American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 18

San Francisco

The Gold Rush of 1849 propelled Yerba Bueña, a small settlement by the Bay into a bustling, bawdy center of ambition and thwarted dreams.  On the route to worldly sophistication, San Francisco battled and survived six large fires between 1849 and 1851.  Each time it rose from ruin and rebuilt itself as a center of commerce, transportation and entertainment.  Its most famous fire gutted nearly the entire city in 1906.

The entertainments began in saloons and, as proprietors sought to outdo each other, blossomed into melodeons, vaudeville theatres and opera houses.  The variety of entertainments was as broad as America and the people who flocked from all over the USA to San Francisco in search of some sort of success and fulfillment.  The dives of the Barbary Coast were second to none in Seattle, New Orleans or New York for vice and danger.  The fine arts were as generously patronized as in New York City, Chicago or Boston.

Although the wrecking ball of urban redevelopment demolished many of San Francisco’s cherished theatres—including the Fox, judged by many as “The World’s Finest Theatre”—several of the great old palaces of legit and vaudeville remain today: the Golden Gate, the Pantages, the Geary and the Curran.