Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Potrero Theater, 312 Connecticut Street at 18th, San Francisco, CA

Page 146, middle; artist Bill Walker on his cover painting for Anthem of the Sun:
"The way the faces came about was by going to a concert and getting psychedelicized and focusing on a band member and relating to the imagery like an energy field. It was at a time when I could listen to music and actually see the music sort of roll through the room, to the point where I'd actually step over it, or grab it, or get knocked over by it." The painting took several months to complete, and at one point it looked as though Walker's work might be for naught:
"I remember going to a band rehearsal at an old theater near Potrero Hill right when I was ready to start painting on [my pencil outline]," he said. "In the middle of rehearsal they got into a big hassle over something to do with management or money problems. Everyone was really pissed off, and Phil came over to me and said, 'Well, I guess that's it.' They'd decided to break up! Eventually, of course, it all cooled out and they started playing again, so I kept going."
Phil said of Walker's trippy mandala, "It was so perfect for that album and so perfect for what we were doing then and who we were then."

I recently emailed Bill Walker and this was his reply:

Hello Harry,
Ah Yes, I remember it well. The New/Old Potrero Hill Theatre in the 300 block on Connecticut Street. It closed as a theatre in the early 60s. 
The Dead rented it for a rehearsal studio in the first half of 1968. I have a son that lives in Bernal Heights. When a few years ago while visiting him I drove up Connecticut St. and recognized the building,  but it looks like it is being used for office space. I seem to recall it was originally called the Alta Theatre; although, not sure of that ...its been a long time.
Hope this is of some help to you, and keep up the good work. All the best, Bill

The New Potrero opened as the Alta Theatre in 1913-1929. The installation of sound equipment in 1930 also brought a new name: the New Potrero Theatre.

For over 30 years, it served the Potrero Hill neighborhood as a strictly mom-and-pop operation unique to a city as large as San Francisco. Mom sold the tickets, Pop ran the projectors. There was no snack bar, only vending machines in the lobby. One can only guess, but the two of them probably cleaned up each evening after the show as well. They ran no ad in the daily newspaper; a monthly calendar kept neighborhood patrons abreast of what was playing. Amazingly this operation lasted until 1963, at which time the New Potrero Theatre finally shut down for the last time.
Whatever became of Mom & Pop? Perhaps a reader can enlighten us.
The building still stands, having been converted into offices, a neighborhood artifact of the long distant past when such a humble operation was not only feasible but profitable.

1968 Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh (sitting), Bob Weir

In a 1973 episode of “The Streets of San Francisco,” called “Trail of the Serpent,” thugs come
out of a theatre called “New Potrero Theatre.” Does anyone know what theatre they actually used for this? Assuming the theatre closed in 1963, I guess the producers decided to make the scene extra nostalgic for those in the know.

While layers of paint were cleaned off the facade, exposing a very nice red and tan brick surface, the wonderful little marquee which had been on the theatre since at least the 1930s was removed, as were the slabs of white and grey veined marble which were still in place in the ticket lobby.

In 1992, the building was renovated.(4)

In 2000-2001, it was known as Gurdjieff Hall, a small converted movie theater a few doors off Potrero Hill's charming 18th Street neighborhood commercial strip.(1)(2)

G.I. Gurdjieff' was a noted early 20th-century mystic type, known for his teachings in a self-proclaimed "Fourth Way" of balanced personal/spiritual development. He is also known for having established the modern use of the enneagram as method for self-understanding. Regardless of whether or not Gurdjieff was in fact a genius or just a very clever charlatan, there's no question he was responsible for a great deal of interesting music. Says Wikipedia: "The last musical period is the improvised harmonium music which often followed the dinners Gurdjieff held in his Paris apartment during the Occupation and immediate post-war years, to his death in 1949.

G.I. Gurdjieff


In 2011, the owner requested rezoning to Small Scale Neighborhood Commercial Use District status.  No new development is proposed. The rezoning is to conform to it's longstanding existing use. Approved in November, 2011.(3)

Jerry rehearsed here in
1968 The Grateful Dead

1.)^Grant, John Angell, Berkeley Daily Planet Theater Critic, 2000-09-12 
2.)^Moore, Michael Scott, The Illusion, Short Stage reviews, 2000-09-27 
3.)^Notice of Public Hearing, 2011-12-05 
4.)^Selvin, Joel, The San Francisco Musical History Tour 


  1. Great research. Joel Selvin had mentioned this building in his book "The San Francisco Musical History Tour" but he did not make it clear when the Dead had actually rehearsed there, and you managed to nail down the date. Selvin had the address as 308 Connecticut, but movie theaters often have more than one address (because they cover multiple lots). Selvin's book said that the building was renovated in 1992.

  2. It seems all the images have disappeared. I will put them back in, hopefully they will stay there!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hi Jerry,

    Found your info on the then "New Potrero Theatre" and its appearance in a 1973 episode of the TV crime drama series "The Streets of San Francisco", starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas.

    I re-checked that particular episode ("The Trail of the Serpant") and just would like to let you know that it actually was the "New Potrero Theatre" itself which appeared there (not an other locations as suspected in your article) in full lightnings etc.! I don't know, however, whether was was used (again) as a cinema or just another type of club room back then. Hope this helps.

    Best wishes,
    DANIEL from Germany (

  5. The building now houses the Entropy/Consciousness Institute, conducting studies based on the principles of the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, who was not a charlatan. The faint of heart couldn't handle his teachings, though. Easier to call him a charlatan than to really face oneself, study oneself. Socrates too was considered a gadfly of Athens, for the same reasons. Beside "interesting" music, Gurdjieff left a complete system consisting of ideas, movements, meetings, sharing, physical work.

    Here is the Institute's website, for more information.