by Frank Dunnigan
San Francisco has long been a city noted for music and song – from Barbary Coast dance halls to symphony orchestras, and venues such as Fillmore Auditorium, Fillmore West, the Avalon Ballroom, Candlestick Park, Kezar Stadium, the Golden Gate Park band shell, Sigmund Stern Grove, and more. In addition, there have been musical performances involving parades, building dedications, houses of worship, outdoor concerts, summer pops concerts, street musicians, school bands, and more. This month we take a look back through the OpenSFHistory photo archive at just a very few of the hundreds of photos representing San Francisco’s musical artists.
View North on Capp Street between 24th and 25th Streets, showing Admission Day Parade with crowd of Fraternal Order of Eagles Golden Gate Aerie No. 61 members and the Drum & Fife Corps & Degree Team, September 9, 1910. (wnp37.01972; Marilyn Blaisdell Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
The Drum & Fife Corps of the Fraternal Order of Eagles poses on Capp Street near 25th Street in the Mission District, as part of the California Admission Day parade in September of 1910. Though some homes have been slightly altered over the years, most of the buildings in the background remain today in recognizable form. Note the gas streetlamp at right – most of these were replaced in San Francisco in the years after World War I. Overhead utility lines and poles such as the one at the far right-hand side of this image were removed on this block of Capp Street during the present millennium.
Dedication of San Francisco General Hospital on Potrero Avenue near 22nd Street, April 30, 1915. (wnp36.00785; photo by Horace Chaffee, SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Building dedications have long included boring speeches, but in the past, the tedium was regularly broken by an interlude of live music. At the dedication of the new San Francisco General Hospital building on Potrero Avenue in April of 1915, spectators included hospital administrators, staff, nurses, and members of the public, plus a uniformed band.
Schools have long promoted musical training for their students. Here is the Girls’ Band of St. Peter’s School at 1266 Florida Street in the Mission District in 1918 – some 40 years after the founding of the parish. Many of these young ladies were born in the years around 1906. St. Peter’s once had separate schools for boys and girls at both the elementary and the high school levels. The boys’ high school closed shortly after World War II and the girls’ high school graduated its final class in 1966. A new elementary school building replaced the old wooden structures on both sides of this image circa 1958 and today serves a co-ed student body of nearly 200. Many of the residential buildings on the opposite side of Florida Street remain today, and although some have been heavily remodeled over the past 105 years, they are still largely recognizable.
As students grew older, bands became more organized, often featuring uniforms. Here, the Portola Junior High School band poses in 1935. Many San Francisco schools, both public and private, stressed music education. The school was closed circa 1977 and the Girard Street site remained vacant until 1986 when the main building was demolished and replaced by the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, with the gym and the auditorium from the old Portola campus retained.
In this photo, drummers in the American Legion Parade on October 1, 1946 are marching past the Whitcomb Hotel at 1231 Market Street. The building was constructed in 1911-1912 and originally served as San Francisco’s City Hall while the new Civic Center was being built to replace what had been lost in the 1906 earthquake. Upon completion of the present City Hall in 1916, the Whitcomb opened as a 400-room hotel in 1917. During World War II, it served as offices for the Federal government, and in 1963, it became a residential building known simply as The Whitcomb. By 1979, it was known as PSA (for Pacific Southwest Airlines) Hotel San Franciscan and later as the Ramada Plaza. The Hotel Whitcomb name was restored in 2007. In 2020, the building was placed into service to provide shelter to the homeless in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, in early 2023, the hotel’s website simply states: “The Hotel Whitcomb is closed until further notice.”
While several of the Market Street buildings on the left side of the photo remain, the commercial tenants have changed. Just beyond the Whitcomb, there is a sign for the Crystal Palace Market that used to operate at the southeast corner of 8th and Market Streets beginning in the 1920s. That was torn down in the late 1950s for the modern, low-rise Del Webb Motor Lodge. By the 1980s, that complex was converted to the Trinity Plaza apartments, before being demolished for a new Trinity Plaza complex with multiple buildings ranging from 16 to 24 stories and containing nearly 2,000 individual units, which opened in 2022 after almost 20 years of negotiations and evolving design plans. The buildings to the right of the Whitcomb were demolished in the mid-1970s and replaced with a 16-story office building for State Compensation Insurance Fund.
Read the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2022 article when the new Trinity Plaza was dedicated.
Union Square; Mayor George Christopher leads the Guckenheimer Sour Kraut Band during the dedication of a motorized cable car ready to set out on a nationwide goodwill tour sponsored by Western Airlines, September 10, 1957. (wnp14.13304; Examiner Negative Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
San Francisco Mayor George Christopher leads the Guckenheimer Sour Kraut (sometimes spelled Sauerkraut) Band at a civic event in Union Square in 1957. The group was made up of accomplished performers, all members of Local 6 of the Musicians’ Union, yet the band was also famous for its comedy – seldom beginning together plus starting and stopping the music unexpectedly. All of the melodies played, including American standard tunes, had a vaguely Germanic “oom-pah-pah” beat to them. The group was very popular in the 1950s-60s, playing at lodge meetings, church socials, and various other public relations events around town.
Sunday morning funeral processions in Chinatown have long featured musical accompaniment from marching bands, such as this scene on Grant Avenue from 66 years ago. The tradition continues today.
Members of the Salvation Army band serenade the public on 7th Street near Market in 1958. The Federal Barber Shop and other businesses in the background are long gone, though the building itself remains. The nearby Greyhound bus station on 7th Street (out of view in this photo) was demolished for construction of an additional Federal office building of 18 stories that opened in 2007.
Street musicians became popular in about spring 1971, and were soon prevalent on many downtown streets. This image from August 1974 was captured in front of 1 Powell Street, built in 1921 as headquarters for the Bank of Italy (renamed Bank of America in 1929). The bank’s headquarters later moved to the Financial District and for many years, the bank maintained a branch office and its large Travelers Cheque operation in this building. The site was sold early in this millennium, and by 2004, the upper floors had been converted to residential units, with various ground floor retail tenants – currently AT&T.
In this photo, former Beatle Paul McCartney performs with “Paul McCartney and Wings” in a concert at the Cow Palace entitled “Wings Over America” on June 13, 1976. A total of more than 600,000 fans attended the tour’s North American performances in 31 different locations during the months of May and June that year. Historic footnote: Paul McCartney is now 81 years old.