The Hippodrome -- 555 Pacific

555 Pacific Ave. | map |

Looking east from Kearny c.1913 with the Moulin Rouge down the street on the right at 555 Pacific St. The Hippodrome is over on the north side of the street in its first location at 560 Pacific. Beyond Spider Kelly's we get the bottom half of the Hippodrome's sign. The San Francisco Public Library photo appears on a Wikipedia page about the "Terrific Street." 

The Moulin Rouge used only part of the main floor. It's a long building. The two bays on the east end were occupied by other tenants. There were also hotel rooms up on the 2nd floor (at one point called the Montana) and a dance hall and bar in the basement, for a time called the Bella Union. The Bella was also a film house at times. It's listed in the 1913 city directory under motion picture theatres. 

This section of what is now called Pacific Ave. was once Pacific St. John Freeman offers some history: 

"From c.1860 Pacific Street ran west from the waterfront but there was no construction west of Locust as from that point on it narrowed down to a sliver as it skirted the Presidio wall. Because it was associated the Barbary Coast, there seemed to be a need by those on Nob Hill and further west to distance themselves from that tawdry historic reputation. In June 1871 the Board of Supervisors renamed the portion of the street west of Larkin 'Pacific Avenue.' That stood until about 1930, when the decision was made to rename the eastern portion Pacific Avenue as well." 

The first mention in the papers of the Moulin Rouge was January 1912 when Mayor Rolph paid a visit, according to research by Jack Tillmany. At the end of February 1913 it was one of several establishments on Pacific scheduled to be shut down as a result of a recently enacted "police department ban." The other places named for action were the Hippodrome (560 Pacific), Spider Kelly's, Red Kelly's, the Bear, the Dragon, the Thalia, the Cave and the Midway. That wasn't quite the end of the Moulin Rouge. In June 1913 they were still open but reportedly had a problem with under-age girls on the premises. By November they apparently were closed for good, at least under the Moulin Rouge name.
The venue was next called the Red Mill, keeping the same windmill on its sign. A newspaper article on April 25, 1915 reported another "move against dives" that in addition to the Red Mill listed these other establishments on the south side of the block as problems: the Bohemia (511), the Dragon (533), the Headlight (also at 533), the Bella Union (559, downstairs from the Red Mill), the Scandinavian (563? 565?), the United States (571) and the Midway (585). Venues of concern on the north side of the block included the Temperance Dance Hall (508), the Thalia (514), the Golden City (516), the Elite (520, a "Negro Resort"), the Hippodrome (560), the Tivoli (574), Diana Hall (580) and the Old California at Pacific & Montgomery Ave. (now Columbus). Jack Tillmany reports: 
"These are just the ones in the 500 block! More in the 400 block!"

An April 25, 1915 Examiner article listed the "resorts" operating on the 500 block as well as their owners. Thanks to Jack Tilllmany for finding the article. He comments: 

"Apparently, there were a total of 22 sites where dancing was permitted, but, in law-abiding San Francisco, the sale of liquor, at such establishments was forbidden, which seemed to be the root of most of their troubles. Interesting how they persist in calling these places 'resorts.' What's in a name? Maybe that was to differentiate dancing establishments from liquor establishments." 

On the south side of the block, per the Examiner's list: 
Bohemia: 511 Pacific: Joseph Freitas, proprietor
Dragon: 533 Pacific: H. Hemarie, proprietor
Headlight: also 533 Pacific: O. Scrutchfield, proprietor 
Bella Union: 559 Pacific: Walter Martin, proprietor
United States: 571 Pacific: C. Christianson and C. Peterson, proprietors 
Midway: 585 Pacific: George Kelly, proprietor

On the north side of the street:
Temperance Dance Hall: 508 Pacific: Max Wolmar, proprietor
Thalia: 514 Pacific: Frank Schivo, proprietor
Golden City: 516 Pacific: G. Crosby and A. Nestal, proprietors
Elite: 520 Pacific: Lester Mapp, proprietor "negro resort"
Hippodrome: 560 Pacific: Frank Schivo, proprietor
Tivoli: 574 Pacific: R. Walton, F. Dougherty, proprietors
Diana Hall: 580 Pacific: Charles Nelson, proprietor
Old California: Pacific & Montgomery Ave. (now Columbus): Ed Martin, proprietor

In 1920 the enforcement of the Volstead Act was ramping up. A newspaper story from November 20th advised that "two notorious Barbary Coast dance halls," the Red Mill at 555 Pacific and the Hippodrome at 560 Pacific "are permanently closed and will stay closed..." and that the other twenty of the twenty-two "resorts" on the street have their instructions as to how to operate. But there were still problems. In February 1921 proprietors of eighteen Barbary Coast "dance halls and resorts" were called in and told how to behave.

An Examiner story about the problems in the neighborhood that appeared in the February 17, 1921 issue. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding the article. 

In the early 20s the space at 555 reopened as the Hippodrome. The club of that name across the street at 560 Pacific had been forcibly closed in November 1920. Jack Tillmany reports that the only newspaper reference he could find for the Hippodrome at 555 was in August 1925 when prohibition agents raided it for what was described as selling bad booze that caused illnesses among some soldiers at the Presidio who had visited there and drank the stuff. 

The Hippodrome reopened in its original location across the street in December 1933. Prohibition was over. See the page about the Hippodrome at 560 for photos and data regarding its two periods there.

555 reopened as the Diana on November 11, 1933. Jack Tillmany advises that the opening day ad for "Diana on the Old Barbary Coast" advertised the "hottest songsters & dancers in town" and that the management team was Knut Lundstrom and Bob Weir. See the page about Diana Hall for information about earlier use of that name at several other addresses.

Apparently the Diana ran into problems as a February 3, 1934 ad announced its "re-opening serving good old Rainier Beer." Evidently the revival attempt didn't last long because in the same issue of the paper we are told "Nine licenses have been revoked" as a result of "abuse of their beer and wine permits" and so it was shut down (again). The other eight lawbreakers, all in the 500 block of Pacific were listed as Moulin Rouge, Spider Kelly's (574), Shanghai Red's, Inferno, King Tut, Hippodrome (560), Purcell's, and the Dragon (533). As Jack notes: 

"So it looks like, with the end of prohibition, all these places were up and running again, and up to their old tricks, or, at least, trying to rekindle the Old Days. But It didn't seem to work."

The bas-relief panels by Arthur Putnam outside the entrance were removed in 1937. The ones currently on display are reproductions. This article appeared in the March 12 issue of the Examiner:

Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding this article.

In 1939 the 500 block was rebranded as the International Settlement.  

On Saturday October 28, 1939 the 555 location re-opened as The Rice Bowl, "San Francisco's Most Typical Chinese Restaurant." Jack Tillmany notes: 

"But maybe just a little TOO typical because it apparently didn't last long." 

On May 2, 1941 the site became the home of Goman's Gay 90s. On May 1, 1956 they moved to the former John's Rendezvous at 345 Broadway.

In June 1964 555 became the showroom for the Herman Miller Furniture Company. Bill Lyons notes that 555 was a gay bar in the 1970s. In the 1980s it was the showroom for Don Ermann Associates, an office furniture and interior design firm.

Status: The building survives nicely. It's now the home of Artist & Craftsman Supply. In the basement level one can see evidence of old tunnels, now sealed off.

Interior views:

A perhaps 1911 look at the interior when it was the Moulin Rouge. Much of the ornament survives today, including the stud lighting. The photo is on Calisphere from the UC Bancroft Library where they think it's c.1903. Perhaps a bit early on that date. "Rough but safe" they say. The 1911 guess comes from the San Francisco Public Library, where they also have a version of the photo.

A 1932 newspaper photo of part of the Hippodrome's stage and, in the box, a photo of a stray cat living in the building. The photo is in the San Francisco Public Library collection.

The main floor in 2015. Photo: Bill Counter

A detail of the lighting. Photo: Bill Counter

More exterior views:

A perhaps 1910 photo of the building as the Moulin Rouge. It's in the San Francisco Public Library collection.

A 1913 view of the building at 555 Pacific, here called the Red Mill. It's hard to tell what their full program was but one item was film of the Britt-Nelson Lightweight Boxing Champion of the World bout, an event that happened September 9, 1905 in Colma and was a local sensation. We're looking east -- down the block are the buildings that much later would become the Little Fox. The taller of the buildings looks like a nickelodeon. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for the photo from his collection. The San Francisco Public Library has a cropped version of the photo.

The Bella Union signage on the right is for what usually was a dance hall and bar downstairs with an address of 559 Pacific. Here they're running films including the two-reeler "The Mosaic Law," a January 1913 release. As far as the posters in front, it's hard to tell what's at the Red Mill and what's at the Bella Union. Note that the film posters continue down the stairs with attractions labeled "Tonight" and "Great Comedy."

A February 1925 view of reformer Jesse Brown Cook in front of the Hippodrome. The photo is from one of his scrapbooks that's in the collection of the UC Bancroft Library. It's on Calisphere. Cook was at times a Police Chief and a Police Commissioner. Later he collected photos and other items regarding S.F. law enforcement. Wikipedia has an article about him.

A 1929 view looking east with the building still showing Hippodrome signage. Note the Rainier sign above the stairs going down to what had been the Bella Union dance hall. The Brewery had been based in San Francisco since 1916 and survived Prohibition by making various non-alcoholic beverages. The Montana was a hotel upstairs in the building. The photo is from the San Francisco Public Library collection. It also makes an appearance on a Found SF page about the Barbary Coast. 

A c.1932 photo from the Jack Tillmany collection. Thanks, Jack! 

A 1934 view of 555 as the Diana. It's a San Francisco Public Library photo.  

Wall panels on the east end of the entrance area. It's a 1934 San Francisco Public Library photo. Also in the Library's collection: wall panel photo - 1929 | removing a wall panel - 1937 | photo of one of the panels - 1964

A 1935 photo of the vacant space from the Jack Tillmany collection. A smaller version is on the San Francisco Public Library website. 

A c.1938 Shein and Shein photo. The Hippodrome is vacant and covered with postings. In the foreground Purcell's is offering the "Best Colored Show In Town." Thanks to Joe Gerrans for sharing this one in a post for the San Francisco Remembered Facebook group. 

A c.1950 view of a panel at the entrance of what was then called Goman's Gay 90s. They had the venue from 1941 until they moved to Broadway in 1956. Thanks to Marcus for sharing this photo he located. 

A 1960s photo from the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau taken when the space was a Herman Miller showroom. It's in the San Francisco Public Library collection. The photo originally appeared with this copy: "Jackson Square's reclamation has uplifted what was old-time San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast from raffishness to refinement. Once the home of the Hippodrome and Midway music halls, this showroom at 555 Pacific Avenue preserves something of the district's flamboyant past." The Midway was actually at 585.

A 1981 photo taken by Tom Gray. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for sharing it. Don Ermann Associates was the tenant at the time.  

A 1984 photo by Tom Gray that's from the Jack Tillmany collection.

Looking west on Pacific toward Kearny. Photo: Google Maps - 2014

The view east along the entrance to Artist and Craftsman Supply. Photo: Bill Counter - 2015

On the sidewalk. Photo: Bill Counter - 2015

The ceiling outside the doors. Photo: Mike Fusello 

A historic reference. Photo: Bill Lyons - 2015 

The west end of the entrance area. Photo: Bill Counter - 2015

A cast iron caryatid at the entrance. Photo: Bill Counter - 2015

More information: See the page on the Hippodrome at 560 Pacific for more data on the history of that location. Also see the separate pages on the Thalia, Diana Hall, the Midway and the Little Fox
Other venues using the Hippodrome name include the Embassy Theatre at 1125 Market St. and the Union Square Theatre at 160 O'Farrell St. The name surfaced again in 1975 for the Hippodrome Theatre at 412 Broadway. In the 60s that Broadway venue had been called the Moulin Rouge. 

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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