Tuesday, September 22, 2009

4742 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA: The Rock Garden (1967)>The Ghetto Club (1967>1971)

The Rock Garden

When researching the history of a rock band, or a rock scene, venues come and go. In the 1960s, all sorts of promoters tried starting Fillmore type venues, mostly with limited success. For the researcher or serious fan, these venues seem to appear out of the ether and then return to the netherworld. In many cases, however, the venues remain active over the years, and it is only our interest that retreats. In California, as in most places, the Use Permits for most venues that allow musical performances (and/or liquor sales, dancing, and so on, depending on the Permit) tend to remain in force. Thus a new entrepreneur looking to start a live music club has a much easier time using an already established venue. Many venues go through numerous musical lives, even though fans of one incarnation may be unaware or uninterested in another.

For 60s music historians, The Rock Garden in San Francisco has always seemed like such an ephemeral venue. The Rock Garden, located at 4742 Mission Street, is known for beautiful posters for four week-long engagements in March and April 1967, all featuring the best of California psychedelia. The diamond-shaped poster above advertises Love, Big Brother and The Holding Company and CIA (Center For Interplanetary Activity, a sort of "Performance Art" group) for March 21-26, 1967 (Tuesday thru Sunday). The Grateful Dead and Charles Lloyd played the next week, March 28-April 2 (excepting Thursday March 30). The Buffalo Springfield and Electric Chamber Orkustra were advertised April 11-16. For the week of April 18-23, a poster advertises Country Joe and The Fish. Then the Rock Garden appears to be no more.

What do we know about the concerts in March and April of 1967? The answer--just about nothing. Russ Wilson of the Oakland Tribune wrote a piece about the upcoming Dead/Charles Lloyd show, although it was mostly about Charles Lloyd. In the book The Illustrated Trip, Dennis McNally and Blair Jackson say that Jerry Garcia's mother, who still lived nearby, saw him perform at the Rock Garden. Big Brother and Neil Young scholars acknowledge their respective shows, but I know of no reviews, tapes, photos or eyewitness accounts of any of these shows. As for the Country Joe shows, they were plainly canceled, and some comments in the Berkeley Barb from the band's manager about "alcoholic club managers" seems to point at The Rock Garden.

Who ran the Rock Garden? It remains a mystery. I did read once that Garcia knew the proprietor from his old neighborhood, but that sounds apocryphal. 4742 Mission Street is in the Excelsior District, at the very Southern edge of San Francisco, almost in Daly City. It is a long way from downtown and the Haight. Mission Street turns due South and becomes the El Camino Real, but the Excelsior was a long way from the suburbs too, and in any case the Excelsior had the whiff of being too "ethnic" for many white suburbanite rock fans (as did the Fillmore District). The Rock Garden, whoever backed and ran it, drops out of rock history in April 1967.

The Ghetto Club

Of course, 4742 Mission Street was a building, and a building with a Use Permit for musical performances, so it is no surprise to find out that the club simply changed its name. However, since it changed to a Soul music club, and from there to a Latin (or Latin Soul) club, it dropped off rock historian radar. At the same time, many "ethnic" establishments did not advertise in the mainstream newspapers, so the newspaper research performed by rock historians like me turns up no trace of the club. In fact, however, it turns out that for at least several more years, 4742 Mission Street was The Ghetto Club, and it played an important part in San Francisco music.

I had seen peripheral references before to The Ghetto Club, and gathered that it was a Soul music club. However, I was reading a book called Voices Of Latin Rock, by Jim McCarthy with Ron Santos, about the history of Santana, Malo and Latin Rock music in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, and The Ghetto Club plays an important role. I was quite surprised to see an ad for the club in the book,  (reproduced above), only to discover that the address was 4742 Mission Street.

Voices Of Latin Rock (published by Hal Leonard 2004) features remarkable research, with hundreds of unique interviews with musicians and friends who are rarely or never participants in typical rock narratives. The book offers an alternative universe to San Francisco music history, with only intermittent appearances from the usual suspects. The book is focused on personal narratives and musical reminiscence, and it is not focused on a careful timeline of people, venues and events (more's the pity for me). However, it turns out that by 1969 The Ghetto Club was a multi-racial stew of Latin, Soul and Rock, with an apparently diverse crowd, very similar to the Excelsior neighborhood it was located in. A musician named Jose Simon recalls
The Rock Garden was a hard club, real party hardliners. The bouncers were two Samoan guys. They kicked the hell out of anybody trying to kick off in there. The Rock Garden was competition to the Nite Life [another club], and was probably the first rock club in the Mission area [the Excelsior is just South of the Mission District]. They had Big Brother, Janis Joplin, Mongo Santamaria (p.49).
The author ads "Later, the club changed hands and became The Ghetto." Another musician, Richard Bean, chimes in
The Ghetto was originally a black club. Then the Latin thing started there. Abel And The Prophets were like the house band. Crackin was another band from around that time (p49)
Abel And The Prophets were a Latin-Rock-Soul fusion group, probably playing a lot of cover versions, but in their own style. Abel Sanchez was a young guitarist, who would go on to work with Naked Lunch in 1970 and then Malo in 1971, where he was an integral part of that band's sound. In 1969, the other happening club was The Nite Life, apparently at 101 Olmstead Street (near San Bruno Avenue), on the other side of McLaren Park, where a band called The Aliens held court with an amazing mixture of funk, Latin and jamming. The Santana Blues Band evolved into Santana, not least by absorbing Chepito Areas from The Aliens.

El Tapatio Nightclub

None of the amazing alternative history of Latin Rock in San Francisco tells us much about the original founding of The Rock Garden, but it is a telling lesson in thinking broadly rather than narrowly. The current (or at least most recent) business at 4742 Mission Street is El Tapatio Nightclub. I don't live in the Bay Area any more, and in any case I don't stay out late anymore, plus I'm old, so I probably wouldn't want to stay out late and see what's happening there. If history is any guide, however, something is happening, even if I don't know what it is.

View Latin Rock San Francisco 1969 in a larger map


  1. Corry, do you have a date for that Russ Wilson Oakland Tribune article?

  2. The article is Russ Wilson's column in the Oakland Tribune on Sunday, March 26. I read the article closely--it seems that the Dead and Charles Lloyd were playing the Rock Garden Sunday the 26th, skipping Monday, then Tuesday (28) and Wednesday (29), skipping Thursday because Charles Lloyd had a gig, and then playing Friday (Apr 1) and Saturday (2). Also, the article has The Virginians as the opening act, instead of The Mystery Trend.

  3. Thanks Corry. Interesting that the article indicates the GD played 3/26. The FD054 poster shows them playing the Avalon 3/24 - 3/26/67. I wonder if one or all of the Avalon shows were cancelled (they don't show up in deadlists). Or perhaps they did two shows in one night?


  4. There's something odd about the Dead playing Sunday the 26th, and then taking a night off, and playing Tuesday. Keep in mind that the article, being published on the 26th, must have been written Friday or earlier, so the writer has no idea whether the Dead played. Of course, the Avalon poster is strange also--note that Quicksilver plays the 26th but not Saturday and Sunday. The Avalon, for all its history of flakiness, was a going concern, but The Rock Garden borders on a complete mystery.

  5. This is an intriguing series of shows at the Avalon. FD-54 is by no means clear but my interpretation is that the Quicksilver Messenger Service replaced the Grateful Dead on the Sunday (March 26). The Charlatans also played. My listing is as follows for the Avalon:

    March 24-25, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA - Grateful Dead, Charlatans, Johnny Hammond and His Screaming Nighthawks, Robert Baker
    March 26, 1967: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA - Quicksilver Messenger Service, Charlatans, Johnny Hammond and His Screaming Nighthawks, Robert Baker

    As for the Rock Garden, the Country Joe & The Fish shows never came about. Many of the other scheduled shows are dubious. My guess is all of the posters were printed up front and that some of the shows went ahead, some had problems and some were cancelled. All of this adding up to the comments ED Denson made in his Berkeley Barb column.

  6. I know who owed the the Ghetto Club. It was my step-dad, & his partner. When they bought the Club, it was called, "Little Bo Peep." (My Dad didn't know why it was named that.) They changed the name to the "Rock Garden." Then, "The Ghetto Club." As a teen, in the early seventies, I starting working there, help set-up the bars, & changing the marquee. Then, bartended & DJ'ed. I worked there, until my early twenties. People would come by the house, & ask to speak to my Dad. (I didn't know who they were. Turns out, most were musicians, trying to get a booking.) By the way, Jerry Garcia did live in the Excelsior district. He attended Balboa High School, right around the corner from the Club. Tower of Power played there, too! Lots of bands, before they made it. He would also, book Blues bands, too.......The guy who wrote about "the alcoholic managers", was wrong. My Dad didn't drink that much. He never did.
    In 1975, the name changed to the "Streets of San Francisco". Same owners. It became the hottest black nightclub in the Bay Area, for seven straight years!
    In the early 80's the name changed to "Casanova's". Salsa & R&B music. Then, "Flix". My Dad was going for a video dance club. When he was 52, he sold the business, building, & all the licenses, to Juan Torres. (Who opened up as "El Tapatio.) Then, retired.
    He would tell me stories about the "Club". The musicians, people, & how he made it work. (I still use a lot of what he taught me, today! Not just the bar business. But, business in general.)

    Jim McCarthy knows who I am. Before my Dad passed away, he got to see the book Jim wrote. It brought back a lot of memories, & some good conversation.
    Right before the book came out, I ran into Arcelio Garcia from Malo. I told him who I was, he smiled & gave me a big hug. Then told me, "to give my Dad the same hug!"

    There's some "missing" history of 4742 Mission Street, for you!

    1. Anthony, thanks very much for this, it adds a lot to the story. It's fascinating how many incarnations the same address went through.

  7. Glad to help you fill some of the blanks!
    I "grew up" in that place. Literally! So, keeping the facts straight, is very important to me. The corporate name was, "Club New Yorker".

    We used to laugh about the only thing that changed at "The Club" was, the hair, the music, & the clothes!


  8. Hey Anthony...thanx for the music history! got any pix of the club online anywhere? and P.S what was your step dad's name who ran the joint?

    1. Hey lil m! Glad you enjoyed the history. Hoodline.com did a story on 4742 Mission Street. Around December 21st, 2016. You can look through the history of 4742 Mission Street. Although the article is missing The Ghetto Club, Streets of San Francisco, Casanova's, & Flix. It still offers an even more in depth history. (I didn't know the building had bocci ball courts.) I think the owner referred to "as an alcoholic" was James Volpe. Mr. Volpe sold the building to my stepfather Dominic, & his partner. (I won't mention his partner's name. (Only because he's still alive.) They're the ones who the Club to Juan Torres. There aren't many pictures available online. Jim McCarthy's "Voices of Latin Rock" includes a few. It's a good read, & available on Amazon. I do have a few personal pictures from inside the Club, during The Streets of San Francisco days. As well as the marquee. But, they're not posted online.....They did have a few managers run the place when they weren't there. But, one of the owners were always there when it was open. Depending on the manager....People always talk about "Old School". For me, that was school. R&B music from the early 1970's to the early 1980's, was some of the best the genre has to offer. It's still being sampled, today. I started a playlist on Spotify, called 70's R&B. Basically, paying homage to the Club. To date, the list has over 1100 followers. Once in a while, I'll go off, & do a set of dance music from that time. Stuff we played at the Club. I guess I'm getting old. Lol

  9. My friend, Lou Stone now deceased, always told me he owned and ran the Rock Garden. He had wonderful stories about that place. It was Jerry Garcia who wanted to introduce the audience to different kinds of music (that the Dead kept up with further shows throughout the years) and suggested Charles Lloyd Quartet. However, the neighborhood, back then, ran them out of town.

    1. In those days he was known as Lou Todd. The Rock Garden holds the distinction of being the only place Jerry Garcia's mom ever got to see the Grateful Dead.