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South San Francisco Opera House
Photograph by Katherine Petrin
Courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

Preservation Month Feature

South San Francisco Opera House, San Francisco, California

The South San Francisco Opera House, in San Francisco, California, now known as the Bay View Opera House, was built in 1888 in conjunction with a Masonic Hall that formerly occupied the portion of the lot immediately west of the Opera House. The Masonic Hall was demolished in 1975, at which time an open-air entrance porch was added onto the west wall of the Opera House. Occupying a triangular lot at the southeast corner of Third Street and Newcomb Avenue in the Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco, north of Candlestick Point, the South San Francisco Opera House is a one-story building of wood-frame construction with horizontal, drop wood siding and a gable roof clad in asphalt shingles. Built by San Francisco Masonic Lodge No. 212 in tandem with their adjacent Masonic Temple, the building served as a public social hall for gatherings, cultural events and entertainment. The Opera House was the first cultural building constructed in the neighborhood and served for decades as the chief social center of the Bayview-Hunters Point district, regularly hosting dances, fairs, political rallies, and charity benefits. As one  of the few entertainment venues outside the downtown area, the Opera House also offered a wide variety of theatrical performances-including dramas, comedies, and vaudeville-in its first two decades of existence. It retains its original use as a community center and performance venue, and remains among the oldest surviving entertainment venues in San Francisco.

[photo] South San Francisco Opera House
Photograph by Sfbike
available on Flickr via Creative Commons

The South San Francisco Opera House is also important for local architectural history, as it highlights architect Henry Geilfuss’ career. One of San Francisco’s most prolific architects during the 1880s and 1890s, Geilfuss blended Italianate, Gothic, Eastlake, and Stick elements into a style that came to define Victorian architecture in San Francisco. The South San Francisco Opera House, which was built at the height of Geilfuss’ career, is representative of his style and craftsmanship. It is particularly notable as a rare, non-residential example of his work. His most important surviving works are the Romanesque Revival St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (1895) at 1135 O’Farrell Street, the Stick-style Charles Dietle House (1878) at 294 Page Street, and the Gothic/Victorian Westerfield House (1889) at 1198 Fulton Street.

Built when the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, then known as South San Francisco, was a fledging district of cottages, farms and slaughterhouses at the city’s southeast corner, the Opera House established South San Francisco as a viable community that would offer more than simply housing and employment to its residents. South San Francisco Lodge No. 212 of the Free and accepted Masons was formerly chartered on October 14, 1871. When their Masonic Hall was built, the adjacent Opera House was also built to be a boon to the public. The Masons looked to their own ranks for the expertise needed to complete the Masonic hall and Opera House, tapping Henry Geilfuss to serve as architect, and Cornelius E. Dunshee to be “master builder.”  Both buildings were completed in September of 1888.  From the start the Opera House served numerous social functions, including charity balls, fundraising events for the Bay Shore Greens baseball team, Democratic and Republican political party events, dances, plays, and a general social center for the German, Irish, and French Americans who settled locally.

[photo] Downtown Churches Historic District
South San Francisco Opera House
Photograph by Sfbike
available on Flickr via Creative Commons

The South San Francisco Opera House survived the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, but because much of San Francisco was destroyed, acting troupes tended to avoid the region until reconstruction was well under way. The Southern Pacific railroad also bypassed South San Francisco when it connected with San Bruno and San Francisco, further marginalizing the area. The Opera House survived as a community social hall.
The Opera House became City of San Francisco landmark No.8 on October 28, 1968. The South San Francisco Opera House received renovation assistance from Save America’s Treasures, a United States Federal initiative and a public-private partnership between the U.S. National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to preserve and protect American historic buildings, arts, and published works. The South San Francisco Opera House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March 21, 2011.

 Read the full file on the South San Francisco Opera House




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