The Van Ness Theatre

259 Van Ness Ave. | map |

Opened: March 11, 1907 on the southwest corner of Van Ness and Grove. It was erected by James Van Ness on his family's land and was intended to only be a temporary theatre after the earthquake. It was managed by Jake Gottlob and Melville Marx, who went on to the Columbia Theatre (now called the Geary) when that was ready in January 1910. 

Before the quake Gottlob and Marx had managed the Columbia Theatre on Powell St. near Market. In June 1906 they had announced a New Columbia Theatre to be built at Van Ness and Geary, a project that never happened.

This view of the theatre advertising their opening attraction, "Madame Butterfly," while construction was still being finished is from a scrapbook of Hamilton Henry Dobbin that's in the California State Library collection. Ignore his erroneous notation that the theatre was at the corner of Fulton. That's Grove St. on the right.

"The New Ironclad Theatre of Exits." A February 1907 ad announcing the upcoming grand opening. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for locating the ad. 

Seating: 1,614. There were 972 on the main floor, 374 in the dress circle, 208 in the gallery and 60 in the boxes.

A main floor seating chart from a 1908 guidebook. 

A dress circle and gallery seating chart. Thanks to Kevin Walsh for sharing these from a 1908 guidebook in his collection. They were part of a post on the BAHT Facebook page

The cover of an April 1907 program for the Sousa Opera Company with Joseph Cawthorn in John Philip Sousa's new military comic opera "The Free Lance." It's on Calisphere from the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library.  Also see a similar program in the collection for the week of June 3, 1907.

A July 1907 photo of the theatre with Ethel Barrymore appearing in "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines." The photo is on Calisphere from the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library.

"Vallejo Welcomes the Fleet." It's May 7, 1908 view of the parade welcoming the "Great White Fleet." Note the theatre's name on the stagehouse in the upper left and "John Drew" on the swingout sign on the upper right corner of the facade.

Thanks to Art Siegel for spotting the photo in the Open SF History Project collection. It's a photo from the Marilyn Blaisdell Collection. On the site they note that the Mare Island battleship float is being pulled by horses. On the right in the center of the image it's a Navy band watching the action.

An undated program on Calisphere from the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library. Also in the collection: An August 1908 program for the play "Man of the Hour," an April 1909 program for Otis Skinner in "The Honor of the Family."

A February 13, 1909 Chronicle ad for an event at the theatre. Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for the finding it for a post on the BAHT Facebook page.

A June 1909 San Francisco Dramatic Review ad for Ethyl Barrymore, back to appear in "Lady Frederick." Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for posting it on the BAHT Facebook page.

The cover for the program of "The Music of Bohemia," the Bohemian Club's August 26, 1909 afternoon concert at the Van Ness, under the direction of Paul Steindorff. The program began with "Montezuma," an orchestral suite by H.J. Stewart based on his music for the play produced at the Grove in 1903. Next was an aria from "Carmen" sung by Mackenzie Gordon. Also on the program was the "Bohemian Christmas Ode" with words by Peter Robertson and conducted by the composer, Theodore Vogt. See the club's Bohemian Grove Museum pages for what materials they have online.

Billie Burke in "Love Watches" in October 1909. Thanks to Glenn Koch for finding this postcard on the site Card Cow

A November 1909 ad for George M. Cohan in "The Yankee Prince." Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for locating the ad for a post on the BAHT Facebook page


A January 1910 ad from Gottlob & Marx for attractions at the Van Ness as well as at the new Columbia Theatre, now called the Geary. Thanks to Jon Perdue for locating the ad for a post on the BAHT Facebook page that also included several other items about the Columbia's opening. 

Closing: Summer 1910. The building was demolished soon after the closing. 

An August 30, 1910 ad for the auction of the contents of the theatre building. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for locating the ad.

The theatre being demolished in 1910. The photo is of the Labor Day Parade. The float in the foreground is for the I.A.T.S.E. Projectionists Local. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding the photo on the Open SF History Project site. 

Status: The block now has the Davies Symphony Hall on it.

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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