This blog is primarily about the history of the buildings the Grateful Dead played in. Why? I don’t know except I’m a fan of old buildings and especially how they’re transormed over the years for various purposes. These old buildings speak to me of people, places, culture and ideas from long ago. So the Dead are just the springboard for talking about these places.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Family Dog at the Great Highway

Hmmm...about time to actually post something here. We'll start with the Family Dog at the Great Highway in San Francisco. Much has been written about Chet Helms and the Family Dog - google it. Corry Arnold has written a great post about the GD, Jefferson Airplane and the FDGH on the Lost Live Dead blog.

The building is long gone but it had quite a colorful history.

Oddly, I've only ever found one photo of the inside of the building during its FDGH days. This is a photo of Stephen Gaskin during his Monday Nite Class which he described as,"...a weekly meeting of up to a thousand or fifteen hundred people where politics, religion, acid, sex, love, etc were discussed openly."


Photo by Robert Altman

This is the only picture I've ever found of the outside of the building
when it was the FDGH.


Looks like a pretty ordinary brick building but it had a rather grand history.

The building was erected in 1885 as the Ocean Beach Pavilion. It was
located down the hill from the famous Cliff House at the northern tip
of San Francisco right on the beach and it was used for concerts and
dancing. It's the building on the right in this photo from the 1890s.


Photo from The Cliff House Project


There are more photos of it at The Cliff House Project

It apparently operated that way until 1929 when it became a very
popular restaurant/nightclub named Topsy's Roost. You can see that the original mansard roofs at the tops of the corner towers are gone but other than all the signage on the front of it it still looks like the Ocean Beach Pavilion. And compare it with the Stephen Gaskin photo above. Looks like a much more happening scene in the 30s!




Photo/Postcard from Playland At The Beach
Check out the slides at the rear of the room. Patrons could slide down from their "coops" to the dance floor. Wheeeeooooo! There are many more similar pics at the awesome Playland at the Beach Site

During this period the hugely popular Playland was built across the
street - see the previous link (Google Playland and you'll find tons of info). It was torn down in '72 and now there are condos there :(

In the 1950s the old Pavilion building became "The Surf Club" which was apparently a dance club but I can't find much information about that. Around 1964 it became a slot car racetrack. Not much left of the grand old pavilion but it's definitely the same building - you can still see the remnants of the towers on the corners.


And then the FDGH. The FDGH opened summer of 1969 and closed in late 1970. At some point before 1972 it became the "Friends and Relationships Hall", another short-lived concert venue. There are a few posters for this venue
around, including this one w/ NRPS and Jerry on 6/3/71

(Thanks to The Jerry Site for the image)


In 1971 it was actually used as the headquarters for an oil spill
cleanup on Ocean Beach.

Outside: http://webbie1.sfpl.org/multimedia/sfphotos/AAB-9972.jpg
Inside: http://webbie1.sfpl.org/multimedia/sfphotos/AAB-9973.jpg

Finally, in 1972 it was torn down.

Photo from the San Francisco Public Library
(the building was next to Skateland)

By the way, there are a lot of sites that say the FDGH was Skateland
first. That's not correct - they were neighbors.

Here's how it looks today

photo from Google Street View

15 comments:

The Yellow Shark said...

So your first comment. This is really great and I am pleased someone has started pulling all of this together.

When you think about it, many of us have researched, written, fallen in love with the obscure back street venues - even to such a level that those who were there at the time
are amazed by the interest. But the some of the major ventures seemed to have skipped by without a second glance. The Great Highway is one of these.

I have never put pen to paper (I guess finger to keyboard now) about the Avalon Ballroom itself. Again, outside photographs are rare, inside photographs are rarer, the history chequered, but the characters intriguing.

Corry342 said...

This is indeed a fantastic work of Site Prosopography. I love the photos from different eras, particularly the slot car track and the torn down building.

Jerry Garcia's Middle Finger said...

Wonderful!

Paul said...

This is great but your photo of the site today is a little too far to the north. The site is south of the dune in the photo.

beachdog67 said...

Thank you, thank you, and once more: Thank You!
It's great to see somebody clear up many of the inaccuracies floating around cyberspace about FDGH.
I worked for Chester in this building from before we opened to the public until the last dog was dead and "Friends and Relations" took over the venue.
Between the twenty-something "Deadheads" who think good internet debate skills are an indica of accuracy, and aging acid casualties who are "sure I remember it this way", there's an amazing amount of disinformation out there.
Nice job setting the record -ahem- "straight".

gary said...

Love it. Great job.

gary
www.CliffHouseProject.com

psychlops said...

Wow - thanks for all the nice comments on this post. It might even spur me to once again put some work into the blog. It's been ages since I even looked at it.

Paul, did you mean the actual location was just a bit farther south on the same lot (in the flat area) or actually across the street where the condos are?

Beachdog67 - that's much high praise coming from one who was there - thanks!

And you other prosopographers: I can only hope to achieve your level of prosopographication :)

psychlops said...

Gary, Given the incredible depth and breadth of your own site your praise means a lot to me. Thanks!

beachdog67 said...

@psychlops: Paul (say...this isn't "Paul Perhaps" is it?) is correct. The location is (was) on the flat area of the vacant lot just South of the dune, roughly between the two street lights. The cross street off The Great Highway is Balboa; during much of my time at FDGH I lived at 38th & Balboa, which made for a mighty simple commute. The condos South of Balboa actually occupy the site of Playland proper.
At the time, those dunes and cliffs going up to Sutro Heights from The Great Highway were faced with plaster fake rocks which had been in place at least since the 20s or 30s.
Faeries or some kind of magical creatures lived up in the dunes behind and to the left (facing the building from the beach) of the dance hall. No, really. They did. I don't know if they're still there or if the magic's long gone.

The Yellow Shark said...

As an aside, and whilst I recall, the Youngbloods recorded "Hippie From Olema No. 5" in three takes at The Great Highway.

beachdog67 said...

@Yellow Shark: Although I can't claim to actually recall the event, I'd be a fool to deny it. It seems reasonable. They played for us a number of times and the technical standards for "live recording" were much less complicated than they've become in what I guess we should call "the modern era".

beachdog67 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Corey said...

great blog! more Dead info for me to obsess over :-)

flashyfish said...

I loved this. Great way to reveal history. Thank you.

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About Me

I'm fascinated by the evolution of place. Or more precisely how a location has been used by humans and how we've changed a place to fit our needs and fit our needs to meet a place. The older I get the more I feel a connection to people from the not-too-distant past. We walk past a building housing a Rite-Aid and mobile phone store without realizing that once there were people dancing and falling in love there, or laughing at a movie there, or skinning their knees while roller skating there, or dropping acid for the first time and grooving to Hendrix there. So this blog is a weird bit of history/architecture/Grateful Dead arcania. But what's the internet for if not for weird little bits of arcania?

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