Monday, August 20, 2012

Phoenix Theatre, 201 Washington Street, Petaluma, CA

Capacity 800

The first performance in this building, on December 5, 1904, was of the play Everyman.
The Phoenix began as a rare old bird—a small town opera house.

Built and opened by William Hill in 1904 as the Hill Opera House, its stage was graced by the likes of Harry Houdini, Enrico Caruso, and Lily Langtree.(1)

In the roaring 20’s it was gutted by fire, to rise again as a movie theater two years before The Jazz Singer brought sound to popular film.
It became the California Theater in 1935 and for decades continued to bring movies to Petaluma audiences.
Fire struck again in 1957, destroying the ceiling, and once again our Phoenix returned to life, this time as the Showcase Theater named by the Tocchini family and soon after, the first live concert was put on at the theater by Petaluma native, Jeff Dorenfeld. The Tocchinis employed a boy named Tom Gaffey, who managed to get rehired by Ken Frankel after Ken bought the theater in 1982. Gaffey was then the theater manager. He renamed the theater the Phoenix because the building seemed to ‘rise from the ashes.’

In the late 1990s, its landlord announced plans to sell the Phoenix Theater for demolition and reconstruction as an office building, despite public opposition. The sale was in escrow when four employees from Cerent Corporation, whom were all musicians and two of which were former Phoenix Theater frequenters, intervened and took over the escrow. With other leading local citizens, they established the non-profit Petaluma Phoenix Center, Inc, to not only own The Phoenix Theater, but preserve and expand the services the Phoenix provides to its community. These services include, but are not limited to, a free weekly health clinic for teens, free music and art programs, even an informal job mentoring program (for the past 20 years, most of the Phoenix staff has been teenagers and young adults). [3]

  • The interior walls of the theater are covered in graffiti. A review on describes them:
"The walls are tagged up and painted with everything from the simplest one color tag to entire paintings of mushrooms and other Alice in Wonderland-themed drug references that gave the place a raw feel." [4]
  • There are skateboard ramps on the sides of the two walls that run perpendicular to the stage.[citation needed]
  • The number of steps from the dressing room to the stage is three. This is usually satisfactory to national bands whose tour rider designates a certain number of stairs.[citation needed]
  • During the day, the Phoenix serves as a safe place for local kids to hang out after school. After-school tutoring as well as a free health clinic are offered a few days a week.[citation needed]
  • The Phoenix is also rumored to be haunted. Ghosts have been seen in the bathrooms, on the balcony, and in the backstage area. These sightings are rumored to be a reason why the balcony is closed and locked for most performances.

Jerry performed here on
4/18/81 Jerry Garcia Band
5/20/81 Jerry Garcia Band
5/30/81 Jerry Garcia Band
1/21/83 Jerry Garcia Band
1/22/83 Jerry Garcia Band

3.)^"The Phoenix Theater - A Brief History".
4.)^Raze (February 13, 2004) "E-40 and Family 4 Life in Petaluma".
5.)^Beck, John, Hunting for ghosts at Petaluma's Phoenix Theater, 2010-07-22, Press Democrat,

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