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The Bijou Theatre

111 Mason St. | map |

Opening: The date is unknown. It was running by 1905. The location was on the west side of the street between Eddy and Ellis St. It was a half block from the Tivoli Opera House at Mason & Eddy.

The Bijou Theatre, a "Rest & Music Hall," appears in this detail from Volume 1, pages 47-48 of the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas. It's Eddy St. on the left and Ellis on the right. The map appears on the website of the David Rumsay Historical Map Collection. Also see a discussion page on the site's blog with links to various pages of the six volume publication. 

In addition to the Bijou note that the Techau Tavern, next door at 109 Mason, also had a stage. 

Closing: Like everything else in the area, the Bijou didn't survive the March 1906 earthquake and fire.
More Information: We also had a Bijou Opera House, at times called the Bijou Theatre at 729 Market St. It opened in 1888 and was running until 1892.

Gilbert's Melodeon / Worrell's Olympic / Olympic Theatre

N.E. corner Kearny St. and Clay St. | map |  

Opening: This second floor venue on the east side of Portsmouth Square began operating in the mid-1850s as F. Gilbert's Melodeon. The proprietor was Ferdinand Gilbert.

Gilbert's gets a mention in Chapter 6 of Herbert Asbury's "The Barbary Coast," a chapter mostly about the Bella Union. Discussing "melodeons," he says they were "low variety and music halls" but a step up from those dives whose only purpose was to separate you from your money. At the melodeons there was lots of liquor but no dancing. "They catered to stag audiences only, and occasionally offered very ambitious programs, but their performances, while course and vulgar and presented with what the Gilbert's advertisements called 'freedom from constrained etiquette,' were not particularly obscene."

An earlier building on the site. Or at least a much different look -- not even the same number of bays that we see later. Several sources date this as May 1855. It's a photo by George R. Fardon (1806-1886) that was published in Fardon's San Francisco Album of 1856. It appears on the Online Archive of California website from the UC Bancroft Library collection. Their caption:

"Former Post Office, the rally of the 'Law and Order' Party. Buildings on Kearny Street at the east side of Portsmouth Square. The largest building is the former post office (1852-1855) that, in 1856, became the rallying place for the party opposed to the Vigilance Committee. Also pictured are a stage office (with stagecoach in front), the Plaza Intelligence Office and Golden Gate Bakery, and to the right, on Clay Street, Young's Cloak, Bonnet, & Fancy Goods Establishment. The masts of numerous ships are visible in the background, and the street is lined with wagons and carriages..."
There was a post of the photo on the San Francisco History Facebook page by Bob Swanson that elicited many comments.  A version of the photo can also be seen on the San Francisco Public Library website.

The theatre in perhaps 1856. That's Clay St. on the right. The photo is on Calisphere from the California State Library collection. Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for finding it for a post on the BAHT Facebook page. The San Francisco Public Library has a cropped version.  

The image appeared on page 12 of the 1894 publication "Souvenir, early days in California," published by Perham W. Nahl, San Francisco. They dated it as 1854. The caption noted that the coach in front was headed for Mission Delores. The omnibus service, the "Yellow Line," had begun in 1852, San Francisco's first regular public transportation. Additional text that appeared in the 1894 publication:


An 1860 corner view. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for sharing this version of the photo from his collection.  It can also be seen on Calisphere from the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library collection and on the San Francisco Public Library website. Mike Fusello posted the photo on the San Francisco History Facebook page where it elicited many comments. 

Part of an article appearing in the June 25, 1861 issue of the Sacramento Daily Union. Thanks to Mark Reed for locating it. He notes that Colonel Jonathan Drake Stevenson was an early and very prominent pioneer. 

Mark found this item in the April 24, 1861 issue of the Sacramento Daily Union:

"Last night the police arrested three women and one man, who were exhibiting themselves as Model Artists at Gilbert's Melodeon."

And thanks again to Mark for locating this item in the April 25, 1861 issue of the Daily Alta California:

"Conviction of the Model Artists. -- The females arrested at Gilbert's Melodeon for an indecent exposure, on Monday night, were tried before Judge Cowles yesterday, and convicted of the charge, the jury bringing in their verdict last night. They probably will be sentenced to-day."

The Stockton Independent issue of November 15, 1862 had an item about Gilbert. Thanks to Xavier Le Garrec for locating this:

"Gilbert's Melodeon -- Mr. Gilbert, proprietor of the Melodeon of that name, in San Francisco, has sold out his interest in the establishment to Messrs. Little & Burroughs, for the sum of $6,000. Gilbert is shortly going to make the tour of Europe." 

Gilbert was back in action by 1864 when he had a new Gilbert's Museum and Melodeon on Market St. just east of Montgomery. By January 1865 his old venue at Kearny and Clay had become Worrell's Olympic. In the 1865 city directory they were a bit behind and listed it as Gilbert's Olympic, Kearny opposite Plaza.

The Daily Dramatic Chronicle had the news that the former Gilbert's location had become Worrell's in their issue of January 16, 1865. The page was a post on the Chronicle Facebook page.

"Glorious Success." Worrell's Olympic has half of the front page of the Daily Dramatic Chronicle for April 15, 1865. This is what was happening in San Francisco theatre and entertainment the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Thanks to William David French, Jr. for finding the ad for a post on the BAHT Facebook page

The 1868 city directory lists it as the Olympic Theatre, NE corner Kearny and Clay.  

Closing: Perhaps sometime around 1868.  

A later look at the building from the San Francisco Public Library collection where they date it as "1873?" The car is Cable Car 10 from the Clay Street Hill Railroad Company, which began service in 1873, allegedly the world's first cable car. The image by Thomas Houseworth also appears on the Open SF History Project website. When the photo appeared in some San Francisco paper it was with this copy: 
"These folks are off for a ride on the old Clay st. cable line, starting at Kearny and Clay, and they look as if they didn't relish the prospect a little bit. This was one of the popular 'residential lines' before the fire."

The expanded building on the site is seen as the "Plaza Store" with the Globe Business School on the 3rd floor. It's a detail from image 22 of the 1887 Sanborn Insurance Map in the Library of Congress collection. To the left it's Clay St. To the right of the building is Merchant St. The building on the right labeled "Old City Hall" had once been the Jenny Lind Theatre.

More information: Gilbert's Melodeon is discussed on page 326 of Amy DeFalco Lippert's 2018 book "Consuming Identities: Visual Culture in 19th Century San Francisco." It's on Google Books.   

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Gilbert's Museum & Melodeon - Market St.

Market St. just east of Montgomery  | map |

Opened: About 1864, on the north side of the street. That's Gilbert's in the center of this July 4, 1864 photo. Melodeon denoted a type of variety theatre, usually also with a bar and dancing. Thanks to Nick Wright for sharing this photo on the San Francisco History Facebook page. 

In the 1865 city directory it's listed as "Gilbert's Museum, N. side of Market bet Montgomery and Sansome."

Earlier Gilbert had been at Clay and Kearny, a space that he sold in 1862. In 1865 that Portsmouth Square venue became Worrell's Olympic.

Closing: The date is unknown.  

More information: Sorry, there isn't any yet.

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Kentucky Theatre

2201 3rd St.  | map |

Opening: It was running by September 1909 according to Jack Tillmany as it appears in that year's city directory. He adds that it was operated by Levin & Waxman with P. Benedetti as manager. The location was the southeast corner of Kentucky St. and 19th St. Kentucky is now called 3rd St. The original address was 1201 Kentucky.

In this February 1917 photo, evidently the only one of the theatre, we're looking south toward the intersection with 19th. It's a photo taken by John Henry Mentz as part of an accident report for United Railroads. Thanks to Glenn Koch for spotting the image on the Open SF History Project website. Also see more Dogpatch Neighborhood photos on the site. 

 Thanks to Jack Tillmany for this detail from the photo. 

Closing: Presumably 1917. That's the last city directory listing. That year it was listed with a 2201 3rd address. Jack notes that it looks like it had closed by the time the photo was taken. Gary Parks adds that while there isn't any signage on the front there are all sorts of brackets and fasteners for signs and poster displays.

Status: It's been demolished.   

Looking south on 3rd toward 19th. The theatre had once been over on the left. Photo: Google Maps - 2019

More information: Jack Tillmany's Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco" can be previewed on Google Books. It's available from Amazon or your local bookseller. 

Cinema Treasures has a page about the Kentucky. 

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The Panorama - 10th & Market

1331 Market St. | map |

Opened: September 3, 1887 on the southeast corner of 10th and Market. This engraving of the building by E. Schultze appeared in the September 10, 1887 issue of the Pacific Rural Press. It's on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. "The New Panorama Building, Corner 10th and Market Streets, San Francisco," their article on the same page, discusses the opening attraction in detail. It's reproduced at the bottom of the page

The building was a project of William Wehner. The initial painting was "The Storming of Missionary Ridge," depicting events of November 25, 1863 that were part of the Battle of Chattanooga. The building, both outside and in, was decorated with Civil War artifacts but the big attraction was a huge circular room for viewing the 360 degree painting.

Architect: Unknown. The Pacific Coast Architecture Database attributes it to Albert Pissis on their page about the building. But they have this panorama conflated with the 1884 Panorama Building at Mason and Eddy, which was indeed a design by Pissis. 

A c.1890 photo from the Jack Tillmany collection showing the venue with a later attraction, "The Battle of Gettysburg," a painting by John Francis Smith. The photo can also be seen on the Open SF History Project website. 

There's information about Smith on the Ask Art site. An article interviewing him in the June 22, 1890 S.F. Call pronounced the painting "One of the most realistic war scenes ever produced." The page is on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. 

The cover of a 44 page c.1890 program for the attraction. It's on the website of Abe Books with several interior pages also displayed.  

A drawing of the building from the program.


A glorious c.1893 view southeast across Market toward 10th St. and the west side of the Panorama just beyond. The photo from the Marilyn Blaisdell collection appears on the Open SF History Project website. 

Closed: May 1893. At that time it became Thomas H.B. Varney's Rambler Biclorama, an "Elegant Riding Academy."

President William McKinley and Mayor James D. Phelan passing what had been the Panorama in 1901. Notice the signage for the bicycle manufacturing firm of Thomas H.B. Varney on the building. Thanks to Glenn Koch for sharing the photo from his collection. 

The article from the September 10, 1897 issue of Pacific Rural Press: 

More information: Jack Tillmany's Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco" can be previewed on Google Books. It's available from Amazon or your local bookseller.

This Panorama building at 10th and Market is discussed in a 2014 story on Curbed S.F. 

A second panorama in town was at Mason and Eddy, a building that opened in 1884 and was later used as a music hall and then rebuilt as the Tivoli Opera House.

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The Beau Geste Cinema

 3968 17th St.  | map

Opened: The Beau Geste Cinema debuted on May 22, 1976. The location is on the north side of the street between Noe and Market. The theatre opened as a venue running 16mm prints of Hollywood films.

The opening day ad in the S.F. Examiner. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for locating it. He comments:

"For the record: This Is the Army (1943) had been buried in the Warner Bros. vaults since the time of its first release, with the usual legal complications preventing its release to TV. But then somebody did some research and discovered the copyright had apparently not been renewed and, like 'It's a Wonderful Life,' it suddenly became public domain. My guess is that both 'This Is the Army' and 'Boys in the Band' (1970) were 16mm prints from a private collection. I could probably even tell you the name of the collector, but I'm not going to."

Paul Engel notes that he saw "Call Me Madam" at the Beau Geste in 1976. Jack comments: 

"The screening was not listed in the Examiner. I believe 'Call Me Madam' was still under legal wraps at the time, so it was probably a bootleg 16mm print, safer left unadvertised, because that was also the era of the FBI roundup of prints held by collectors."

By October 1976 the theatre had become a porno operation.


This 1976 photo taken by Tom Gray is from the Jack Tillmany collection. Jack notes that "Song of the Loon" (1970) was playing the theatre in mid-October.

Jack notes that it became the E.O.C.C. (End of Castro Club) in March 1978 and by then the operation was less theatre-like with gay porno was projected high on the walls above private stalls. 

Closing: The best guess is sometime in the early 1980s. 

Status: The building survives but in 2009 it was expanded south to the property line on 17th St.  Jack notes that it's "facing Orphan Andy's, at the end of the Market Street historic trolley F Line." 

A c.1978 photo by Tom Gray taken after it had become the E.O.C.C. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for sharing the photo from his collection. He comments: "These are probably the ONLY two photos ever taken of it, thanks to indefatigable Tom Gray." 

The building in 2008, before it was expanded. Photo: Google Maps 

The remodeled building in 2020. That's a bit of Market St. seen to the left of the gas station. Photo: Google Maps

More information: Jack Tillmany's Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco" can be previewed on Google Books. It's available from Amazon or your local bookseller.

There's a page about the Beau Geste on the site Cinema Treasures.

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Dashaway Hall

139 Post St. | map |

Opening: 1861. It was on the south side of the street between Kearny and Grant, then called Dupont St. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for sharing this version of a c.1867 photo by Eadweard Muybridge. The signage on the kiosk is advertising McCarty's Dancing Academy, located in the building.
This photo can be seen as half of the image of a stereo card on Calisphere from the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library. San Jose State University notes that this is written on the back of their copy of the photo: "Dashaway Hall-San Francisco; Occupied for a short time in '1865'; One of 6 homes of SJSC in San Francisco. Occupied by Calif. State Normal School in 1865."
Capacity: 1,000 

Architect: Unknown

It was built as an auditorium for the Dashaway Society, an organization of volunteer firemen started in 1859 whose goal was to provide a social outlet but to encourage members to "dash away" any alcohol from their lips. Beginning on page 8 the PDF of the National Register Application - house at 1366 Guererro has lots to say about the Dashaways as one of the residents of that house belonged to the organization:
"Instead of gathering to drink together, the Dashaways gathered for food and song. San Francisco had a new and welcome social focus, one for which the populace had been yearning, and the Dashaway Society became an immediate success not only in San Francisco but also in the mining towns and in Sacramento where branches of the organization were founded. As the Dashaways became part of San Francisco's social fabric, 'wealth poured into their coffers.' Soon, they purchased a sandlot on Post Street for $6,000 and built an auditorium seating 1,000 persons..."

In 1865 San Francisco started paying their firemen and the societies of volunteer firemen began a rapid decline.

An 1873 ad for a Somerset Social Club Ball at the Dashaway. Thanks to Mark Reed for locating this in the July 19 issue of The Elevator. It was included in a post on the San Francisco History to 1915 Facebook page discussing venues where events for African-Americans were held. Mark comments on the August 6 ball:

"... In August the following year (1873) the Somerset Social Club sponsored its first 'public entertainment' -- a Grand Ball at Dashaway Hall, 139 Post. The Elevator (9 Aug) reported that the Ball was a 'decided success... patronized by a large company... A novel feature was introduced called the "Moonlight Quadrilles," illustrated by beautiful Calcium Prismatic lights. The effect was beautiful and elicited the approbation of the guests.' Although a success, the Elevator noted a tense encounter -- 'several white young men entered the hall with their hats on smoking cigars. They were rebuked by the managers, but they should have been expelled immediately.'"

Mark notes that the August 9, 1873 Elevator is available on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. 

The Pacific Coast Architecture Database has a page about Dashaway Hall. One of their comments: 

"San Francisco citizens interested in establishing the city's first public library gathered at Dashaway Hall in 1877 to discuss the issue. Andrew Hallidie (1836-1900), the cable car developer, convened the meeting." 

The meeting about the library is also mentioned in the Wikipedia article about the Rogers Free Library Act. Another event in 1877 was a June 29 speech by Col. Henry S. Fitch for the convention of the National Currency Party. You can by a reprint on Amazon.

Closing: The Dashaway Society was disbanded in 1883. In 1884 the building was sold and renamed Irving Hall

In 1893 additional floors were added and the facade remodeled by the furrier H. Liebes and Co.

The demise: Presumably the building was around until 1906.  

The the rear of the building as seen from 3rd and Market is in the center of the image toward the right. It's an 1867 photo by T.E. Hecht appearing on the Open SF History Project website. They note that it's the Temple Emanu-el at the center and the Denman School in the distance on the left. 

The rear of Dashaway Hall was on Morton St., now called Maiden Lane. The site notes that the photo was published by Thomas Houseworth and Co. and comes from the Martin Behrman Negative Collection of the archives of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

More information: See "Early Day Theatricals," an article in the April 21, 1901 San Francisco Call. It's on the CNDC website. 

Jack Tillmany's Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco" can be previewed on Google Books. It's available from Amazon or your local bookseller.

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The Fountain Theatre

SE corner of Kearny St. and Sutter St. | map
Opening: Sometime around 1880, frequently listed as The Fountain. The venue was in the basement of the Thurlow Block. This c.1880 image of the Thurlow shows no evidence of the theatre. That's Ver Mehr Place on the right, now styled without the space: Vermehr. Perhaps the sign propped up there is advertising the show at the theatre. Sutter St. is on the far left. 

The theatre, for at least part of its life, was managed by Gustav Walter, who had also been involved in the operation of the Vienna Garden at Sutter and Stockton and the Wigwam Theatre at Stockton & Geary. In 1887 Walter opened the Orpheum Theatre on O'Farrell St.
The photo is one by I.W. Taber that's in the J. Paul Getty Museum collection. It appeared in the 1880 publication "The Taber Photographic Album of Principal Business Houses, Residences and Persons" surrounded by ads for Sullivan's Cloak and Suit House and other building tenants. Part of the copy read "Thurlow Block, situated on Kearny street between Sutter and Bush streets, is one of the finest structures in the city..." They noted that you'd enter on Kearny to access the elevator. 

Page 35 from the Taber publication, with a different photo, is in the California State Library collection. The sign propped up next to the building near the wagon at the left says "Concert Every Evening" and something about Oysters.

The listing in the 1881 edition of "Doxey's Guide to San Francisco and Vicinity." It's on Google Books. The Fountain also appears on an Amusements list in a Guide Book and Street Manual published in 1882.

An undated 3" x 5" souvenir card from the theatre. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating this on the site Card Cow

The "Fountain Beer Hall & Theatre" was shown in the basement in this detail from image 24 of the 1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that's in the Library of Congress collection. Kearny St. is across the top, Sutter is on the right. The building had a center light court with a skylight to light the basement.

Closing: The date is unknown. The building was around until 1906.

More information: Sorry, there isn't any yet.


The Palace Amphitheatre

SW corner of New Montgomery St. & Mission St.  | map |

Opening: January 28, 1874. It was a project of circus man John Wilson. 

Seating: 2,000 when it opened, set up in a configuration designed for a circus.  
The January 10, 1874 issue of Figaro, a theatrical handbill newspaper, ran this item about the new venue:
"John Wilson, the indefatigable manager, is constructing a gorgeous horse-opera house at the corner of Mission and New Montgomery streets. It is no temporary structure, but a stable building (as indeed it should be for horse opera) It is being pushed forward with much energy, and is expected to be ready for opening on the 28th. It will be a very handsome and commodious structure, with substantial shingled roof, and will accommodate a very large number of people. A great company of the best equestrian talent in the East have been engaged, and left New York for this city this morning. Among its members are: Woodie Cook, the famous somersault and bareback performer; Ted O'Brien, the champion leaper of the world; Miss Cooke, equestrienne; and three lady gymnasts."
Thanks to Art Siegel for locating this on Internet Archive.

This description of the new building appeared in the January 22, 1874 issue of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it. 

The ad in the January 27, 1874 Evening Bulletin, the day before opening. 

It's not just the Palace but the Palace Grand Amphitheater in this blurb from the January 29, 1874 issue of the Evening Bulletin. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating these items. 

An ad for the Palace Amphitheatre appearing in the May 1, 1874 issue of Figaro. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating the issue on eBay. 

Regular ads to rent the venue began in the June 27, 1874 Daily Alta California. It's on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. They offered it by the "day, week or month at reasonable rates" and noted it had a capacity of 3,000. In a July 11, 1874 Daily California ad they called it Wilson's Palace Amphitheatre, a "magnificent building" available for "concerts, lectures or mass meetings." A July 16, 1874 Daily Alta California ad was for a booking for three nights and a matinee of circus performanes under the management of Hamilton & Chapman. 

Wilson was back with his circus for a season that ended in April 1875. It's mentioned in the April 6, 1875 Daily Alta California. The item in an Amusements column noted: 

"Wilson's Circus - After a season covering over one hundred consecutive performances, manager John Wilson has closed his Palace Amphitheatre, and will devote the remainder of the week in arranging for his departure upon a traveling tour. He takes with him a combination of rare merit, including Mr. James Robinson and the Jackley troupe, which deserves the liberal patronage of the people of the interior."

Wilson evidently left the area for good in 1875. At some point actor Charley Thorne, Sr. took over the management of the building. "Early Circus Days," an article in the July 8, 1894 San Francisco Call, called the operation "a cheap theater" and noted that it didn't have much success as Thorne and actor Dave Anderson seemed to play the leads in all the plays. 

The August 15, 1875 Daily Alta California noted that about 600 people had assembled in the Amphitheatre to watch a billiard match. The January 6, 1878 Daily Alta California noted that there would be a meeting in the building to discuss the "Chinese question." Thanks to Art Siegel for all the research.

Closing: The date is unknown. Art notes that the 1878 item about the political meeting was the last mention of the building he found. 

The building is shown as "carriage repository" with adjacent stables in this detail from image 48 of the 1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that's in the Library of Congress collection. That's Mission St. across the top of the image and Minna St. across the middle.

More Information: John Wilson (1829-1885), a native of Scotland, gets a writeup on an "Olympians of the Sawdust Circle" page on the site Classic Circus History. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it. Among their comments: 

"...With the help of William Hendrickson, bought show equipment for $20,000... and the Grand Circus and Elephant Exhibition, Wilson & Co., owners, opened at Jackson and Kearney Streets, June 1, 1859. Converted Mechanics’ Pavilion, San Francisco, into a hippodrome, 1860; company was advertised as John Wilson’s 'Dan Rice’s' Great Show, the suggestion being Wilson had obtained some of Dan Rice’s trained animals... and made arrangements to use the Rice name... The Wilson circus returned to San Francisco for an October 5-17 stand at the Jackson & Kearney Street lot. From October 30 to November 12, the group occupied the Hippodrome (formerly Mechanics Pavilion), modeled on the lines of the famous Cirque Olympus of Paris; according to the Alta Californian, this was the largest and best show ever seen in the state...

"1862, the wagons of so called Joe Pentland’s Great New York Circus arrived in California from the East on March 30 to go out under the management of Wilson, who had just returned to the West Coast from the Orient; the circus opened in San Francisco at the Jackson Street lot, April 6, in a 110’ round top... The stand terminated May 19 and the company set out for the mountain regions; their absence lasted until October 20 when they returned for a twenty-two day stand under the designation of Mammoth Circus and Hippodrome and Joe Pentland’s Great World Circus; then the show was taken as far south as Los Angeles for an appearance on November 29 and 30. 1863, John Wilson’s Mammoth Circus, with the same program as the previous November, returned to the Metropolitan Theatre, San Francisco, for a stand from January 16 to January 20. By fall, Wilson and H. C. Lee combined their shows as the Mammoth Circus and Roman Hippodrome and descended upon the Jackson Street lot for a stay under canvas from October 23 to November 26.

"1864, Wilson filed suit against William Hendrickson for dissolution of their partnership...1865, in San Francisco John Wilson’s Hippodrome, on the site of the old Mechanics Pavilion was arranged with two rings, an inner and outer one; in the larger, all sorts of races were contested - hurdle, chariot, Roman, pony, and even running; the smaller ring was used for circus acts. Constructed a circus in San Francisco on a lot facing New Mongomery Street and opened on January 28, 1874. Continued in the business until about 1875 or 1876, when he took his troupe to Australia, India, China, etc. He died in Hamburg, Germany, from dropsy and cancer of the liver, during the time his circus was traveling in that country."

Wilson & Cooke's Circus, later just Wilson's Circus, also played in 1868 and 1869 in a building at Stockton and Post, later the site of the Horticultural Hall, also known as the Winter Garden. That page also discusses the nearby Mechanics' Pavilion, aka the Hippodrome.  

"Early Circus Days," an article in the July 8, 1894 San Francisco Call, discusses John Wilson. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating this via the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Excerpts: 

"John Wilson... was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and was 66 years of age when he died, nine years ago... His first regular introduction to the amusement world was in 1857 or 1858 by means of a couple of trained elephants, Victoria and Albert... Between 1858 and 1874 he started no less than six different circuses in San Francisco, besides managing the Lyceum Theater at the northwest corner of Washington and Montgomery streets, where the earlier sessions of the young stock board were afterward held, long before Montgomery avenue was cut through. The Lick lot on Jackson street was his favorite circus ground. Here on two occasions he introduced a great deal of sawdust talent to the public.

"Then he laid down an arena on the stage of the old Metropolitan Theater and gave a circus under roof for some time. Platt's Hall, where the Mills building now stands was the scene of the triumphs of Ross and Carlo, the great acrobats, under his management. He also built a circus on Sutter street, where Harry Eltinge [?] gave 'Richard II' as an equestrian spectacle.... Then the indefatigable Wilson had a place put up at the southwest corner of New Montgomery and Mission streets, his equestrian card being the famous Jimmy Robinson, whom 'Old John' of Cincinnati picked up as a boy at York Point, in St. John, New Brunswick. The late Charley Thome Sr. afterward started a cheap theater in this place, with old Dave Anderson as his mainstay; but as Dave and Charley played the principal characters in all the pieces produced the enterprise perished from a too pronounced antiquity...

"Wilson's Lyceum Theater management was the best point he made while trying to get a permanent foothold in the amusement world of San Francisco. He brought some very good talent to this house from New York. James Anderson, the silver-voiced actor, was a great feature... He also introduced Fanny Morant [?] to our public and Miss Kioloch [?]. One of his best engagements was that of John Drew, father of the gentleman who appears at the Baldwin next week. Drew was a capital Irish comedian, and his presence on this occasion led to a scrapping match on Washington street between Wilson and Tom Maguire, whose opera-house was located a few doors above the Lyceum on the same side of the street. Maguire was playing John Collins, also an Irish comedian, at the time Wilson was playing Drew. The latter was much the superior actor, and, besides, his material was new. He uttered a boast that he would play Collins out of town, and he made it good. Maguire's theater was gradually deserted, while the Lyceum was crowded, especially to see Drew in 'The Irish Immigrant,' which he played admirably. It was under these circumstances that the rival managers met one evening... Of course Wilson was the better man in such a contest. He had a fist like a sledge-hammer and the strength of an ox...

"In 1874 he purchased or chartered a brigantine, loaded her up with full circus equipment and a small but excellent company of performers and sailed away for fresh worlds and pastures new in Australia and the Orient... Wilson had... found himself unsuccessful here after a struggle of nearly twenty years. When a friend met him running his circus in Melbourne... in 1875, he asked Wilson if he ever intended to revisit California, and his reply was full of bitterness: 'Never. I have done with that part of the world. I curse myself when 1 think what a fool I have been to spend the best part of my life in such a wretched place, gaining nothing, when the Australias, the Indias and China invited me with teeming populations and abundant wealth. There is plenty of space in the East for speculation. No more California for me... Wilson and his establishment were a great success in the chief cities of New South Wales, Victoria and other places in Australia for many years... -- George E. Barnes."

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The New Variety / Theatre Comique

 N.W. corner of Kearny St. and Pine St. | map |

Opening: It was running by 1874 as Buckley's New Variety. The opening date is unknown. Ned Buckley and Billy Skeantiebury were the proprietors.

An ad for Buckley's appearing in the May 1, 1874 issue of the theatrical handbill newspaper Figaro. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating the issue on eBay.

By 1882 it had become the Theatre Comique. It's listed on an Amusements list in an 1882 Guide Book and Street Manual. 

Closing: The date is unknown.

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Divisadero and Grove

 661 Divisadero St. | map |

Date: This theatre was planned in 1913 for the southwest corner of Divisadero and Grove but evidently never built. The location is a half block north and on the other side of the street from the 20s vintage Harding Theatre.

The images are from plans in the Gary Parks collection. He notes that they were stamped as approved by the Building Department in 1913. There's no evidence that's surfaced so far that a theatre ever operated in this location.  

Seating: 399

Architect: C.O. Clausen 

A title block from one of the sheets. 

A section view of the proscenium and, at the right, the Divisadero St. facade. 

A closer facade view. 

A closer look at the proscenium drawing.  

An elevation of the Grove St. side of the building. 

A detail of the north side of the entrance from the section drawing. 

A section view looking at the ticket lobby, booth and house left wall of the auditorium. 

A detail of the entrance end of the building from the section. 
The main floor plan. 

An entrance detail from the floorplan. 

The plan at booth level.

The site is on the corner with Grove St. to the right. To the left we're looking south on Divisadero with the gray facade of the Harding Theatre down the block. Photo: Google Maps - 2019

Gary comments: "The modern (or remodeled) building on the site is long, narrow, and one story, so whether or not the theatre ever got built, the shape of the property makes sense."

Thanks, Gary!

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