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Blog: Fillmore: Home of Impresario Extraordinaire

Rock 'n' Roll Revolution: The Rise and Fall of San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium

To everything thing, there is a season.

Such was a popular phrase during the ’60s. Music was in the air. A fresh new wind was swirling throughout the Bay Area and, indeed, across the country.


Groups like the Beach Boys, Four Seasons and singers like Elvis remained quite popular. However, new names began to appear, such as the Rolling Stones, The Animals, Byrds, Cream and more. Local groups like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company and Santana brought national and international focus to the San Francisco Bay Area.


Outdoor concerts, sometimes called “Be-ins” began in the Bay Area. Indoor concerts offering this new wave of entertainment started to emerge. One that went on to become famous throughout the entire country was the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.

Located at the corner of Fillmore and Geary, it was initially known as The Majestic. In 1936, the name was changed to The Ambassador.

In 1954, Charles Sullivan, the proprietor, began booking bands and renamed the place Fillmore Auditorium.

Sullivan gave permission to Bill Graham (whose real name was Wulf Wolodia Grajonca) in December 1965 to book a benefit for a local theatrical group known as the Mime Troupe. Subsequently, Graham continued booking local musical talent at “The Fillmore,” as it was referred to.

Sadly, Sullivan was murdered in August of 1966, around the same time comedian Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose. Bruce had recently appeared at the Fillmore. 

Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium became increasingly popular, and he evolved into the impresario extraordinaire, producing concerts at Winterland, Civic Auditorium and many other venues. Numerous significant names in rock, blues, jazz and, folk music played at the Fillmore, including The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Moody Blues, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, among others. Most Bay Area favorites, such as Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead, were frequent headliners.

Bill Graham circa 1990. Photo by Mark Sarfati

Some memorable concerts were the final performance of Jefferson Airplane’s Signe Toly Anderson in October, ’66, which included the great Butterfield Blues Band’s East-West performance, as well as Jimi Hendrix debut concert in June ’67. There were many others….

Attending a concert was quite an experience. One had to traverse a flight of stairs from the entrance on Geary. Once inside the old ballroom, the unmistakable sound of music was deafening. Conversing with someone right next to you was almost impossible due to the volume. There was a large wooden floor with an old-fashioned stage that was covered with the traditional heavy large-size drapes one would typically see in movie theaters back in the day.

A balcony upstairs afforded an overlook of the place and the entertainers. The walls were filled with psychedelic artwork and light shows, which at times pulsated to the beat of the music. Refreshments included apples. 

The Fillmore, San Francisco, California.Photo by total13. via Wikipedia

One could sign up for their mailing list and receive miniature versions of the full-size posters of upcoming guest artists. Yours truly still has several dozen of said mailing list-size posters. Upon leaving for the night, guests were handed full-size posters. Today, some of them are worth a princely sum.

So popular were the concerts that Graham made a bold move in 1968. He relocated from the Fillmore Auditorium to the old Carousal Ballroom, renaming it “Fillmore West” while at the same time opening “Fillmore East” in New York City. 

The Avalon Ballroom was also quite popular but drew a different level of national and international talent.

Alas, after five years and changing times, the Fillmore’s doors finally closed in 1971 in San Francisco and New York.

To everything, there is a season.

Everything else is just history…

Some of the photos used in this blog are courtesy of the Local History Room, Redwood City's best-kept secret. The Local History Collection covers all aspects of Redwood City's development, from the 1850s to the present day, with particular emphasis on businesses, public schools, civic organizations, city agencies, and early family histories. The Local History Room is not affiliated with the Redwood City Public Library, but it is inside it. 

Dan Calic

About the Author: Dan Calic

A product of Goodwin (JFK), Henry Ford, Roosevelt, Sequoia High and Canada College, Dan has deep Redwood City roots. He’s witnessed Redwood City transform from a sleepy peninsula town into a thriving high-tech hub.
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