Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Firehouse, 3767 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA

Located north of the Haight-Ashbury district on Sacramento Street and the home of number 10 fire truck and number 26 fire engine from 1910 to 1956, the Firehouse was operated as a concert venue for an all too short period of time in the early spring of 1966.
The building was owned by George Eby and his dog Potpan and had been known as the Theater for the World prior to The Firehouse. Eby and Potpan let the upper floor for rehearsals to the newly formed Sopwith Camel who were breaking in new bass player Martin Beard. The Firehouse was notable for showcasing a number of local bands in addition to the Sopwith Camel and for featuring some of the very first light shows to be performed in the city.

12 February 1966: The Amazing Charlatans, Sopwith Camel
Advertised as Lincoln's Birthday Party. After a month of rehearsals and much of the time living in the Firehouse, the Sopwith Camel made their debut performance backing The Charlatans for the Lincoln's birthday bash. Entry was a mere $2 donation and shows were from 9 to whenever. The Charlatans had already established their place in history following their six week run at the red Dog Saloon in Virginia City the previous summer. By the time of this show, the Charlatans’ set was beginning to come together and they had put a failed Autumn Records audition behind them as they prepared to sign with Kama Sutra Records.

19 February 1966: The Wildflower, Sopwith Camel
It was from the handbill that advertised this show that we know that the Firehouse was once the home of number 10 fire truck and number 26 fire engine. For this evening’s events the Sopwith Camel are joined by The Wildflower in the first of their three performances at the Firehouse. In late 1965, The Wildflower began at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland with Stephen Ehret on rhythm guitar, Tom Ellis on drums, John Jennings on bass, Teddy Schneider played percussion, Lee Chandler played guitar and the whole band sang. Stephen wrote the songs for the band and also collaborated with poets, Michael McClure and Michael McCausland. Lee Chandler soon left, probably around the time of this show, to pursue an acting career and Michael Brown joined on lead guitar. The band was soon playing venues all around the Bay Area and has recently released the album that should have hoisted them to fame in the 1960s.

26 February 1966:
I have never been able to find any record of a show taking place on February 26.

05 March 1966: Jesse Fuller One Man Band, The Amazing Charlatans, The Wildflower
Most of the shows were advertised by large format handbills, each containing humorous notations, such as the March 5 handbill which entices attendees by promising Sensual Titillations and Mind Diddlers with the extra added attraction of the Lately Painted Lady. March 5 sees the return of Firehouse Jesse Fuller who was playing regularly in the Bay Area coffee shops and clubs. A week before Fuller’s seventieth birthday, he crossed the bridge from his Oakland home and brought his fotdella and unique style of San Francisco Bay Blues to the Firehouse.

12 March 1966: The Charlatans, Sopwith Camel, Duncans Blue Boy and His Cosmic Yo-YoBy all accounts the Alligator Clip welcome all heads of state for this show. The Charlatans and the Sopwith Camel return, but the intriguing thing about the boxing style handbill is the third act on the bill – Duncans Blue Boy and His Cosmic Yo-Yo (I know there is a missing apostrophe by the way). Anyway – the only known show by Duncans Blue Boy – was it a briefly used name of another band, was it a joke? I don't know.

19 March 1966: Big Brother and the Holding Company, A Moving Violation, Movies Projections by Elias Romero, Assorted Effects by Ray Andersen
Big Brother and the Holding Company need no introduction here – they had been playing regularly for a couple of months and had established themselves at the Fillmore and Matrix. Jim Gurley, Sam Andrew and Peter Albin had just been joined by drummer Dave Getz. The arrival of Janis Joplin was still three months away although there is a chance that this was one of the performances where Ed Bogas joined the band on violin. I know nothing of A Moving Violation, but the poster is annotated a discover in Movement and Light For Them and you and us which leads me to believe that they were possibly a dance troupe accompanying the in house light show – a multi-media extravaganza so to speak. The light shows at the Firehouse featured Elias Romero and Ray Andersen (who was also the manager of The Matrix at the time). Although he never went on to work the ballrooms, Romero was a long-time light artist with his own distinct approach utilising a unique, all-liquid show. Andersen went on to form the Holy See Light Show and to feature prominently at San Francisco ballrooms, such as the Fillmore. Since the late 1990s, Andersen has run Grooves Vinyl Attractions on Market Street in San Francisco.

26 March 1966: The Outfit, Great Society
The Outfit were formed in San Francisco during late 1965 as the Four Letter Outfit and the line-up at the time of this show, which is perhaps their first, included Johnny Ciambotti, Steve Bonuccelli, Cousin Robert Ressner and a female guitarist called Judy playing her only show. The group played regularly at Bay Area venues through 1966 despite several changes in personnel. They would go on to become part of the tangled staory that is the overlapping history of The Outfit, The Tiny Hearing Aid Company, The Flying Circus and Clover. I have plans for a family tree at some point. Support acts for this show remain unknown.

02 April 1966: The Wildflower, Ale Extrom and His Conceptina, Movies [Final Show]
Seven shows had been held each Saturday through to April 2, 1966 when The Firehouse presented The Wildflower supported by Ale Extrom and His Conceptina at The Wreckers Ball. Advertised as For our parting event, we present ... see this grand old firehouse in its last days before it becomes a parking lot …. Ale Extrom was a purveyor of sea shanties and had appeared at the Jabberwock and Cedar Alley Coffee House. Ale remains a water-bound neighbor of Wildflower member Stephen Ehret to this day.

Sadly George Eby's dog Potpan is no longer with us.


  1. Do we know the fate of the building? I assume it has been long since replaced.

  2. As Bruno pointed out, there was a typo in the address and I should of had 3767 Sacramento Street. That aside, I had always figured the clue was in the name given to the last show "The Wrecking Ball" in that it was torn down right away. I went to find the location a few years ago and it is now an unground car park with a garden/walway on the roof. Car parks being quite popular in my research as the same fate befell the Jabberwock.

  3. Just a comment and some corrections on the above. I signed the lease on the Firehouse from a guy who built a small theatre on one side of the space for a Jewish youth theatre group. Myself (and George Eby) met at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival where we were part of the company. The plan was to open it as an experimental theatre venue. We had started to do readings in the upstairs and lived there along with Jean Alison a theatre major at SF State. Paul Hawkin who had returned from the South as a photographer of the civil rights movement. Paul and I decided to start producing events at the Firehouse, I was working at the Matrix and knew Ray Anderson who did light shows, we contacted local bands and got things going. I wrote the flyers and duplicated them, we all passed them out on the campus. None of the bands used the space as rehearsals, Sopwith did for a day in one of the downstairs rooms. We had modern dance (Duncans Blue Boy did yo-yo tricks) - Elias and Ray on light delights and there was always alot going on. Paul, Jean and I later formed the Calliope Company which produced conterts with the Dead, Airplane and others at California Hall and lived in a warehouse on Hariett St where Ken Kesey hung out when on the run. (See the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test). We all three ended up in the Natural Foods business and where Jean and I worked and Paul mostly set up the first real Natural Food Store - Erewhon.

  4. billtara, thanks for weighing in. I had no idea about the direct connection between The Firehouse and The Calliope Company. Thank you also for resolving the Duncans Blue Boy mystery.

    The Harriet St warehouse was the place the Acid Test "Graduation" was held when the larger event was canceled, right?

  5. Bill - Thanks so much for the input. I know that George is still around and has contact with Stephen Ehret of the Wildflower. I have couple of questions over those performing at the Firehouse. I would be grateful if you can recall:
    a. There were shows beginning February 12, 1966 (Lincoln's Birthday Party) running through the "Wreckers Ball" on April 2 except I have never found anything for February 26. Do you know if there was a show that week?
    b. A couple of the performers are otherwise unknown to me: A Moving Violation (could be a reference to the light show), and The Alligator Clip? Thanks for resolving the Duncans Boy Blue matter.
    c. Are there any photographs of the Firehouse or Potpan that I could obtain scans of?
    d. Are there any photographs of that I could obtain scans of?

    What little I have figured out so far is on the web site:


    February 14, 2011 12:19 AM

  6. Hi Folks, Moving Violation were a few dancers from the Anna Halprin company who were moonlighting with lights by Romero. Yes, the warehouse was where the Kesey crew held the Acid Test Graduation, it was the same night that we threw a dance at California Hall with the Dead. They were supposed to play with Kesey but we had a contract with them - the posters show that the producer was Bob Kendrick he put up the money (there is a funny scene in Electric Kool Aid Acid Test where Kesey tries to pressure Bob to give up his contract).
    The Alligator Clip was of course simply a lame pothead joke refering to the roach holders. I had to fill space - an early attempt at PR. I have no pictures of Pot Pan, have somewhere a picture of the Caliope crew and some of inside the Firehouse, I will try and find them. Say hi to George when you see him.

  7. Bill - Again some nifty comments. I will ask Stephen Ehret to give George your best wishes. Ale Exstrom is also still a moor out in the Bay.