Mechanics’ Pavilion was San Francisco’s first major indoor arena. Once considered the “Madison Square Garden of the West,” the pavilion became one of many casualties of the great earthquake, but not before having one last fling with notoriety.
With a seating capacity of nearly 11,000, the building was originally set up for concerts, political conventions, circuses, and religious assemblies, but within a few years, was best known for holding major prizefights. John L Sullivan became the first of several world champions to appear there, staging a number of exhibition bouts in 1884, and returning in 1886 to knockout Paddy Ryan in three rounds.
Mechanics’ Pavilion’s most controversial fight took place on December 2, 1896, when Bob Fitzsimmons faced Tom Sharkey in a major heavyweight contest. Both competitors were dissatisfied with the list of possible referees, and the job ended up being handed to famed lawman Wyatt Earp.
Frontier lawman Wyatt Earp, legendary for his role in the archetypal Western gunfight, "Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral", is called upon this afternoon to officiate at a $10,000 heavyweight championship boxing match. As he strolls into San Francisco's Mechanics Pavilion to start work, police confiscate the ex-U.S. Marshall's six-shooter.
"Sailor" Tom Sharkey is the underdog against Australian heavyweight Bob Fitzsimmons, "the Freckled Wonder". Sure enough, Fitzsimmons knocks Sharkey cold in the eighth -- but referee Wyatt Earp calls a foul and awards the decision to Sharkey, lying unconscious on the canvas! Needless to say, outrage burns in the hearts of 15,000 men present (and the whole city) that the fight had been fixed!
The case went before a judge, and though Wyatt was -- if not specifically exonerated, at least not found guilty of fraud -- he was convicted in the court of public opinion.
But what on earth was Wyatt Earp doing in San Francisco standing in a boxing ring in the first place?
Well, it's all because of Josephine Marcus, a nice Jewish girl from San Francisco who'd run off with a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theater troupe at the age of 18. Passing through Tombstone, Arizona, she'd met the tall, good-lookin' deputy U.S. Marshall there, and fell in love.
After the much-mythologized OK Corral gunfight (you remember, the Earps, Doc Holliday, the Clanton brothers) Wyatt Earp and Josie left Tombstone and wandered all around the West, settling down wherever a boomtown cropped up -- investing in mines, racing horses, running saloons and gambling parlors -- and south of the border, Wyatt had begun trading on his rough and ready lawman image by officiating at Mexican boxing matches. Sometime in the late 1890s, the Earps wound up living with Josie's parents back in San Francisco -- and there you have it.
We may never know exactly how Wyatt got mixed in the Sharkey-Fitzsimmons boxing boondoggle, or what his involvement truly was -- but in the aftermath of the scandal, the Earps left San Francisco, eventually settling down in Los Angeles. Wyatt wouldn't return to the Bay Area until his death in 1929, when his ashes were buried in Colma, in his wife Josie's family plot.
In 1901, the State of New York temporarily banned professional prizefights, making San Francisco the epicenter of boxing for the next several years. James Jeffries, the heavyweight champion of that time, defended his title four times in the San Francisco, three of those bouts taking place at Mechanics’ Pavilion.
The only known film footage of a Mechanics' Pavilion fight is the November 15, 1901 heavyweight title fight between champion James Jeffries and Gus Ruhlin, Jeffries winning in five rounds...only a few minutes of film has survived.
Jeffries’ match with Jim Corbett, on August 14th 1903, became the most financially successful fight in San Francisco history up to that time, as 10,600 patrons paid over $60,000 to watch Jeffries defeat “Gentleman Jim” in ten rounds.
Jack Johnson fought at the pavilion in 1904, knocking out Sam McVey in 20 rounds!
It was 5:12 am on April 18, 1906 when San Francisco was hit with a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. Although Mechanics’ Pavilion survived the impact, nearby Central Emergency Hospital was not as lucky, much of it turning to instant rubble. By 5:30 am, patients from the hospital, along with people injured in the quake were brought into the arena, whose doors had been forced open. By mid-morning, Mechanics’ Pavilion had become both hospital and morgue, as beds from neighboring hotels were being brought in by the hour.
Unfortunately, by 1 pm, flames from the Hayes Valley fire reached the roof of Mechanics’ Pavilion, and chief surgeon Dr Charles Miller ordered the building evacuated. Within hours, Mechanics’ Pavilion was gone. (Brian Daley,sfcabletvexaminer2010-04-20)
Here's some info from a 1906 account from the The Call Chronicle Examiner, beginning after Dr. Millar ordered all patients removed.
"Every sort of vehicle was pressed into service and the dead and injured removed. The wounded were taken to Golden Gate Park, for there was no other haven of refuge not in the danger zone, and laid upon the grass. Many were taken into nearby houses by kind-hearted people and cared for. At the Harbor Hospital fully 100 injured persons had been treated up to 10 o'clock in the morning. Upon receipt of the news of the disaster torpedo boats and tugs loaded with navy and army doctors, nurses and sailors, were dispatched from the Mare Island Navy Yard and Goat Island and rendered great aid..."
The Civic Auditorium was built on the same site in 1915 in a majestic Beaux Arts style, and hosted the 1920 Democratic National Convention.
|1915 New City Hall and Civic Center|
|S.F. Symphony Orchestra, Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA|
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Republican nominee, gave a speech at the Civic Auditorium on September 24, 1932.(2)
It was the former home of the Golden State Warriors, of the NBA, from 1964-1966.
The Bammies were held here for several years in the 90's.
|November 22, 1997, a room with day-glo sculptures and fluorescent lights where Ken Kesey and his buds did odd word games and made "music" on a wide variety of instruments.|
One end was the Ken Kesey room, which was completely decked out in complete psychadelia, from slide shows, light shows, paintings, etc. covering all the walls. It was so cool. A very small floor stage was set up in the middle of the room, where Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters were just hanging out and talking about a bunch of weird stuff. It was very cool in there, everybody was smoking tons of weed, and I saw a lot of great pipes and bongs. The security didn't give a shit, and I think it was the closest I'll ever get to the 60's/ Woodstock. Ken Kesey was trying to answer some questions, but it was fucked up so he didn't get to answer very many. He said the best thing he's ever done is made his "Further" school bus, which was parked outside. It is the raddest thing, for those who've never seen it. There were a few old-school hippies, deadheads, etc. This one deadhead in his 40's was totally on acid, and he had one of those 39 cent plastic microphones with springs in it where you talk and it echoes back to you. Anyways, this guy was trippin so hard he thought everyone could hear him, and he wouldn't leave the stage and let Ken tell his story, so Ken just left and went back stage and said he come out later. It was a very intimate environment, with about a foot-tall stage unseparated from the audience.
Same night, same place, November 22, 1997, Jane's took the stage after a trippy intro by the Merry Pranksters and a video of JFK's assasination.
The auditorium boasts state-of-the-art theatrical equipment and a concert-quality sound system.
Now the site of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the 62,000 square foot block has continued its role as a San Francisco major entertainment spot, now totaling almost 130 years.
Jerry performed here on:
3/2/83 Bammie Awards
3/12/88 Bammie Awards