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The Howard Theatre

738 Howard St. | map |

Opening: 1924. The theatre was a tenant in a building on the north side of the street in the middle of the block between 3rd St. and 4th St.  Jack Tillmany notes that the address comes from a city directory and telephone directories of the time. 

The Howard was an operation of Aaron Goldberg. Jack notes:  "He was a true grind house operator and seemed to thrive on them. Some of them made it, some of them didn't." The Ferry Theatre was one of his that didn't make it. Other more successful Goldberg operations at various times included the Peerless and Majestic on 3rd St. and several on Market: the Silver Palace, the Unique, the Circle (later renamed the Crest) and the Pompeii (later known as the Regal.)  

Closing: 1925. 

Status: The building was demolished in 1967. The site is now occupied by stairs and a parking garage that are part of Yerba Buena Gardens/Moscone Center. 

The theatre gets a mention in this May 17, 1967 Examiner article about the demolition. They use a 734 address for the building. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for locating the article. 

The Howard was located somewhere near those stairs on the left. On the right we're looking east toward 3rd St. Photo: Google Maps - 2014 

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

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 Playhouse

2796 Hyde St. | map |

Opened: December 3, 1949 as a legit venue called the Interplayers. The building was on the southeast corner of Hyde and Beach. They're seen offering something by Moliere in this c.1949 photo by Tom Gray from the Jack Tillmany collection. 

Jack comments on the group's early history: "The Interplayers, 'a young drama group,' first appeared on the San Francisco scene 10 May 1947 with an evening of Chekhov at the Friends Center, 1830 Sutter St. The next few years, they seem to have floated around town, making the usual stops at the Marines Memorial Theatre, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the San Francisco Museum of Art, etc., finally settling in on their own site at 2796 Hyde on 3 December 1949, only to have it shut down the following February by the Fire Prevention Department, but finally re-opening again in November 1950. They later split up into 2 groups; group #1 remained at the Hyde Street site, now identified as The Playhouse, and group #2, using the original Interplayers identity, moved into the Verdier Mansion at 1001 Vallejo."

A c.1968 view of the building as The Playhouse. It's a photo by Tom Gray that's in the Jack Tillmany collection.  
Closing: It's unknown when The Playhouse closed. 
Status: The corner has been redeveloped with a new building now on the site. 
The new building at Hyde and Beach on the site of The Playhouse. It's a 2019 image from Google Maps.  

Later moves of the group keeping the Interplayers name: After their stint at the Verdier Mansion, they moved in 1954 to the Kearny/Bella Union Theatre near Portsmouth Square. See "The Paripatetic Interplayers Find Themselves a New Roost," a May 21, 1954 Chronicle article Jack located.
In 1962 they moved to a new Interplayers Theatre at 747 Beach St., in the block to the west of the earlier Hyde and Beach location. That venue was later run as a 16mm film house by Mel Novikoff's Surf Theatres. It closed in 1972.

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.

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The Interplayers Theatre

747 Beach St. | map |

Opening: May 19, 1962.  It was in the middle of the block on the south side of the street between Hyde and Larkin, in the block just east of Ghirardelli Square. The c.1968 photo by Tom Gray is from the Jack Tillmany collection. Before moving to this location on Beach, the group had been at the Kearny/Bella Union Theatre near Portsmouth Square.

An ad for their opening show at their location. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for locating it. Note that it says it's their fifteenth season. They had done a bit of wandering. See some information at the bottom of the page.

In 1969 the legit group was gone and it was something called the Circus

Becoming a film house: In 1970 the venue was taken over by Mel Novikoff's Surf Theatres and operated as a 16mm vintage movie site using rear projection called the Surf Interplayers. Mike Keegan and Gary Meyer note that it was programmed by Tom Luddy.

Closing: May 30, 1972.

Status: The building survives. At last look it was a gallery. 

The second building is the former theatre. We're looking west toward Larkin St. and Ghirardelli Square in this 2019 image from Google Maps. 
Jack Tillmany comments on the earlier history of the Interplayers: 

"The Interplayers, 'a young drama group,' first appeared on the San Francisco scene 10 May 1947 offering an evening of Chekhov at the Friends Center, 1830 Sutter St. The next few years, they seem to have floated around town, making the usual stops at the Marines Memorial Theatre, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the San Francisco Museum of Art, etc., finally settling in on their own site at 2796 Hyde on 3 December 1949, only to have it shut down the following February by the Fire Prevention Department, but finally re-opening again in November 1950. They later split up into 2 groups; group #1 remained at the Hyde St. site, now identified as The Playhouse, and group #2, using the original Interplayers identity, moved into the Verdier Mansion at 1001 Vallejo." 

See the pages about The Playhouse, the group's location at Hyde and Beach beginning in 1949, and the Kearny/Bella Union Theatre, the group's home from 1954 until 1962. Also see "The Paripatetic Interplayers Find Themselves a New Roost," a May 21, 1954 Chronicle article Jack located.  

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. 

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The Winter Garden

305-307 Stockton St.  | map |

An early building on the site: A building used by a circus was constructed sometime between December 1868 and February 1869 on the northwest corner of Stockton and Post, in the block just north of Union Square. Thanks to Peter Field for sharing his research. He notes that in 1868 and 1869 there were newspaper mentions of the location as the home of Wilson and Cooke’s Circus. See several 1871 photos lower on the page for views. On the building at the time of one of the photos it was just "Wilson's Circus," no mention of Mr. Cooke. 

In August 1871 the building became the Occidental Skating Rink. It was an operation of the Pavilion Skating Club that had been a tenant across the street in the Mechanics' Pavilion on the northeast corner of Union Square. They had to move when that building was expanded and scheduled for an Industrial Fair and, following that, demolition. The skating rink wasn't in their new home in the circus building very long -- it burned in early October 1871.

The building that became the Winter Garden: The replacement frame building that opened November 24, 1871 was, like the earlier circus building, on the west side of Stockton but a bit farther north of Post than the original. It was again an operation of the Pavilion Skating Club and called the Occidental Skating Rink. One newspaper article referred to it as the new Pavilion Skating Rink.

The Horticultural Society acquired the building in 1872 and sometime after June began a remodel and expansion. The reopening as Horticultural Hall, a combination garden and concert venue, was on August 21. It was renamed the Grand Grotto Temple when Yankee Robinson turned the space into a circus arena with an October 7, 1872 opening. The circus didn't do well at this location and on November 12 it became a skating rink again under the management of L.M. Henry. 

The 1873 city directory listed the building as Horticultural Hall, 305 Stockton. In 1875 the address was listed as the west side of Stockton between Sutter and Post. In 1880 Horticultural Hall was listed with Sander & Kraft as proprietors and an address of 305 and 307 Stockton. Thanks to Peter Field for the research. It remained a skating rink until 1881 when F.F. Morse and J.A. Meade gave it a remodel "on the style of the Tivoli" and reopened as the Winter Garden on March 14.

Capacity: 2,500 is a number used by the San Francisco Post in 1881. They noted that the management would typically sell 3,000 tickets. 

The remodeled venue specialized in light opera and beer. Your 25 cent admission also included a refreshment ticket. On April 18, 1881 the management was taken over by Edward Stahl and Ernst Maack. The theatre is mentioned in the 1881 book "Doxey's Guide to San Francisco and Vicinity." It's on Google Books. Peter notes that in the 1881 directory Stahl and Mack [sic] are listed as the proprietors with the book still calling the venue Horticultural Hall. 

In the 1882 directory the venue is listed as the Winter Garden. The alphabetical section has the street address while the "Places of Amusement" list has it on the west side of Stockton between Post and Sutter. See the chapter about the theatre in Edmond McAdoo Gagey's "Famous Playhouses" for many details about specific productions. Thanks to Art Siegel for finding it on Internet Archive. It's also reproduced lower on this page.


A flyer for "The Black Crook," a show that opened December 22, 1881. Thanks to Art Siegel for finding this on the auction site Worthpoint. Art found a mention in the December 18, 1881 issue of The Daily Alta California about the opening of the show and the fact that the star, Miss Arline Stanley, had just returned from New York. The page with the story is on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection

An ad from an 1882 "Guide Book and Street Manual." Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for locating it. The venue is listed as Winter Gardens (plural) with 305-307 as an address in the book's Amusements list.  
Closing: The building was destroyed by fire on August 4, 1883. A Chronicle article about the blaze that was located by Art Siegel is at the bottom of the page. 
The fire was also covered in "Full Particulars of the Fire," an article in the August 5, 1883 Los Angeles Herald. That article is on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. They note that two-thirds of the block was burned. Peter Field notes that there weren't any city directory listings for anything on the site at least through 1885. 
A c.1869 view at Stockton and Geary. On the right, up on Post St. behind the windmill, is the first building on the Winter Garden site, the circus building, which burned in 1871. Thanks to Peter Field for locating the photo in the Open SF History Project collection. It's an image by an unknown photographer that's in the Martin Behrman Negative Collection / Courtesy of the Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives. 
There's an 1858 view from Nob Hill on the site showing the the area around Union Square in the lower right. This was before the circus building or much of anything else was constructed in the area. There's also a slightly different version of the same photo.
An 1871 photo looking north on Stockton toward Post St. with a better view of the Wilson's Circus building on the corner. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating the Eadweard Muybridge photo on the Open SF History Project website. It's from the Martin Behrman Negative Collection / Courtesy of the Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives. The site notes that in the distance we see the Third Baptist Church on Powell and Nob Hill in the distance. Behind the circus building is Temple Emanu-el on Sutter St.
Peter Field notes that the Mechanics' Pavilion, seen on the left, had hosted several industrial fairs from 1864 onward but by 1870 or so was being rented out for various other purposes. The Pavilion Skating Club leased the hall and in October 1870 began building a new floor for skating, opening in January 1871. The club used the space until May but had to vacate as the building as was then being expanded and readied to hold the 8th (and last) Industrial Fair at this location. That opened in August and closed in early September. When the building was demolished beginning in October 1871 it was, as Peter notes ,"to the great relief of its neighbors." For years they had been pressuring the Board of Supervisors to order its demolition, even though they now had to contend with a new rink building across the street, which was even uglier. A new Mechanics' Pavilion was built at Mission and Eighth streets.  
The Wilson's Circus building seen on the right must have burned just a few months after the photo was taken. Peter Field comments: "I notice the Wilson half of the sign looks as though it was painted over a previous sign. If that’s the case, I wonder if the previous sign said Wilson and Cooke?" Forced to leave the Mechanics' building, the Pavilion Skating Club moved across the street to the circus building, opening in August 1871 as the Occidental Skating Rink. The rink burned in early October. The later building that became the Winter Garden was a bit farther north with a string of stores along Post and a tavern right on the corner. The later building also didn't have a roof quite as steep as this one. 

A c.1875 photo by Isaiah West Taber from the Marilyn Blaisdell collection. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it on the Opens SF History Project website. We're looking northwest across Union Square toward the 300 block of Post. Powell is off to the left and if we could look a bit farther to the right and up around the corner we'd see the building that became the Winter Garden. There is a bit of its roofline behind the store buildings on the right.

A very similar 70s view, except no bicyclist. We see less of the retail buildings to the right but we get a slightly better look at the roofline of the Horticultural Hall / Winter Garden building. Thanks to Art Siegel for spotting the photo by an unknown photographer on the Open SF History Project website. It's from the Marilyn Blaisdell collection. 
A c.1880 view with, again, a partial view of the Horticultural Hall / Winter Garden on the far right. Thanks to Peter Field for locating this one on the Open SF History Project site. 
A c.1882 photo with a glimpse of part of the Winter Garden on the far right edge. Note we have quite a different roofline here showing the effects of a remodel to add fly space. Thanks to Peter Field for locating the photo in the Open SF History Project collection. It's a photo taken from the Phelan Building by Lewis Dowe that's from the Marilyn Blaisdell collection. There's also a cropped version of this in the collection.  
The four buildings on the west (left) end of the block didn't burn in the 1883 fire: the Trinity Episcopal Church, the castle-like National Guard Armory, the Verein Eintracht Building / Pacific Business College and the United Order of Red Men Hall. The latter two received some damage.
A c.1886 look at the later building on the site, the Walkerley Building / Union Club. It's a photo by N.W. Jones from the Marilyn Blaisdell collection on the Open SF History Project site. Thanks to Peter Field. for locating it. 
A fine c.1890 view north across Union Square from the Open SF History Project site. It's a photo by I.W. Taber from the Martin Behrman Negative Collection / Courtesy of the Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives.
"Famous Playhouses": Chapter Four of Edmond McAdoo Gagey's "Famous Playhouses of San Francisco" deals with the Winter Garden. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it on Internet Archive and correcting the OCR text. The 1940 publication, in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library, was a project of the Federal Writer's Program of the WPA.

"THE WINTER GARDEN (1872-1883)

'Some time ago several Gentlemen, leading members of the Horticultural Society of California, purchased the large skating pavilion on Stockton near Post, and have since then been reconstructing and enlarging it so that It will afford room for six or seven thousand people. The new building will be known as the Horticultural Pavilion, and here will be given the fruit and flower exhibition of the Society. The interior is being modeled after the style of the Winter Gardens in Berlin, Hanover, and Paris. Thirty-two pillars finished with rustic work support the gallery around which are to be arranged 300 gas burners with colored globes. The stage represents a castle resting on a rock work and in one of which will be a prismatic water-fall. The floor of the hall will be laid out as a model garden, showing the German, French and English style of arranging pleasure gardens. This beautiful Winter Garden, which, it is intended, shall surpass anything in the United States, will be opened to the public on or about August 22.'

"Figaro, on July 27, 1872, thus heralded the establishment of Horticultural Hall, later known as the Winter Garden. Its distinguishing feature, as the guests discovered on August 21, 1872, when the doors were thrown open for a preview of the interior, was the dazzling array of more than 3,000 gas jets, many of them clustered in a huge, central chandelier shaped like a palm tree. Also colorfully displayed were several thousand plants and flowers, whose donors were competing for an aggregate of $2,000 in prizes offered by the Horticultural society. The public opening occurred the next day, when Schmidt's and Schlott's orchestras combined to give a band concert. For the next nine years Horticultural Hall served the utilitarian purpose of a garden, concert hall, skating rink, and circus arena. Showman Yankee Robinson was responsible for its latter function when he installed his own circus, October 7, 1872, advertising the 3,000 gas jets and renaming the place Grand Grotto Temple. Two days later Figaro remarked:

'The Horticultural Hall on Stockton Street, near Post, now turned into a circus temple, presented a brilliant appearance last night, lighted with thousands of variegated lamps and every seat filled. In fact there were hardly seats enough to accommodate the crowd. Tonight two-hundred additional chairs will be placed in the dollar portion of the house.'

"Robinson's circus was popular for a time, but people soon grew nostalgic for the old circus lot on Jackson Street, where animals performed in the traditional environment of the 'big top' with sod and sawdust underfoot and canvas billowing above. Robinson abandoned the pavilion to L. M. Henry, who on November 12 converted it into a skating rink, A rink it remained, with interludes of light-infantry drills, socials, dances, lectures, concerts, and periods of idleness, until 1881. On March 14, 1881, the hall, remodeled on the style of the Tivoli, opened as the Winter Garden under F. F. Morse and J. A. Meade, who made of it a light-opera house and beer garden whose modest admission price of 25 cents included a refreshment ticket. According to the Examiner of March 15, 1881: 

'This new place of amusement opened its doors last night under most favorable auspices. The house was good and the performance, "The Chimes of Normandy," achieved a success. The hall has been newly painted and the stage altered so as to accommodate the large company.' 

"In the cast for the Chimes of Normandy were Fannie Marston, Louise Lester, James A. Meade, Louis Nathal, Frank Roraback, and George Harris. Although the opening was auspicious, later performances of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Pirates of Penzance' and Offenbach's 'La Fille du Tambour Major' were disappointing to the management. On April 18, Stahl and Maack acquired the Winter Garden, went to much expense installing a new stage, new scenery, new frescoes and a new coat of paint throughout; the new proprietors named M.A. Kennedy their stage-manager, and began an uninterrupted series of light and comic operas that ran well into 1883. For their opening, Stahl and Maack offered the nautical opera 'Billee Taylor, or The Reward of Virtue,' with Harry Gates playing the title part and Hallie Moore the role of Phoebe, This opera packed the house for three weeks, 'Billee Taylor is all the rage' said the Post on May 23. 'It is a worse furore than "Pinafore" if such a thing can be imagined.'

"STANDING ROOM ONLY - Tom Casselli, a first-rate comedian and singer, came to the boards in June in the extravagant La Mascotte, which had an even longer run than its predecessor, continuing to draw large audiences until July 10, On the eve of the final performance the Post reported: 

'Today and tomorrow will be the last opportunity lovers, brothers, mothers, and others will have of seeing "La Mascotte," as on Monday "Boccaccio" will be produced in grand style. Under clever management of that artist and gentleman, M. A. Kennedy, the place has prospered far beyond the most sanguine hopes of the proprietors, and it will continue to do so as long as they have such a good company together as the one engaged at present, an excellent orchestra, and a man who understands the business so well as Mr. Kennedy. The chorus will be enlarged, also the orchestra, and Bell has painted new scenery, and altogether we are promised a pleasant surprise in the care and attention bestowed on a proper representation of "Boccaccio" which will positively be produced on Monday, the 11th.'

"Manager M. A. Kennedy, on July 18, during the run of Boccaccio, advertised in the Post: 'Sunday night. A scene unprecedented! At 7 o'clock people turned away. Seating capacity of house 2,500! Number of tickets sold 3,000!' Such methods seldom left any standing room at the Winter Garden after 7:30 p.m. Mounted cheaply, played with a dash of slapstick recklessness, 'Jonah in the Whale' (the work of a local musician named Hoffman), 'La Fille du Tambour Major,' 'La Grande Duchesse,' and a curious operatic adaptation of the' Black Crook,' following one after another at the Winter Garden, continued to fill the place 'to its rafters,' and finally, on October 22, 1881, called forth this bit of mild criticism from the Post: 

'The management have very wisely placed entirely new scenery on the stage, and it is time they did so, for one gets tired seeing the black and white carpet and jaded parlor scene, which has been used so many times before. The chorus has been considerably augmented, but they sadly need training, as they stand on the stage like wooden figures.'

"Just before this was written, an excavation of 14 feet had been made under the stage for the installation of 'machinery,' the stage had been rebuilt, and the popular comedian Edward Barret had been made stage-manager. Doubtless the proprietors considered themselves extravagant, spending so much money on improvements — since the house would hold no more than its original 3,000 capacity — and six weeks were spent in rehearsing and preparing 'The Black Crook,' while an opera which had outlasted its popularity was retained on the bills, nevertheless there was no falling off in attendance, even though the gallery gods were heard more than once to groan.

"SECOND - RATE TIVOLI - The programs improved in 1832, with 'Pinafore,' Donizetti's 'The Love Potion,' 'The Bohemian Girl,' and 'Fra Diavolo' making bright spots in an otherwise tarnished repertory of musical junk — much of it contrived on the premises. But the Winter Garden remained a second-rate imitation of the Tivoli during its entire career. It never once rose to first rank, even with its production of 'Iolanthe,' then Gilbert and Sullivan's latest work. On January 27, the occasion of 'Iolanthe's San Francisco premiere, the Post came out with a direct criticism:

'The Winter Garden — Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic aesthetic opera "Iolanthe," their latest composition, was produced at this house last Monday night for the first time in San Francisco, with one or two exceptions the opera was very poorly cast, and in some instances equally poorly rendered. The work throughout showed lack of sufficient rehearsal and want of proper management; and the chorus, especially the female portion, was almost wretched at times. Mr. Urban as Lord Chancellor does his best with the character, which does not at all suit him. Arthur Sullivan has never been very partial to tenors, as he considers them "sticks" on the stage, and that accounts for the tame music given to the character of Earl Tolleller, impersonated by Mr. Horaback, of which character he has not the slightest conception ...'

"The critic went on to point out other glaring inconsistencies, then summarized with a laconic statement which neatly damned the entire performance: 'The orchestra is very good.'

"LAST SCENE — A FIRE - 'Iolanthe,' which should have made the fortunes of Stahl and Mack, proved to be their downfall. Attendances fell off night by night and ultimately forced the theatre to close, since there was no money with which to pay the actors' salaries. On February 10, attempting to remedy this situation, the company reopened under its own management in the burlesque or play 'Musketeers.' 'It is devoutly to be hoped,' said the Post that same day, 'that the public will remember the past efforts of this clever company to amuse, and will reciprocate accordingly.' But the public either did not remember, or remembered too well; the venture was only a mild success. A month or so later the Winter Garden's legal owners managed to get enough money together to reopen the house on its former basis, offering instead of opera a succession of dramatic outbursts such as 'Rip Van Winkle,' 'Saratoga,' 'The Victims,' 'The Persecuted Dutchman,' 'Sweetheart,' 'Toodles,' 'The Chimney Corner,' and 'A Kiss in the Dark.' They threw in with these a few musical numbers and specialty acts. The Winter Garden was well on the way to becoming a melodeon when it caught fire on August 4, 1883, and burned to the ground. The last notice concerning it appeared in the Call on the following day: 

'Winter Garden — nothing additional has been learned as to the cause of yesterday morning's fire, in which a large number of buildings, including the Winter Garden, Red Men's Hall, Druid's Hall and the Verein Eintract building were entirely burned. The blaze shooting up in the rear of the Winter Garden was discovered by police officers Corrigan, Flynn and Merrlfield.' 
"A general alarm was turned in and the whole department was engaged in fighting the hottest fire San Francisco has seen for years. The Winter Garden building was a large barn-like structure and owing to the material used in its construction it soon succumbed. It required 200 policemen to keep back the enormous crowd that had congregated on every side." 
The Chronicle's account of the fire from their August 4, 1883 issue: 
Thanks to Art Siegel for locating the article. 

More information: Some references from Peter Field's research: 
"Wilson & Cooke's Circus," Alta California, 12/19/1868, page 1
"Amusements," Alta California, 3/2/1869, page 4
"Amusements," San Francisco Chronicle, 8/19/1871, page 3
"The Skating Rink," San Francisco Chronicle, 11/16/1871 
"The Bicycle," San Francisco Chronicle, 11/24/1871
"Jottings About Town," San Francisco Chronicle, 10/19/1870, page 3
"Amusements," San Francisco Chronicle, 5/12/1871, page 4
"Another Destructive Fire," 10/6/1871, page 1 - the circus building / rink fire 
"By State Telegraph," Sacramento Daily Republic Union, 10/7/1871, page 1 - the rink fire
 "Amusements," Alta, 1/25/1872, page 2 - news of the new building 
"The Rink," San Francisco Chronicle, 2/1/1872, page 3
 "Amusements," Alta, 5/4/1872, page 4 - forming the Horticultural Society
"Incorporation," Sacramento Daily Republic Union , 5/22/1872, page 5
California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, 7/11/1872, page 5

Thanks, Peter!

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Union Hall / Morosco's Theatre

S. side of Howard St. between 3rd & 4th | map |

Opening: The building was constructed in 1863. The August 6 photo from that year is on Calisphere from the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library. The photo also appears on the Open SF History Project website where they call our attention to the sign hanging above the car doors: "It Shall Be Preserved."

Upstairs was originally called Union Hall. Art Siegel notes that it was so named because of the Union of the Civil War era, as was Union Square. It wasn't used by labor organizations. The ground floor was used as a car barn and stables for the Omnibus Railroad Co. until 1895. 

Walter Morosco took over the hall in 1886. It was initially known as Morosco's Amphitheatre, later as Morosco's Theatre. Earlier he had been running a circus that morphed into a variety show at the Wigwam, a venue at Stockton and Geary. He moved on to the Grand Opera House in March 1894. On the page about that venue see a fine July 1901 article from the S.F. Call discussing his varied career. He died in December 1901. The Chronicle's obituary is at the bottom of the page.  

After Morosco left, the house was called the Howard Street Theatre, under the management of Eugene Haswell, Morosco's former press agent. That venture closed after one production running about six weeks and then was dark for about a year and a half. George P. Clayton reopened the house as People's Theatre in October 1895. 

Seating: 3,000 was the number in one Examiner article.

The demise: The building was destroyed by a spectacular fire on May 2, 1898. 
An Eadweard Muybridge photo c.1875. It's on Calisphere from the UC Bancroft Library. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it. There's a cropped version on the Open SF History Project website where they comment: "The building at left is Union Hall... California was filling up with easterners from northern states who fled west to escape the Civil War draft. Instead of fighting, they named a prominent building after the Union." That's the Union Market on the right. 
Another Muybridge Union Hall photo c.1875 from the Bancroft collection. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it on Calisphere.

An 1887 Sanborn map showing the hall as Morosco's Amphitheatre. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating the map. He wonders how much noise the streetcars made below and next door to the theatre space. Note the map's mention of the gallery as being held up by wooden posts and the use of gas footlights. 

An 1889 ad for "The Yankee Sailor in Brazil," beginning May 6 at Morosco's Amphitheatre. It's on Calisphere from the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library. 

An 1892 copy of Morosco's "Advance Courier" advertising "The Outcasts of New York." Thanks to Art Siegel for finding this on the auction site Worthpoint

A c.1893 image of the building as Morosco's. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating this one in the San Francisco Public Library collection. The Library takes two tries at dating this. They think it's 1922 and then they add: "Written on Back: "Morosco's SF Theatre 2-16-33."

More information:

Chapter One of Edmond McAdoo Gagey's "Famous Playhouses" deals with the Union Hall. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it on Internet Archive. The 1940 publication, in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library, was a project of the Federal Writer's Program of the WPA. His text:

"CHAPTER I - UNION HALL (1863- 1898) - In the sixties the neighborhood of Third and Howard Streets, a fashionable residential Area, was 'too far out of town' to be considered a theatrical district. Nevertheless, Union Hall was located in this neighborhood. Peter Donahue's horsecar company was responsible not only for the location but for the hall's construction above a car barn and stables. According to the Chronicle of March 22, 1896: 

'The structure was built and intended for the protection of the ninety cars of the Omnibus Railroad Company. A double purpose animated the projectors. Building and realty speculation occupied the public mind. The temptation of high rentals, the need for a first-class hall for social gatherings, and the travel over its lines induced by the entertainment a to be given there, all combined to make the speculation a good one.'

"In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that Union Hall had a curious, unrivaled reputation. Its pre-theatrical career started in the tradition of Tucker's Academy and Platt's Hail, opening to the public April 30, 1853, with 'a promenade concert and ball' given by the Pennsylvania Steam Fire Engine Company Number 12, at which the Bianchis, Mrs. W. G. Leighton, Josephine D'Ormy, and Signor Fellini were featured in vocal selections.

"ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION - The Bulletin of April 30, 1863, came out with a description of the interior which must have been responsible in part for the 'very great assemblage that was present' — much to the advantage of the Omnibus Railroad Company: 

'The main room is 94 by 104 feet in area and 30 feet from floor to ceiling. On the south side are the orchestra platform, with a ladies' toilette room adjoining, and two private rooms on each side very tastefully fitted up and superior in comfort and accommodation to any of our theatrical boxes. The Corinthian columns with gilt capitals give a fine effect to the stage proper. On the north side are the ladies' dressing and cloak rooms; the gentlemen's dressing and hat rooms, and a large refreshment room above, with a fine gallery comfortably supplied with seats for the convenience of spectators. The dressing rooms are luxuriously furnished and have all the requisite conveniences. The walls and ceiling of the hall are pure white, with the wainscot and platform painted in imitation marble of veined and mottled yellow, very pleasing to the eye. The seats on the side of the hall are covered with crimson plush, which makes a fine and agreeable contrast.'

"The following day, after attending the inaugural, the Bulletin' s correspondent saw fit to temper his report with reproachful criticism: 
'A very great assemblage was present, to seat which during the concert no provision was made. However, after a while, most of the ladles found chairs. The proprietors of the building may hereafter think it expedient to construct galleries on throe sides of the hall, which would give seating room for nearly a thousand people. At present there is only one small gallery, at the north end of the apartment, which is not capable of seating more than one or two hundred persons. Owing in some degree to the immense empty floor, the solid walls, unbroken by openings of any kind, and the long stretch of level ceiling, with only here and there a skylight window, the music rang and reverberated through the hall most unpleasantly. The cross echoes so confused the orchestral music as to make it a little better than a discordant noise. There ought to be some remedy found for this acoustic defect. It was a strange scene to look down from the gallery upon the brilliant mass of dancers on the floor beneath. Notwithstanding the spaciousness of the hall, the number of persons present was so great that the dancers were limited to infinitesimal spaces.'

"FESTIVALS AND DANCING -  Union Hall's name reflected the strong Northern sentiment that prevailed in San Francisco during the Civil War. Its next series of festivals was given by several thousand school children who recited pieces and sang songs of loyalty to the Union cause. This was followed, as in the case of Tucker's and Platt's, by a dreary succession of concerts, lectures, and balls interspersed with all-too-frequent amateur theatricals. In 1865 Professor 0. A. Lunt established a dancing academy in the hall, and devoted three nights a week 'to the children of prominent families.' But it must be assumed, in view of his admission in the Chronicle of March 22, 1896, that the enterprise was not profitable despite its persistence: 

'I gave up possession in 1874,' the Professor states, 'on account of Union Hall's waning popularity. Subsequently other dancing masters leased the hall, but the days of its glory had passed and it steadily fell behind the procession, until one dancing master gave a series of Sunday night entertainments at ten cents admission and was successful. These were variety performances and opened up a new field of usefulness to the old place.'

"ENTER MOROSCO - The nameless dancing master referred to by Professor Lunt, with his cheap entertainments, provided the opportunity for a theatrical era under Walter Morosco, who converted Union Hall into a variety theatre sometime during the seventies; but although there is ample evidence that Morosco's Amphitheatre -- or Morosco 's Howard Street Theatre, as the former Union Hall was called -- was popular for nearly a decade, almost no details about it can be learned. Apart from contributing brief and scattered reviews, the press appears to have ignored this house until provided opportunities for news coverage independent of straight theatrical reporting. Consequently, its record leaves room for conjecture about specific events and dates. Even the new theatre's opening was described vaguely, some 20 years after its actual occurrence, in Morosco's obituary. Said the Examiner cf December 27, 1901: 

'Walter Morosco induced his friend John Byrnes, proprietor of the Brooklyn Hotel Bar, to join him in the vaudeville management of the Union Hall. Byrnes put up the money and Morosco contributed expenses. The vaudeville show failed steadily for two months. Then Morosco hit upon the idea of running vaudeville from 8 to 10 and melodrama from 10 to 12 — prices ten and twenty cents. The double bills captured South of Market, especially the melodramas. Union Hall was a success for eight years.' 

"A playbill dated April 11, 1887, is evidence that Morosco scorned newspaper advertising in favor of his own methods, for he employed one Eugene Haswell as publicity agent. With the assistance of Frank Cole, 'advertiser,' Haswell published and distributed by mail a sheet called the 'Advance Courier' which kept patrons informed of coming attractions. Haswell's playbill proves illuminating in other respects, listing among Morosco' s dozen employees a 'head barkeeper, steward and porters.' The melodramatic offering, 'Hazel Kirke,' was elaborately produced in four acts with an enormous cast, most of whom were evidently members of a regular stock company, and attracted audiences of about 2,000 week after week. William A. Brady played the leading role, Pittacus Green, and Lottie Beaumont was Hazel Kirke, A synopsis of the four acts leaves no doubt regarding the fare that appealed most to the crowds 'South of Market Street.'

"Act I -- Dunstan Kirke's Mill. 'I cast thee out forever from father's love, and may my eyes no more
behold thee.' Act II — The villa at Fairy Grove. 'I go to cover his infamy with my shame, and may heaven forgive you all.' Act III -- Kitchen of Blackburn Mill. 'I was blind when I drove her out and now when I could save her, I cannot see! I I cannot see!' Act IV -- The same. 'At last, Dunstan, the iron of thy will has melted in the fire of a woman's heart.' 'Why,' asked Morosco (in print) at the end of the program, 'can we produce the same plays as high-priced theatres, with new scenery and mechanical effects, strong company and all accessories each week, when the price of admission is only 10 cents? Answer — It is owing to the great seating capacity of the house.'

"Ironically enough, although Union Hall had begun as a place of expensive amusements designed to please 'polite society,' it had become the stronghold of frankly 'impolite society,' a variety theatre of the 'very worst sort,' looked down upon by moralists rich and poor. The house under Morosco 's management, however, was utterly democratic; its patrons had a voice in matters pertaining to their likes and dislikes, and when they voted in favor of smoking in the galleries only, their wishes were observed.

"DENOUNCED AS FIRETRAP - On January 24, 1889, just after the fire commissioners had inspected the building, the Examiner came out with a full column of judicious comments which tended to show by indirection how popular this theatre was and how unsuited to theatrical uses. Both the Examiner and the authorities considered it a fire trap: 

'Morosco's is one of the largest halls used as a theatre in the city. It is situated over the stables of the Howard-Street car line, and is but poorly adapted to the uses to which it is now applied, being merely a vast rectangular room 90 feet in width, with a stage at the southern end and a deep gallery around the walls. A variety show is conducted there and the place is so popular that almost every night in the week tho house is well filled, while on Saturday and Sunday evenings it is crowded to overflowing. Sometime ago Mr. Morosco, the proprietor, said that the house could seat 2,700 persons, but yesterday he said 2,000 in round numbers. As there are only two exits of an aggregate width of thirteen feet, it is obvious that should a fire break out when the theatre was crowded, a frightful loss of life would ensue. The necessity of some official action looking to the lives of the frequenters of this resort is apparent...

'After surveying the interior of the theatre with grave apprehension, Mr. Edwards, one of the Fire Commissioners, remarked: "I think this is the worst deathtrap I ever saw. Look at that narrow flight of stairs leading down from the west gallery. It is almost impossible to walk down alone without falling. The galleries will probably seat 700 people and there are, besides this three-foot flight, two other staircases, each four feet six inches wide. The steps are steep and winding, and a frightened crowd would be certain to tumble over each other in the haste of escaping from fire and smoke."

'The seats and framework throughout the interior of the building were found to be of wood, and the chairs on the main floor were not fastened down as required by law. Going back towards the stage the inspectors were surprised to find that instead of the required proscenium walls of brick, the partition separating the auditorium from the back part of the theatre was nothing but upright boarding, covered on the outside with canvas and wall paper. "Nothing would burn quicker than that," said architect Laver. "Put a match to that and it would go up like a flash."

'Mr. O'Connor scanned the narrow staircase leading to the gallery on the west side and observed that the door at the top had been nailed up. Looking about at heaps of rubbish and other inflammable material, he remarked: "Just as I said. It is a perfect firetrap." The stage manager called Mr. O'Connor's attention to the fact that he had provided some hose for putting out fire. There was a length of twenty-five feet under the center of the stage, which the manager said "would throw water all over the house." He was Informed that even if the theatre was in good shape, the hose would be wholly inadequate.

'After hunting around the stage for some time for a back entrance, Mr. O'Connor found a stairway leading down to the car stables. The width of this exit was two and one-half feet. At the bottom was a door which was found to be open. "That door is always open," called the stage manager from the top of the stairs. "Did you ever see this door unfastened before?" asked Mr. Barry of a man who was at work in the stables. "No, it's always fastened from this side with a bolt; how did you get in?" was the reply. This stairway was the only possible mode of exit for the actors, and in case of fire in the front part of the building, the players would be cooped up effectively. 

'In the galleries numerous cigarette butts and cigar stumps lying about the floor told the inspectors smoking was allowed during the performance. A match thrown by a careless smoker against the wooden, paper covered proscenium would be all that would be necessary to set the building on fire.The inspectors left the building unanimously of the opinion it would have to be closed up.'

"PROS AND CONS OF PRESS AND PULPIT - Despite this unanimous opinion, which the Examiner seems to have shared with relish, Morosco's theatre did not close. It was still flourishing in 1892 — amid a barrage of criticism from various pulpits -- with such melodramas as the 'Pearl of Savoy,' 'The Hidden Hand,' starring Ben and Adeline Cotton, and varied vaudeville performances. On July 3 of that year the Examiner again printed a lengthy article -- this time in defense of Morosco's theatre:

'The recent adverse criticism of theatrical matters in this city by the public, and more particularly by the pulpit, in which a very prominent and very popular amusement resort was involved, prompted your reporter to thoroughly investigate the matter, particularly regarding Morosco's on Howard Street, between Third and Fourth. No doubt thousands of San Francisco's patrons of amusements have either scoffed or ridiculed the mention of attending a performance at this family resort by a local divine, and through this source no doubt emanated this recent caustic comment. The fallacy of his statements would entirely be put to rout by the attendance, and the minister would be brought to realize that he was associated with the bone and sinew of our great metropolis.  
'From prattling babe to the pater familias of the household, all seemed highly pleased with the pleasant surroundings. And well they might, as there is a commendable absence of the fumes of tobacco and the presence of liquors in the audience. Here is the one cheap-priced theatre In San Francisco that presents creditable dramatic and comedy productions, and lives entirely upon its door receipts. How excellent dramatic talent can be employed, plays rented and mounted at such low prices has always been an enigna to the writer, and doubtless is so to the general public, but the solution is the simplest and founded on the principle that many at a low price are the equal of few at higher prices.

'The first time the writer alighted from the Howard Street car and ascended the stairs, a scene was presented that gave him one of the greatest surprises of his life. There were at least 2,500 of as enthusiastic and intelligent people as can be seen in any theatre in this country. A look over the audience revealed a sea of heads and faces assembled in what proves to be the largest theatre in the city. Here was found a representative assemblage, from laborer to the thrifty merchant, with their families, viewing with evident pleasure what proved to be a dramatic production of sterling merit, even if the admission prices were but ten and twenty cents. Nearly all the past successes are eventually produced here, and a number of the brightest lights of the dramatic stage gained their experience at this house.  

'The stage scenery was grand and is said to be as good as any in the best theatres. The seating capacity of the place is 3,000, and the ventilation is superb. It is nothing like the sweat boxes that one gets into now and then without going very far from town for the dignifying privilege of paying a dollar or so. Appearances except when they become too gaudy, are still synonyms of respectability to many. It is truly first-class in every respect, with the exception of its being ten and twenty cents, and the present stock company is reputed to be one of the strongest dramatic organizations extant, the members being selected for his or her versatility and individual merit. Their compensation is gauged by their talents. The performer at the Baldwin or California today may be a member of Morosco's stock company tomorrow.'

"EXIT MOROSCO - Morosco must have made some improvements in the house after the fire commissioners had visited it, and it is also likely that his patrons voted against smoking and drinking during performances. Until he opened his Grand Opera House on March 26, 1894, a block distant at Third and Mission Strepts, Union Hall continued to be highly successful as a variety house.

"It is reasonable to assume that Morosco's patronage followed him, for the most part, to the new location. But Eugene Haswell, his erstwhile publicity agent, did not. Instead, he remained at the old stand and tried to manage the place on his own as the Howard Street Theatre, an attempt that dismally failed after one production, 'O'Neill the Great,' which lasted about six weeks. The name of this production is thought to have been a pseudonym for 'The Great O'Neill' which was then entangled in controversy as the result of Haswell staging it as a rival to one called 'The O'Neill'; or that of William Greer Harrison, 'The Prince of Ulster,' which he is believed to have pirated, at least in part, from the Irish original advertised by Haswell. Thereafter Union Hall was tenantless for nearly two years.

"One last effort to revive Union Hall's popularity despite discouraging competition from Morosco's Grand Opera House was made by George P. Clayton. On October 12, 1895, this manager reopened the hall as the People's Theatre, with Dion Boucicault's 'After Dark.' Prices were still 10 and 20 cents. Despite a fresh coat of paint and some remodeling, the hall's decline could not be disguised. 'Through by Daylight' followed the Boucicault piece on October 20, with James M. Ward, Margaret Reid, Josie Haines, and Charles Edmonds in its cast; then came an Irish play, 'Shamus O'Brien,' followed by 'The Black Flag,' which apparently closed the house to all further theatrical activity.

"By March 22, 1896, according to the Chronicle of that date, the hall stood 'empty and tenantless' again. In the writer's opinion there seemed no hope of its being revived, since the cost of renovation would be prohibitive and the location itself had ceased to attract the public. He added:

'And so Union Hall, dedicated to the cause of human liberty and the preservation of Federal Unity, bids fair to pass from the minds of men, and although it has played quite as important a part in California history as Faneuil Hall at Boston and Independence Hall at Philadelphia did in the early history of the nation, yet unlike them bids fair to lose its identity and to be forgotten in the rush and bustle of Western life.'

"A FIERY FINISH - Whether or not people forgot Union Hall during its last days, they certainly remembered its vivid end. May 2, 1898 -- 35 years after its erection -- when it caught fire and was completely destroyed by one of the 'hottest conflagrations the city has soon in years.' The Chronicle of May 3 described the scene in detail:

'Historic Union Hall, on Howard Street, near Third, went up in flames late last night, furnishing the Fire Department with as difficult and dangerous a task as has been set to its hands in a long time. But for the skill and energy of Chief Sullivan and his men, this morning's story would, have been sorrowful telling. For some reason not explained no alarm was rung until the fire had been under way for three-quarters of an hour, or possibly longer, and by the time the department arrived on the scene the big structure was belching flames a hundred feet in the air. People residing in Tehama Street, in the immediate vicinity of the hall, declared that the building was burning all evening, and say with positiveness that a bright glow was visible through the Tehama Street windows of the building an hour before any alarm was sounded...

'Union Hall extended through from Howard to Tehama Street, and the interior of the vast auditorium, from street to street and from basement to roof, was a seething mass of flames when the firemen tackled their jobs... It seemed as if no building eastward to Third Street could escape the general conflagration. The brick walls of the building, and the excellent work of the fire-fighters kept the flames from spreading disastrously...
'At 11:45 p.m. the flames were under control. At midnight the fire was practically extinguished. The damage from the fire was confined almost exclusively to Union Hall and its contents. A large number of old 'bobtails' and some old two-horse cars of the defunct Omnibus Railroad Company and the North Beach and Mission Line were stored in the building. They were the property of the Market Street Railway Company, but none of them was worth more than $l5.00 to $30.00...The St. David, one of the most notorious lodging-houses in the city, abuts on Tehama Street and that part of it was scorched by the flames...Opium fiends, rudely awakened from their dreams, ran over each other in their anxiety to escape, and men and women in various stages of scant attire crowded into the hallways...'

"The rundown condition of its neighborhood, thus revealed, was one reason Union Hall was not rebuilt."  ### 

The building was across the street from the Albany Brewery in the 1860s. See a 2016 post by Mark Reed discussing that establishment on the San Francisco History Facebook page.  

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