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♦792.079 ^n3^% 525362


FORM 3427 5M^I2-39

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

San Francisco Public Library





PART III t{\\Jjj


7\ .'



History of the San Francisco Theatre, Volume XVII

Compiled by Workers of the Writers' Program
of the Work Projects Administration
in Northern California

Sponsored by the City and Cov.nty of San Francisco



Official sponsor of the Northern
California Writers' Project

John M. Carmody, Admlnlatrator


HoT/ard 0. Hunger, Commissioner
Plcrenie Kerr, Assistant Commissioner
William R. Law sou, Adminl^:.trator for Nopthern California




Chaptor I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV



































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^7ith thir, volume, seventeenth in the Theatre Research
Series, the Northern California V/rlters' Proprajn continues the
work berrun by Project 465-O3-0-2S6 , sponsored by the City and
County of San Francisco, v/hich prepared the .first 15 voluries
in the series.

The present volune v;as prepared by the 3an Francisco
unit of the Writers' Prorrari under the ir^r.ediate direction of
Lavrx-ence IH^stavan, Assistant District Supervisor, and under
the supervision of Fathorine Justice, District Supervisor.
The research nas the ^vorl: of Gretchen Clark, I'ichael Kvepshev;,
Dorothy Phillips, Slleanore Staschen, and Jack '7ilson. The
final nanuscript ^/as ^An:>itten by Georp-e Hanlin and Alan
Karri son.

Walter Hc'31roy, State Supervisor
Forthern Coli'o-nia "Writers' Prorr^an

(1063- 1898)

In the sixties the neighborhood of Third and Howard
Streets, a fashionable residential Area, wae "too far out of
town" to be coiasidered a theatrical district. Nevertheless,
Iftilon Hall was located in this nel^borhood. Peter Donahue's
horsecar company was responsible not only for the location
but for the hall's construction above a car bam and stables.
According to the Chronicl e of March 22, 1895 ,•

"The structure was built and intended for the pro-
tection of the ninety cars of the Omnibus Railroad Com-
pany • • • A double purpoae animated the projectors.
Buil(Jlng and realty speculation occupied the public
mind. The temptation of iii^h rentals, the need for a
first-class hall for social gatherings, and the travel
over its lines induced by the entertainment a to be given
there, all combined to make the speculation a good one."

In such circ\axn3tances it is hardly surprising that Union
Hall had a curious, vmrivaled reputation. Its pre- theatrical
career started in the tradition of Tucker 's Academy and Piatt's
Kail, openinr to the pu^Dlic April 30, 1853, with "a promenade
concert and ball" given by the Pennsylvania Steam Fire Engine
Company Number 12, at which the Blanchis, Mrs. W. G. Lelghton,
JoseiDhine D'Ormy, and Sir^onor Pellini were featured in vocal
selections •

The Bulletin of April 30, 1863, came out with a descrip-
tion of the interior which must have been responsible in part
for the "very great assemblage that was present'' — much to
the advantage of the Omnibus Railroad Company;

"The main room is 94 by 104 feet in area and 30|-
feet from floor to ceiling. On the south side are the
orchestra platform, with a ladies' toilette room
adjoining, and two private rooms on each side very
tastefully fitted up and superior in comfort and accom-
modation to any of our theatrical boxes. The Corinth-
ian columns with gilt capitals give a fine effect to
the stage proper. On the north side are the ladies'
dressing and cloak rooms; the gentlemen's dressing and
hat rooms, and a large refreshment room above, with a
fine gallery comfortably supplied with seats for the
convenience of spectators. The dressing rooms are


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luxuriously furnished and have all the requisite con-
veniences. The walls and ceiling of the hall are pure
white, with the walaacot and platform painted in imita-
tion marble of veined and mottled yellow, very pleasing
to the eye • The seats on the side of the hall are cov-
ered with crimson plush, which makes a fine and a^vee-
able contrast.''

The follo\vin^ day, after attendin-^ the inau^paral, the
Bulletin' s correspondent saw fit to temper )iis report with
reproachful criticism;

"A very groat assemblage was present, to seat which
during the concert no provision was made- However, after
a while, most of the ladles found chairs. The proprie-
tors of the building may hereafter thinl: it expedient
to construct galleries on throe sides of the hall, which
would give seating room for nearly a thousand people.
At present there is only one small gallery, at the north
end of the apartment, which is not capable of seating
more than one or two hvuidred persons. Owin^ in some
degree to the i.-.\iaense empty floor, the solid walls, un-
broken by openings of ssiy kind, and the lon^ stretch of
level ceiling, with only here and there a skylight window,
the music rang and reverberated through the hall most
unpleasantly* The cross echoes so confused the or-
chestral music as to mal:e it a little better than a dis-
cordant noise. There ouglit to be some remedy found for

this acoustic defr^ct . , •

"It v/as a strange scene to loci: down from tl\e gal-
lery upon thp brilliant mass of dancers on the floor be-
neath. Notwithstanding the spaciousness of the hall,
the ntujiber of persons present was so groat that the
dancers were limited to infinitesimal spaces."

Iftiion Hall's name reflected the strong Northern tientlment
that prevailed in San Francisco during the Civil War. Its next
series of festivals was given by several thousand school chil*-
dren who recited pieces anu aang songs of loyalty to the Union
cause* This was followed, as in the case of T\;cL;er's and
Piatt's, by a dreary succession of concerts, lectui-os, and
balls interspersed with all-too-frequent amateur tlicatricals •
]h 1865 Professor 0. A. L\;int established a dancin;' academy
in the hall, and d'^ voted three nights a week "to the children
of ■'prominent families." But it must be ass\jmed, in view of
his admission in the Chronicle of March 22, 1896, that the en-
terprise was not profitable despite its persistence:

"'I gave up possession in 1874,' the Professor
states, 'on account of Union Hall's waning popularity.
Subsequently other dancing masters leased the hall, but
the days of its glory had passed and it steadily fell
behind the procession, -until one dancing master gave a
series of Sunday night entertainments at ton cents

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admission and was successful. These were variety per-
formances and opened up a new field of usefulness to
the old place. ' "

The nameless dancing master referred toby Professor Lvmt,
with his cheap entertainments, provided the opportunity for a
theatrical era under Walter Morosco, who converted Union Hall
into a variety theatre sometime during the seventies; but al-
though there is ample evidence that Morosco' s Amphitheatre -
or Morosco 's Howard Street Theatre, as the former Union Hall
was called - was popular for nearly a decade, almost no de-
tails about it can be learned. Apart from contributing brief
and scattered reviews, the press appears to have ignored this
house until provided opportunities for news coverage independ-
ent of straight theatrical reporting. Consequently, its rec-
ord leaves room for con jecture about specific events and dates.
Even the new theatre's opening was described vaguely, some 20
years after its actual occu:'.''rcnce, in Morosco 's cbiti^ary* Said
the Examiner cf DRcember 27, 1901:

"Walter Morcsco inJi^cod his friend John By^^Ties,
proprietor of the Broclrlyii Hotel Bar, to join him in the
vatideville management of the Union Hall. Byrnes put up
the money and Morosco contributed expenses. The v^.ude-
vllle show failed steadily for 'bwo months. Then Morosco
hit upon the idea of running vaudeville from 8 to 10 and

melodrama from 10 to 12 — prices ten and twenty cents.
The double bills captured South of Market, especially
the melodramas. Union Hall was a success for eight
years ."

A playbill dated April 11, 1887, is evidence that Morosco
scorned newspaper advertising in favor of his own methods, for
he employed one Eugene Hasv/ell as publicity agent. With the
assistance of Prank Cole, "advertiser," Haswell published and
distributed by mail a sheet called the Advance Courier which
kept patrons informed of coming attractions.

Haswell' s playbill proves illuminating in other respects,
listing among Morosco' s dozen employees a "head barkeeper,
steward and porters," The melodramatic offering, Hazel Kirke ,
was elaborately produced in four acts with an enormous cast,
most of whom were evidently members of a regular stock company,
and attracted audiences of about 2,000 week after week.
William A. Brady played the leading role, Pittacus Green, and
Lottie Beaumont was Hazel Kirke, A synopsis of the four acts
leaves no doubt regarding the fare that appealed most to the
crowds "South of Market Street,"

Act I - Dunstan Kirke ' s Mill. "I cast thee lut forever

from feyther's love, and may my e^res no more

behold thee."
Act II — The villa at Fairy Grove. ''I go to cover his

infamy with nj shariie , and may heaven forgive

you all."

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Act III - Kitchen oi" Blaclrbum Mill. "I was blind
when I drovr; he:"- outj and now when I could
save h<"-r, I caniiot s^se I I cannot see J"

Act IV - The srne. ''At last, Dvinstan, the iron of thy
will has melted in the fire of a woman's heart*"

"Why," asked Morosco (in print) at the end of the program,
"can we produce the saino plays as high-priced theatres, with
new scenery and mechanical effects, strong company and all ac-
cessories each week, whon the price of admission is only lOjz^?
Answer — It is owing to the great seating capacity of the
house ."

Ironically enough, althougli Union Hall had begun as a
place of expensive amusemeiits designed to please "polite so-
ciety," it had becOiie the atronghold of frankly "impolite
society," a variety theatre of the "very worst sort," looked
down upon by moralists rich ra>l poor. Ihe house vindT Morosco 's
manage'nent, howevr.r, v/as vtterly de^nocratlc; its patrons had a
voice in matters pertaining to their likes and dislikes, and
when they voted in favor of n-aoking in the galleries only,
their wishes were observed.

On Januai^ 24, 1309, just after the fire co^^.iissionershad
inspected the building, the E^caminer cajue out with a full column
of judicious comments which tended to show by Indirection how

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popular this theatre was and how unsuited to theatrical uses.
Both the Examiner and the authorities considered it a fire trap t

"Morosco's is one of the largest halls used as a
theatre in the city. It is situated over the stables of
the Howard-Street carline, and is but poorly adapted to
the uses to which it is now applied, being raerely a vast
rectangular room 90 feet in width, with a sta^e at the
southern end and a deep gallery around the walls • A
variety show is conducted there and the place is so pop-
ular that almost every night in the week tho house is
well filled, while on oat\irday and Svmday evenini^s it is
crowded to overflowing.

"Sometime ago IIi^. Morosco, the proprietor, said that
the house v/ould seat 2,700 persons, but yesterday he said
2,000 in roxmd nvimbers. As there are only two exits of
an aggregate width of thirteen feet, it is obvious that
should a fire break out when the theatre was crowded, a
frightful loss of life would ensue. The necessity of
some official action looking to the lives of the fre-
quenters of this resort is apparent . • •

"After surveying the interior of the theatre with
grave apprehension, Mr. Edwards, one of the Fire Commis-
sioners, remarked: 'I think this is the worst death-
trap I ever saw. Look nt that narrow flight of stairs
leading down fro.ii the west gallery. It is almost ir^jos-
sible to walk down alono without falling. •


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"The galleries will probably seat 700 people and
there are, besides this three-foot flight, two other
staircases, each four feet six inches wide. The steps
are steep and winding', and a frightened crowd would be
certain to tumble over each other in the haste of es-
caping from fire and smoke .

"The seats and framework throughout the interior
of the building were found to be of wood, and the chairs
on the main floor were not fastened down as required by

. "Going back towards the stage the inspectors were
surprised to find that instead of the required prosce-
ni"um walls of brick, the partition separating the audi-
torium from the back part of the theatre was nothing
but upright boarding, covered on the outside with canvas
and wall paper.

"'Nothing would hvm quicker than that, ' said archi-
tect Laver. 'Put a match to that and it would go up
live a flash.'

"Mr. O'Connor scanned the narrow staircase leading
to the gallery on the west side and observed that the
door at the top had been nailed up. Looking about at
heaps of rubbish and other inflammable material, he re-
marked: 'Just as I said. It is a perfect firetrap.'

"The stage manager called Mr. O'Connor's attention
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out fire. There was a length of twenty-five feet under
the center of the stage, which the manager said 'would
throw water all over the house.' He was Informed that
even if the theatre was in good shape, the hose would be
who 1 ly i nade qua t e .

"After hunting around the stage for some time for
a back entrance, Mr. O'Connor found a stairway leading
down to the car stables. The width of this exit was two
and one-half feet. At the bottom was a door which was
found to be open. 'That door is always open,' called
the stage manager from the top of tlie stairs.

'•'Did you ever see this door unfastened before?'
asked Mr. Barryof a man who was at work in the stables,

"'No, it's always fastened from this side with a
bolt; how did you got in?' was the reply.

"This stairv/ay was the only possible mode of exit
for the actors, and in case of fire in the front part
of the building, the players would be cooped up effec-

"In the galleries numerous cigarette butts and
cigar stumps lying about the floor told the inspectors
smoking was allowed during the performances, A match
thrown by a careless smoker against the wooden, paper-
covered proscenium would bo all that would be necessary
to set the building on fire.

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"The inspectors left the building unanimously of
the opinion it would have to be closed up."

Despite this unanimous opinion, which the Examiner seems
to have shared with relish, Morosco's theatre did not close*
It was still flourishing in 1892 — amid a barrage of criti-
cism from various pulpits - with such melodramas as the Pearl
of Savoy , The Hidd en Hand, starring Ben and Adeline Cotton,
and varied vaudeville performances. On July 3 of that year
the Examiner again printed a lengthy article - this time in
defense of Morosco's theatre:

"The recent adverse criticism of theatrical matters
in this city by the public, and more particularly by
the pulpit, in which a very prominent and very popular
amusement resort was involved, prompted your reporter to
thoroughly investigate the matter, particularly regard-
ing Morosco's on Howard Street, between Third and Fourth.
No doubt thousands of San Francisco's patrons of amuse-
ments have either scoffed or ridiculed the mention of
attending a performance at this family resort by a local
divine, and through this source no doubt emanated this
recent caustic comment. The fallacy of his statements
would entirely be put to rout by the attendance, and the
minister would be brought to realize that he was associ-
ated with the bone and sinew of our great metropolis.


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From prattling babe to the pater faTilllas of the house-
hold, all seemed highly pleased with the pleasant sur-
roimdlngs* And well t'ley might, as there is a commend-
able absence of the fumes of tobacco and the presence
of liquors in the audience. Here is the one cheap-
priced theatre In San Francisco that presents creditable
dramatic and comedy productions, and lives entirely upon
its door receipts. How excellent dramatic talent can
be employed, plays rented and mounted at such low prices
.has always been an enigna to the writer, and doubtless
is so to the general public, but the solution is the
simplest and founded on t'.ie principle that many at a low
price are the equal of few at higher prices.

"The first time t.-.e writer alighted fr'om the Howard
Street car and ascendf^cl the stairs, a scene was present-
ed that gave him one of the greatest surr^rises of his
life. There were at least 2,500 of as enthusiastic and
intelligent people as can be seen in any theatre in this
coTontry. A look over the audience revealed a sea of
heads and faces assembled in what proves to be the larg-
est theatre in the city. Here was found a representa-
tive assemblage, froi.i laborer to the thrifty merchant,
with their families, viewing with evident pleasure what
proved to be a draitiatic production of sterling merit,
even if the admission prices were but ten and twenty
cents. Nearly all the past successes are eventually

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produced here, and a nvunber of the 'brightest lights of
thedramatic stage gained their experience at this house*
"The stage scenery was grand and is said to be as
good as any In the best theatres. The seating capacity
of the place is 3,000, and the ventilation is superb.
It is nothing like the sweat boxes that one gets into
now and then without going very far from town for the
dignifying privilege of nayin^:, a dollar or so» Appear-
ances except when thejr become too gaudy, are still
synonyms of respectability to many. It is truly first-
class in every respect, with the exception of its being
ten and twenty cents, and the present stock company is
reputed to be one of the strongest dramatic organizations
extant, the members being selected for his or her versa-
tility and individual merit. Their compensation is
gauged by their talents. The performer at the Baldwin
or California today may be a member of Morosco's stock
company tomorrow."

Morosco must have made some improvements in the house after
the fire cominissloners had visited it, and it is also likely
that his patrons vot*^.d against smoking and drinking during
performances. Until he opened hi."? Grand Opera House on March
26, 1894, a bind: distant at Third and Mission Strepts, Union
Fall continued to be highly successful as a variety house.




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It is reasonable to assume that Morosco's patronage fol-
lowed him, for the most part, to the new location. But Eugene
Haswell, his erstwhile publicity agent, did not. Instead, he
remained at the old stand and tried to manage the place on
his own as the Howard Street Theatre, an attempt that dis-
mally failed after one production, O'Neill the Great , which
lasted about six weeks.

The name of this production is thought to have been a
pseudonym for The Great O'Neill which was then entangled in
controversy as the result of Haswell staging it as a rival to
one called The O'Neill; or that of William Greer Harrison,
The Prince of Ulster , which he is believed to have pirated,
pt least in part, from the Irish original advertised by Has-
wej.1. Therearter IJnion Hail was tenantiesa for nearly two

One last effort to revive Union Hall's popularity despite
discouraging competition from Morosco's Grand Opera House was
made by George P. Clayton. On October 12, 1895, this manager
reopened the hall as the People's Theatre, with Dion Bouci-
cault's After Dark » Prices were still 10 and 20^. Despite a
fresh coat of paint and some remodeling, the hall's decline
could not be disguised. Through by Dayligh t followed the Bouci-
cault piece on October 20, with James M. Ward, Margaret Reid,
Josie Haines, and Charles Edmonds in its cast; then came an
Irish play, S hamus O' Brien , followed by The Black Flag, which
apparently closed the house to all further theatrical activity.

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By March .£2, 1896, accordins to the Ghi-'onlcle of that date,
the hall stood "empty and tenantless" again. In the writer's
opinion there seemed no hope of its being revived, since the
cost of renovation would be prohibitive and the location itself
had ceased to attract the public. He added:

And so Union Hall, dedicated to the cause of human
liberty and the preservation of Federal Unity, bids fair
to pass from the minds of men, and although it has placed
quite as important a part in California history «5n Fancuil
Hall at Boston and Independence Hall at Philadelphia
did in the early history of the nation, yet unlike them
bids fair to lose its Identity and to bo forgotten in
the rush and bustle of Vifestern life."

Whether or not people forgot Union Hall during its last
days, they certainly remembered its vivid end. May 2, 1898 -
35 years after its erection - when it caught fire and was com-
pletely destroyed by one of the "hottest conflagrations the
city has soon in years," The Chronicle of May 3 described the
scene in detail:

"Historic Union Hall, on Howard Street, near Third,
went up in flames late last night, furnishing the Fire
Department with as difficult and dangerous a task as has
been set to its hands in a long time. But for the skill

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and energy of Chief Sullivan and his men, this morning's
story would, have been sorrowful -celling . • •

"For some reason not explained no alarm was rxing
until the fire had been under way for three-quarters of

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