Saturday, January 16, 2010

3138 Fillmore Street, San Francisco The Matrix pre-opening

This paragraph from Perry Phillips's Night Sounds column in the August 13, 1965 Oakland Tribune may be the earliest listing of The Matrix in print--at the minimum it was one of the first.  Phillips's column was a typical sort found in Daily newspapers at the time. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Phillips would survey the week's entertainment options, covering nightclubs, restaurants and special events. While the major focus was on Oakland and nearby towns, he also made some mention of goings on in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Reno. The coverage was generally positive and skewed heavily towards Tribune advertisers, but someone like Phillips clearly enjoyed going out most nights and liked a wide variety of music, entertainment and food. Obviously hoping to encourage the Matrix to become a Tribune advertiser, he wrote
A new nightclub opens tonight in San Francisco, the Matrix. It will feature a combination of folk and rock-and-roll music. Matrix' owners are opening the club for the specific purpose of promulgating the folk art but will divert occasionally to jazz and comedy. When I asked about the unusual name, they told me Matrix means "a place where something of value originates and develops." If the club lives up to this definition, it will be a huge success. The Maitrix [sic] is at 3138 Fillmore Street.
Although this prose is typical of Entertainment columns in daily newspapers at the time, in this specific instance there was a large amount of truth. The Matrix was founded by Marty Balin and his father Joe, and they intended the pizza-and-beer joint primarily as a place for Marty's new group The Jefferson Airplane to perform. As the first "long-hair" joint in San Francisco, it featured the San Francisco debuts and critical early performances of many great bands, like the Great Society, Quicksilver Messenger Service (under another name) and Big Brother and The Holding Company.

Although the rock market rapidly outgrew the Matrix, it was still a primary stop for new bands, and a hangout for established groups on weeknights. The list of performerances at The Matrix reads like a Who's Who of San Francisco rock bands of the time. While The Matrix was never the financial success that Perry Phillips suggested, it was indeed "a place where something of value originates and develops," and its legendary status is assured. In the context of the page of advertisements where Perry Phillips column appeared so many years ago, I thought I would highlight some of the other establishments, to show how different the Matrix truly was at the time. All of these scans are from the same page as Phillips column in the August 13, 1965 Oakland Tribune.

Ann's New Mo, a club that has utterly mystified me for some time, was a few miles from downtown and seemed to feature Swing Dancing and Jazz. I cannot fathom what "New Mo" referred to, and the iconography only became stranger later in the 1960s.

The Ali Baba (at Grand and Webster) and The Sands Ballroom (at 19th and Broadway, near what is now the BART Station) had persisted since the Swing Era. In fact, had any promoter been willing to put on rock shows at either venue, Bill Graham and Chet Helms would have had formidable competitors, but it was not to be. The Sands, at 1933 Broadway, had been known as McFadden's when Benny Goodman rolled into town in August 1935, and the club made his career.

Cal Silva's Hitchen Post, on the Northern edge of Oakland at San Pablo and 61st St (1850 San Pablo), had a sort of Western Swing motif (connected to his similar venue in Hayward), but at this time it featured Go Go dancers, apparently in bikinis. Performing were the rockin' Au Go Gos. Although the place was probably a fun joint to go to, the iconography suggests a kind of rocked up Cowboy bar, with twanging Telecasters and a lot of honky tonk gals.

The It Club, much farther North on the other side of Berkeley in low-down El Cerrito (on San Pablo and Central Avenues, near the Bay), was presenting an "All Bosom Revue," with "Girls direct from the PLAYBOY CLUB in L.A." Song stylist David Thornton appears to have been providing the music.

If you were thinking of food, why not go to Zombie Village? "Lunches-Dinners, Cantonese and American Cuisine," per the ad. Mmm--Zombies! 6485 San Pablo was near San Pablo and Alcatraz, close to Emeryville and Aquatic Park (and the Hitchen Post). The place advertised in the Tribune for years--no one has ever explained the appeal of a Chinese restaurant called "Zombie Village," but there are many things we don't understand about the 60s.

Ravazza's was an Italian restaurant that had been across from the old Oakland Oaks (Pacific Coast League) baseball park, at 41st and San Pablo in Emeryville. Alone among the advertisers listed here, it actually survived until the 1980s, and I actually ate there. It was mostly a pizza place by then, but it was like stepping into a time machine, with pictures of PCL players like Joe DiMaggio and Billy Martin on the walls, smiling in pictures from the very same tables (with the same decor) that you were sitting at. Ravazza's was torn down to provide a parking lot for the Card Club across the street (The Oaks Club, on the site of the old stadium), although the last three letters of its sign were used by Zza's Tratoria. Zza's opened in the mid-1980s, and it was a fine place--and no doubt still is--located at 552 Grand Avenue in Oakland (across from Lake Merritt), a final tenuous link to its predecessor.

This was the context of The Matrix, on August 13, 1965. To a Tribune reader, its competitors would have been The All Bosom Revue, a Cowboy Go Go joint, some old Swing Music, a Zombie Village, an ancient Italian restaurant across from a long-gone landmark. Knowing what we know now, the Matrix was far and away the best choice that week, a place where something of value would originate and develop. Ironically enough, this was the only mention (to my knowledge) of The Matrix in the Tribune, as they did not advertise in the paper and were thus ignored in future columns, but Perry Phillips got it right the first time. Right across the bay, something of value was originating and developing,  starting with the Jefferson Airplane and followed closely by the rest of the sixties.

Research continues on the Zombie Village.


  1. A google search on "Zombie Village"-Oakland reveals that the Oakland restaurant was a seminal establishment in the history of Tiki Bars. It turns out that the Mai Tai was invented in Oakland, and that the Zombie Village was an inspiration for Trader Vic's.

    Sitll drawing a blank on Ann's New Mo.

  2. Think this is the Hitchen Post house band?

  3. I found it a while back. It's a great 45. I'd have gone to see them with bikini dancers in a flash!