The Fillmore Auditorium

Memorabilia and Memories
of The Fillmore Auditorium
by Kathy Hansen

Museum Note:   Kathy Hansen, a member of the Modesto Radio Museum, has a lifelong connection to music. Her mother, Ramona Rae Hansen-Saben, owned Salty’s Record Attic in Modesto.  The cards shared in this article are from Kathy’s private collection.

The Fillmore, 1968
The Fillmore’s last show, 1968

The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco played host to some of the most iconic bands and performers of the60’s. The Fillmore was built in 1912, at the corner of Geary & Fillmore, and was originally the home of the Majestic Hall and Academy of Dance. In 1936, it became the Ambassador Dance Hall. Then, in 1939, the name again was changed to the Ambassador Roller Skating Rink. In 1954, a successful business man by the name of Charles Sullivan began booking bands and the name became The Fillmore Auditorium.

In 1965, Sullivan let Bill Graham use his dance hall permit to book a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troop and that is were the Fillmore history began

Jefferson Airplane performed the first nonbenefit concert at the Fillmore, playing February 4,5 & 6 1966. They would follow up that concert two weeks later, by playing with Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin. They headlined several more times at the Fillmore.
Jefferson Airplane was the first non-benefit concert held at the Fillmore

But a lot more than music came out of the walls of the Fillmore. There were the posters. If you are lucky enough to still have an original poster from those days, you have something really special.

Yards Birds – Doors,  James Cotton Blues Band, Richie Havens 1967 Artist – Bonnie MacLean #75 Postcard
Not only are the posters collector items because of the artists who appeared on them but also, in some cases, because of the artists who designed them. The artist who designed most of the psychedelic posters from February 1966 until May of 1967 was Wes Wilson. He geared the art toward the audience who would be attending. Some posters were inspired by his own experiences with LSD. He had a loosely exclusive arrangement with Bill Graham during that time but money disputes apparently caused them to part ways.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band, CREAM, South Side Sound System 1967 Artist—Bonnie MacLean #79
American Flag, American Music Band (Mike Bloomfield Guitar and Buddy Miles on drums), Moby Grape, Steve Miller Blues Band, South Side Blues Band 1967 Artist—Bonnie McLean #77

Wes Wilson (July 15, 1937 – January 24, 2020) was the father of the 60’s rock concert psychedelic posters. Between 1966 and 1968, Wes would complete 56 posters for Bill Graham. There is a popular story that Graham liked Wess first poster but he couldnt use it because the text was not legible and supposedly Wes replied, Theyll stop to read it because they cant read it.There began his stint with Graham.

The Mystery Trend, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Family Tree, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Gentlemen’s Band, Great Society, The Skins March 18 – 19 – 20, 1966.  Artist Wes Wilson BG-2
Grateful Dead, Big Mama Mae Thornton, Tim Rose, Country Joe Dec 9 – 10 – 11, 1966. Artist  Wes Wilson BG – 41
The posters also took on other forms. When you walked into a show, you were not only greeted with Welcome to the Fillmore but were given either a miniature 5 x 7 Play Card of the poster or a post card.

Jefferson Airplane Sept 14 – 15 1970 Fillmore West.  Artist – Pat Hanks Play Card
In 1968, due to the deterioration of the surrounding neighborhood, Bill Graham abandoned the Fillmore Auditorium.   In July of that year, Graham took ownership of the Carousel Ballroom on South Van Ness Ave.
It operated under the name the Fillmore West. He also had Fillmore East in New York Citys East Village. Both venues were closed in July of 1971 as the use of larger arenas grew in popularity.

The Fillmore continued on with a few different names: The New Old Fillmore, The Elite Club which became a venue for punk rock shows. It was reopened in the mid-‘80s under Bill Grahams management but closed again in October of 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the building. After Graham was killed in the helicopter crash in 1981, it was reopened in 1994 after a Retrofit with The Smashing Pumpkins playing a surprise show. It is now leased and operated by Live Nation, a subsidiary of iHeart Media.

* Do you have memories of The Fillmore?  Please feel free to share them in the following comments section.

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