane calls the club the “World’s First Psychedelic Jazz Club.” What was so unique about the club, Sloane writes, was its informal, relaxed atmosphere: “People could go backstage and talk to the musicians, the musicians would come out front. The distance between performers and audience was totally permeable.”

Sheet Music Finds

“Out in San Francisco, where the Islam Temple lives, Ev’ry body’s singing, all the bells are ringing” (Official Shrine Song)

 

“Islam Greets You (The Official Shrine Song)” was written by Fanchon and Marco and published by Sherman, Clay & Company in San Francisco in 1922. The sheet music is available through the San Francisco Library’s Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection.

 

The song was the result of a 1922 contest organized and sponsored by the Islam Temple and the San Francisco Chronicle. “The Chronicle will pay a $100 cash prize to the writer of the best Islam temple march song to greet visitors to the Shriners’ golden jubilee convention… It is an open field to all. Musical reputations don’t count. What Islam temple wants is a great march song,” declared the city paper.

 

“Miss Fanchon” & Marco Wolff were a brother and sister team of producers, who ran a robust entertainment operation in Hollywood from the early 1930s to the 1940s. In the world of theater, Fanchon and Marco (as they were usually listed) were known for their spectacular, excessive productions. Miss Fanchon, in fact, directed Shipstad and Johnson’s Ice Follies for the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco.

 

Live in San Francisco

What does it mean to live in San Francisco today?

 

What does it mean – as these three covers below hint – to be live in San Francisco?

 

How can the musical memories of San Francisco’s past liveness – buried and relocated through waves of gentrification and out migration – help us imagine an alternative living in San Francisco’s present?