Thursday, April 12, 2012

Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA

Opened in 1906 as Blanco's Cafe, it sat next to Blanco's Hotel and Restaurant, run by “Blind Boss” Chris Buckley, a saloon keeper and neighborhood political organizer who became “boss” of San Francisco’s Democratic Party in the 1880s. Until he was deposed by a grand jury in 1898, Buckley made sure the Southern Pacific Railroad got what it wanted and ran the City the way he wanted by controlling a corrupt municipal government in the interest of graft.

Sometime in the mid-1870s,  Chris Buckley went blind. Hence, The "Blind Boss"

San Francisco's oldest and grandest nightclub, the Great American Music Hall, carries guests back to an earlier, more elegant era, with its ornate balconies, soaring marble columns and elaborate ceiling frescoes.
The remarkable interior design came from an unlikely duo: a French architect, Architect: A.W. Edelman, who designed the building in 1907, and Chris Buckley, a political mover and shaker who wanted to erect a grand structure after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The result was Blanco's, characterized as one of the most popular entertainment spots during San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast Era. The restaurant/bordello offered fine food, gambling and fast women right up until the dark days of the Great Depression in 1933.

Three years later, in 1936, the extravagant and elaborate fan dances of local favorite, Sally Rand, brought new life to the dark building. Sally Rand (April 3, 1904 [1] – August 31, 1979) was a burlesque dancer and actress, most noted for her ostrich feather fan dance and balloon bubble dance. She also performed under the name Billie Beck. Cecil B. DeMille gave her the name Sally Rand, inspired by a Rand McNally atlas.
She had been arrested four times in a single day during a fair due to perceived indecent exposure while riding a white horse down the streets of Chicago, but the nudity was only an illusion. She also conceived and developed the bubble dance, in part to cope with wind while performing outdoors. She performed the fan dance on film in Bolero, released in 1934.
Sally and The Bubble
In 1936, she purchased The Music Box burlesque hall in San Francisco, which would later become the Great American Music Hall.  It remained as The Music Box until 1946.

In 1939, our girl hosted Sally Rand's Nude Ranch at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco.  It was housed at a night spot called The Music Box and featured women wearing cowboy hats, gun belts and boots, and little else.  Sally's show was only one of several "flesh" shows in the Treasure Island Amusement Zone, also known as the "Gayway."  [Something tells me that name won't be used again anytime soon.]
Music Box, 1940

She continued to appear on stage doing her fan dance into the 1970s.
Rand once replaced Ann Corio in the stage show, This Was Burlesque, that appeared at the Mitchell Brothers club in San Francisco in the early 1970's.
She died in 1979 in Glendora, California, aged 75, from undisclosed causes. She was deeply in debt at her death and according to Rand's adopted son, Sammy Davis, Jr. who had been a child performer, stepped in wrote a $10,000 dollar check which took care of Rand's expenses.[5]

With the end of World War II, the Music Box turned out its lights.

Blanco's reopened under Barney Deasy as Blanco's Cotton Club in 1948, a jazz club, and  the city's first desegregated club. Allen Smith, the esteemed jazz trumpeter, was one of the primary players.
Lionel Hampton performed for two weeks here starting on September 1, 1948. It opened with a big splash but only lasted a few months due to price increases for large orchestras.

In the 1950's, it was taken over by members of the Moose Lodge. The building went into an ignominious decline that hit bottom when the building was condemned by city building inspectors.
A last-minute reprieve saved it from demolition, and the tarnished interior was spruced up a bit when a short-lived French restaurant (1968-1974) named Charles (after the proprietor, Robert Charles) took over the building. But it was not until 1972, when the Great American Music Hall opened, that happy music lovers filled the hall once more.(4)

Bill Monroe performed here in the October, 1978.(6)

The venue was sold in 2000 to Palo Alto-based, a dot-com startup, that planned live Internet broadcasts of new music from the former Music Box.

Jerry performed here
7/19/73 Merl Saunders
2/5/74 Merl Saunders
2/12/74 Merl Saunders
3/1/74 Merl Saunders
3/2/74 Merl Saunders
3/10/74 Great American String Band
5/2/74 Merl Saunders
5/30/74 Merl Saunders
6/8/74 Merl Saunders
7/14/74 Early and late shows Merl Saunders
7/23/74 Merl Saunders
8/7/74 Merl Saunders
8/15/74 Merl Saunders
8/24/74 Merl Saunders
8/28/74 Merl Saunders
10/6/74 Merl Saunders
10/30/74 Merl Saunders
11/28/74 Merl Saunders
11/29/74 Merl Saunders
12/16/74 Merl Saunders
2/27/75 Legion Of Mary
2/28/75 Legion Of Mary
5/15/75 Legion Of Mary
6/18/75 Legion Of Mary
7/4/75 Legion Of Mary
7/5/75 Legion Of Mary
8/13/75 Grateful Dead
8/20/75 Jerry Garcia Band
8/21/75 Jerry Garcia Band
7/4/76 Jerry Garcia Band

1.)^Born April 3, 1904 per SSDI under the name Helen Beck; SS#349-10-3000. According to the 1920 U.S. census, her parents were William F. and Lillie Beck, and she had a younger brother, Harold; the family was then residing in Jackson County, Missouri, not Hickory County,
2.)^Crafts, Daniel Steven, CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, Historical Essay
5.)^Zemekis, Leslie, Behind the Burly Q , a film on some of the history of Burlesque, 2010,  interview with Rand's son
6.)^Thompson, Richard,I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #184, 2011-04-03,

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