Straight Theater San Francisco

Straight Theater San Francisco

1702 Haight Street, San Francisco

Straight Theater San Francisco

Straight Theater San Francisco

Rock Venues

Rock shows were not unusual by 1967, but rock venues still were. The notion that someone could open an establishment solely for the presentation of rock and roll events was risky.

The beginning of such venues centered in San Francisco: the Matrix, the Avalon, and most famous of all were Bill Graham’s Fillmores: the Fillmore Auditorium (later “moved” to become the Fillmore West). And of course there was Graham’s equally famous NYC venue, the Fillmore East. The challenge of keeping such venues maintained as well as profitable forced Graham out of those venues withing years of their opening.

Straight Theater San Francisco

Haight Theatre

The Haight Theater was originally, as were so many rock establishments, a movie theater.

Straight Theater San Francisco

With the influx of “hippies” into the Haight neighborhood by the mid-60s, it made sense to convert the failing building into a rock venue. Such an enterprise required permits which the city of San Francisco was reluctant to issue. The idea of having a “dance studio” with live music cleverly skirted the legal issues.

Straight Theater San Francisco

Straight Theater

And so the Straight Theater(1702 Haight Street at Cole) came into being in mid-1967 competing with the established Avelon and Fillmore.

After weeks of renovation, it’s private christening was on June 15, 1967. From Lost Live Dead: The “Straight Theater Christening” was a private event–thus not requiring a permit–to celebrate the opening of the Straight. …The two acts performing at the event were Oakland’s Wildflower and a neighborhood band, the Grateful Dead (it was that kind of neighborhood).

The night… was particularly momentous. The hugely anticipated Monterey Pop Festival would begin on the next evening (Friday June 16), in which numerous local San Francisco underground bands, most without even records, would share the stage with major acts from Los Angeles, New York and London. The Who were playing the Fillmore of June 16 and 17, and heading down to Monterey for their Sunday (June 18) show. Most of the famous Haight Ashbury bands still lived in the Haight, for the most part, so the Straight Theater Christening was apparently the coolest of the cool parties, and in some ways the last night before Monterey Pop irrevocably expanded the San Francisco scene beyond the City’s borders.

Straight Theater San Francisco

July 21, 1967

The Straight’s official opening night featured Quicksilver Messenger Service, Mount Rushmore, Salvation Army Banned, Mother Earth, and The Dossier with Lights by Reginald

According to the Deadlists Project site, the Dead played the Straight three times: two nights later July 23, 1967 and on September 29 & 30 that same year. They had apparently also used the site as a rehearsal hall, being so close to “home.” Surprisingly for the Dead, the only recording is a Neal Cassady “Rap Jam” from the July 23 show exists.

With fits and hesitations and reboots, the Starlight Theater continued with music and supplementing with movies and dance lessons. Many “big names” played including Steve Miller, Lightning Hopkins, Quicksilver Messenger Service, John Fahey, The Charlatans, Santana Blues Band, Charlie Musselwhite, and the James Cotton Blues Band

Big Brother and the Holding Company, Sons of Champlin, Congress of Wonders, Curley Cooke’s Hurdy Gurdy Band, Indian Head Band, Ace of Cups, and Phoenix (with Lights by Straight Lightning) all played on an 24 April 1968 show to help save the Straight, but only for a year.

Straight Theater San Francisco

Denouement and demolition

Straight Theater
The Straight Theater in 1978. Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The Straight Theater’s last show was on April 5, 1969 [Sons of Champlin, Passion, Marvin Gardens, The Angels Own Band Chorus, Bicycle, Asoke Fakir, Morning Glory, Congress of Wonders, Rush, Last Mile, Glass Mountain] and on August 13, 1979 the building was demolished.

Here is a video interview with three former workers at the Straight Theatre with lots of information about the Straight’s birth.

Straight Theater San Francisco
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