Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2850 19th Avenue, San Francisco, CA September 10, 1966 The Mothers/Oxford Circle

The Scottish Rites (Masonic) Temple at 2850 19th Avenue in San Francisco is the least known of all Bill Graham's 1960s San Francisco venues. It was only used once for a rock concert, to my knowledge, and I know nothing about the event itself. Nonetheless this building is always forgotten in chronicles of the 1960s in San Francisco, so I thought I would address what little is known about it.

Bill Graham's famous Fillmore Auditorium on 1805 Geary Blvd (at Fillmore Street) was next door to a Synagogue. I have written about the peculiar place in rock history of Temple Beth Israel (at 1839 Geary Blvd) elsewhere. Suffice to say, Bill Graham faced various political problems with his new underground rock venture, and one of them was a rabbi who was not sympathetic to Graham's desire to have weekly rock concerts. Honoring the concerns of his neighbors, Graham moved two Saturday night concerts in 1966. The April 16, 1966 show with the Jefferson Airplane and Butterfield Blues Band was moved to Harmon Gym at UC Berkeley, while the Friday and Sunday shows remained at the Fillmore. Similarly, on the weekend of September 9 and 10 in 1966, with a bill of The Mothers and Oxford Circle, Graham moved the bill across town on Saturday (September 10) to the Scottish Rites Temple at 2850 19th Avenue, near Sloat Boulevard and Stern Grove.

19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard is very far from the Fillmore District, almost as far from the Fillmore as one could get and remain in San Francisco. For those familiar with San Francisco geography, it is near Stern Grove and San Francisco State University, between the Sunset District and West Portal. This interesting experiment was not repeated, suggesting that it was not a worthwhile location for a rock performance at the time. While San Francisco State had many rock fans, many of the hippest ones lived in the Haight Ashbury, so they were nearer the Fillmore than the College. No record survives of the show itself, whether as a tape, a review or an eyewitness account.

The Concert
By September of 1966 The Mothers had released their groundbreaking debut album Freak Out. However, it was their nervous record company (MGM) that had added "Of Invention" to their name. The group had been playing the San Francisco Bay Area with some regularity since late 1965, and they were known by their original name, The Mothers, which is how they were billed on the poster (BG27).

It is difficult to determine for certain the membership of the Mothers for these shows, as the band’s personnel was in flux.  The poster shows 7 people, but the poster probably came from a Verve promo photo and some of them aren't even band members, so it doesn't really represent anything about the band's lineup.  I am reliably informed that the Mothers at this time were Zappa and Elliot Ingbar on guitars, Ray Collins on vocals, Roy Estrada on bass and Billy Mundi and Jimmy Carl Black (The Indian of the group) both on drums. While the other members had been on Freak Out, Mundi had recently joined, having recently played as part of a group called Mastin And Brewer (featuring Michael Brewer, later of Brewer and Shipley) and then briefly in Lamp Of Childhood.

The Oxford Circle, the most exciting band in Davis, CA at the time, were a hard rocking quartet styled on the Yardbirds. Although the band released very little during its existence, 1997 saw the release of a great live cd recorded around this time (Live At The Avalon Ballroom 1966, on Big Beat), so we know how they sounded. Members of Oxford Circle went on to join Blue Cheer and Kak, among other groups.

The Venue
It is difficult to find out much about the venue. It does appear that the venue is still there. I suspect it is unlikely that a new building has replace the old one, but it is plain that the auditorium itself has been remodeled in the intervening years. It does appear that the capacity was smaller than the Fillmore Auditorium, though not by that much. The Free Masons have a long history in California, dating back to the mid-19th century, but that is well outside the scope of the blog here.

It does appear that the Scottish Rites Temple at 19th and Sloat was a much more recent building than other Masonic Temples in San Francisco. There were Masonic Temples right next to both the Fillmore and The Avalon--conspiracy theorists take note--but both of them (at 1859 Geary, dating to the 19th century, near the Fillmore, and 1300 Sutter, next to the Avalon) had long since been devoted to other uses by the 1960s. There was also a Masonic Auditorium on Nob Hill (at 1111 California) but that was a large (3200 capacity) and fairly conventional theater.

The building appears to be in active use today, and the auditorium remains available for rental.

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