623 Jackson St. | map |
Opened: 1874. This facade photo labeled "Chinese Theatre, Jackson St, S.F." is by Carlton Watkins. The location was on the south side of Jackson St. just west of Kearny. It was across the street from the Old Chinese Theatre, also known as the Royal Chinese, at 626 Jackson.
Various newspaper articles refer to it as the New Chinese Theatre or the Sam Yup Theatre, after the name of the company performing there in its early days. Later it was called the Po Hing Theatre or Po Ring Theatre. It was also known as the Jackson Street Chinese Theatre.
The theatre building was nestled in the middle of a block. There was an entrance via steep stairs up from Jackson St. There was also a passageway from Washington Pl. (an alley now known as Cooper Alley) with the entrance to that being between 633 and 635 Jackson and heading south. It was a passage known as "Fish Alley." The Chinese called it "Tuck Wo Guy," after a store on it. It's now called Wentworth Place.
Lois Foster, in her unpublished 1943 manuscript "Chinese Theatres in America," discusses the opening on page 64, calling it the Sing Ping Yeun:
This mention is cited by Morgan G. Boyd in the "Theatre Rivalries" chapter beginning on page 67 of his his 2012 thesis "The Gold Mountain Theater Riots: A Social History of Chinese Theater Riots in San Francisco during the 1870s and 1880s." It's a PDF from San Jose State University's ScholarWorks. Thanks to Art Siegel for locating it.
This theatre and its rival across the street both figure in "Mongolian Theatricals: The Police Pounce Upon The Royal China Theater," an October 25, 1875 article in the Chronicle that was about theatres violating a 1 a.m. curfew.
On page 70 of his thesis, Boyd mentions an event in 1878 involving members of the Royal across the street protesting the New Theatre's practice of stealing performers by blocking its entrance. An October 19 Chronicle article titled "Almost a Celestial Riot" discussed tactics:
"These fellows were in the employ of the Royal Chinese Theater, and last evening they took up their positions in the doorway of the new Chinese Theater opposite, which opened a night or two since to the lovers of the Celestial drama and refused to allow any one entrance. A posse of policemen charged them with clubs, and they would scatter and return again to their positions. During the melee bricks and cobbles were freely used by the Mongols, and an incipient riot was only averted by the arrest of the thirty-three prime movers in this Mongolian project."
While earlier there had been many venues, by the 1890s the Chinese drama scene was reduced to just two theatres. This one on Jackson and the Grand Chinese on Washington St. For a fine discussion of the production style and the theatres see "The Chinese Drama," an eight page article by Frederick J. Masters from an 1895 issue of "The Chautauquan." It's on Google Books. Masters refers to this house as the Po Hing and notes it had 500 or 600 seats and was running on alternate weeks.
Also of interest is an article by Arthur Inkersley from the May 1898 issue of Strand magazine. That piece, including Strand's mis-labeled photos, is reproduced as a 2011 post on the Digital History Project site.
It was just listed as Chinese Theatre in the 1901 city directory. It still gets a listing in the 1905 edition of the city directory.
More information: See the timeline for pre-1906 Chinatown theatres down at the bottom of the page for the Grand Chinese. There are also several interior views from unidentified theatres. Other pre-1906 venues: Old Chinese / Hung Chien Guen / Royal, across the street at 626 Jackson | Royal Chinese, 836 Washington |