San Francisco has always been a mecca for art, music, and entertainment. In the second half of the 19th century, what is now the Financial District was a hotbed of bars, dance halls, and brothels called The Barbary
Coast, stretching from Market Street to Broadway. Jazz began its presence in San Francisco as early as the 1930s in the Fillmore District near City Hall. By the 1950s, a massive “urban renewal” project displaced most of the residents and culture of the Fillmore District. Much of the thriving Jazz community relocated to North Beach, which had always been famous for its thriving music and entertainment scene. From the 50s into the 70s, North Beach became known for it’s live Jazz.History of Entertainment on Broadway
Broadway in particular became the main scene for Jazz, art and comedy. Ann’s 440 Club at 440 Broadway was one of the first clubs that catered to the lesbian community. It’s where Johnny Mathis was discovered in 1953, and where Lenny Bruce became popular in 1958. After catching one of his stand-up routines in the late 50s at Ann’s 440, Hugh Hefner booked Lenny Bruce for several shows in Chicago clubs. From there Lenny Bruce went on to become a star.
The Jazz Workshop at 473 Broadway was one of the hottest Jazz clubs in San Francisco from the late 50s through the 1960s. Huge names such as Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and John Coltrane could often be found on the lineup. Because of its acoustics and atmosphere, several live Jazz albums were recorded there over the years. The Dilexi Gallery was directly upstairs from the Jazz workshop from 1958 through 1970. Some of the most famous painters in San Francisco history were involved in exhibitions there, including Jay DeFeo and Richard Diebenkorn.
El Matador was a Jazz club and lounge from the early 50s through the 60s at 492 Broadway, in the building that is now the Green Tortoise Hostel. The club was founded by famous author and bullfighter Barnaby Conrad. Known for being much higher-class and more expensive than many of the other clubs on Broadway, El Matador became famous for pulling names like Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and Marlon Brando. In 1959, a release party for “Pull My Daisy,” the famous Beat Generation film written by Jack Kerouac, was thrown at El Matador. A drunk and disheveled Kerouac was turned away at the door of the event when the doormen could not believe he was the guest of honor, though he was eventually let in when his friends caught wind of what was happening.
The Condor Club opened up in 1964 on the corner of Broadway and Columbus Street, and was immediately made famous for Carol Doda, their first topless entertainer. The large neon sign that towered above the intersection depicted a scantily clad Doda herself. The Condor is world renowned for being the first topless and bottomless entertainment club in the world.
In the mid 1960s, a semi-improvisational theater troupe called the Committee Theater Revue opened up at 622 Broadway. They became famous for their satirical portrayal of the American middle class, and drew a wide demographic of fans around the Bay Area. Author Herb Gold commended The Committee Revue for bridging the gap between the Beatniks and the emerging Hippie Generation. Post-Beat Poet Anne Waldman performed her poetry at their space in the mid 1970s. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was present at her event, and offered to publish her poetry, which ended up being “Fast Speaking Woman,” Number 33 of the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.
From the brothels and dance halls of the Barbary Coast era, to the Jazz clubs and galleries of the Beat Generation, to the strip joints and hopping bars of today, Broadway remains a main-vein of the life-blood of San Francisco.
Written by Niko van Dyke, Beat Museum