Sunday, December 2, 2012

Theatre 1839 (Temple Beautiful), 1839 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA

February 26, 1930, Photo property of S.F. Library

The former site of the synagogue for Temple Beth Israel, an early Jewish congregation in San Francisco, founded around 1860, which began constructing its fifth building at 1839 Geary in 1905, although its completion was interrupted by the April 1906 earthquake.

Next to the synagogue was the Scottish Rites (Masonic) Temple Building, known as the Alfred Pike Memorial Temple, at 1859 Geary, which dated back to the 19th century.

A remarkable photo exists from right after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, showing a damaged Beth Israel synagogue and the equally damaged Masonic Temple, with an empty lot where the future Fillmore would be built a few years later.
Although there were a number of different addresses on the block, these three buildings were the main structures on the block until the 1980s.(1)

A brief article in the May 3, 1969 edition of Music Industry trade magazine Billboard notes that Bill Graham sold the Geary Temple next to his old Fillmore Auditorium to Western Addition Youth Group, Inc., a self-help for ghetto teenagers for $166,000, although another bidder was willing to pay $175,000.
By that time, Graham had moved from the Fillmore to the Fillmore West, a dozen blocks and a mile and half away.  In any case, the Billboard notice shows that Graham owned the Geary Temple, and that accounts for the abrupt absence of any shows at the Geary Temple from 1966 onwards.(2)
Temple Beth Israel was on the move as well, as its Congregation merged with another Congregation, becoming Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in 1969. The Congregation moved to 625 Brotherhood Way in San Francisco, where it remains today.
The building's history from 1971 to 1977 is obscure to me.(1)

Although the venue had "festival seating" for the most part, probably different than its synagogue functions, the elegant ceilings and decorations were intact, and it was not only a beautiful building but beautiful sounding as well.(1)

Right next door, however, was the converted Alfred Pike Memorial Scottish Rites Temple, which by this time was the headquarters of Jim Jones's infamous Peoples Temple. Jones and his followers left for Jonestown, Guyana and their tragic mass suicide took place on November 18, 1978. While Theatre 1839 was not directly connected to those events, it did add to the strange mojo of the block.

Temple Beautiful
Theatre 1839 did arise as a performance venue, however, known as Temple Beautiful in early 1979 and hosting a number of punk rock shows. The Clash played their first SF performance (2nd US show) there as an underground show advertised purely through graffiti.
Why did the building stop being used for music after about 1980?

New Wave A Go Go
Not sure if this was the name of the venue or they may have just called it "1839 Geary" when the punks took over.

new wave a go go

8939 Geary

Duquette Pavilion
In the late 1980s, while driving down Geary Street in San Francisco, designer Tony Duquette discovered an abandoned and vandalized synagogue. He immediately purchased the building. After thoroughly remodeling and updating the structure [located on Geary near Fillmore where the post office now stands], Tony began creating a new exhibition named the Canticle of the Sun of Saint Francis of Assisi, after the patron saint of San Francisco.

The building itself was historic, and what Tony did with it architecturally was equally historic.
Before restoration
After restoration
When he found the building it was missing all of its windows, and the first order of business was to seal it up beautifully. Using his favorite material, cast resin, he created amazing inverted conch-shell windows in the two towers and replaced the original stained-glass main window with a creation made from Plexiglas, resin, golf balls, sliced plastic drinking glasses, plastic salad servers from Pic ‘n Save, and all manner of everyday items, which he found beautiful in their repetition.

The main floor of the synagogue would be home to the exhibition. Tony and his volunteer workers created beautiful fabric mosaic tapestries representing the teachings of St. Francis.

An 18th century figure of St. Francis was positioned at the center of the old altar, surrounded by a flock of Rajputani clay birds — perched in dead tree branches — to which he preached a sermon.
Giant faux malachite urns from an 18th century Austrian palace graced the sides of the stage, and behind those were the amazing 15-foot-tall gold-leaf Baroque trees that Tony had prominently displayed for years in his Los Angeles studio.
Above all of this was a giant copper sunburst made from the destroyed and discarded pipes of the building’s original pipe organ. All around the 80-by-80-foot room (and nearing the top of its 40-foot ceilings) ran a horseshoe balcony. It was on this balcony that Tony positioned his army of 28-foot-tall angels, with the 18-foot-tall Madonna in her pavilion holding court at the back. This entire ensemble was artfully hidden by a theatrical scrim, but when the lighting illuminated them from behind, the tableaux appeared and disappeared, to amazing effect.

Under the balcony Tony positioned various sculptures, furniture groupings and works of art.
For this celebratory environment Tony asked his friend Herb Alpert to compose the music. Charlton Heston recited a new poem by Ray Bradbury, and the whole place was set to computerized lighting.
In the basement Tony set up several party rooms and various gallery spaces.

The biggest of these galleries held an exhibition of his wife Beegle’s paintings. The exhibition, like Tony’s other exhibitions, was a brilliant popular success.
Tony Duquette with his goddaughter Liza Minnelli at the Opening of the Duquette Pavilion, April 24, 1987.(5)
Modesto Bee, August 27, 1988

Unfortunately, after being open only a brief time, the entire building — and all of its contents, including the majority of Tony’s personal collections and original works of art — burned February 16, 1989 as the result of an electrical fire.(4)
Modesto Bee, February 17, 1989

A San Francisco museum burned Thursday night, forcing the evacuation of neighbors and thousands of rock fans who were in the nearby Fillmore Auditorium. The fire at the Duquette Pavilion of St. Francis, a converted synagogue at 1839 Geary Blvd., quickly went to five alarms after it was reported at 9:19 p.m. Nearby buildings, including the Fillmore and the old Peoples Temple, were threatened but apparently undamaged. Some 140 firefighters and two dozen engines responded.(2)

The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 damaged the Fillmore Auditorium, Temple Beautiful (1839) and the former People's Temple (1859), and all the buildings were damaged by fire. The Fillmore was fully refurbished, but the two other buildings were torn down.

After some time as vacant lots, the 1839 and 1859 Geary addresses are combined as a U.S. Post Office.

Jerry performed/rehearsed here on
Fall 1967 Grateful Dead (rehearsals)
"That fall [of '67] the synagogue next door to the Fillmore closed, and the Dead rented it as a rehearsal hall."(5)

1/12/77 Jerry Garcia Band
1/13/77 Jerry Garcia Band
7/29/77 Jerry Garcia Band
Bob Marley was at the Greek Theater and Willie Nelson was at the Circle Star Theater on this night.
7/30/77 Jerry Garcia Band
8/10/79 Reconstruction (Temple Beautiful)

1.)^Arnold, Corry, July 29-30, 1977: Theatre 1839, 1839 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA Jerry Garcia Band, 2009-11-18, Lost Live Dead,
2.)^San Jose Mercury News (CA),1989-02-17.
3.)^Arnold, Corry, 1859 Geary Blvd, San Francisco: The Geary Temple 1966-68, Lost Live Dead, 2009-11-17,
4.)^Goodman, Wendy and Wilkinson, Hutton, 2008-11,
5.)^McNally, Dennis, Long Strange Trip, pg. 228

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