You may have heard of The Fillmore if you live in Philadelphia, Detroit, DC, Baltimore, or Charlotte, but The Fillmore name actually started in San Francisco at a venue located on the corner of Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard and it still exists today. The Fillmore originally opened in 1912 as a dance hall under the name “The Majestic Hall and Majestic Academy of Dancing”. Through the 1930’s the legendary venue continued to operate as a dance hall under various names and management. It became a roller rink through the 1940’s, but in the 1950’s the venue transformed into a place where live music filled the space between walls.
In 1954 The Fillmore began operating as a music venue under the leadership of Charles Sullivan. Sullivan began booking some of the best names in black music at the time such as James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. By the 60’s, San Francisco was at the height of hip culture in the United States and The Fillmore was just a small piece in that thanks to then up and coming concert promoter, Bill Graham.
Graham began using the venue with the approval of Sullivan in 1965 to book bands. Bill Graham was responsible for giving The Fillmore a name due to his ability to hire and promote bands who played new, creative styles of music (which became known as psychedelic music). Some of those bands were Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Butterfield Blues Band, and legendary jam band, the Grateful Dead. Other notable bands and musicians who came through the doors of The Fillmore thanks to Graham were Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Cream, Muddy Waters, The Who, The Doors, Steve Miller Band, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
It was during Graham’s era at The Fillmore that many of the venue’s traditions which are still in place today began. The Fillmore always has a greeter at the door who welcomes music fans with a cheery, “Welcome to The Fillmore!” There’s also always a large tub of free apples located near the entrance. The last tradition which still takes place at the venue might be the coolest of all. Upon exiting, all fans receive a poster from the night’s show. In the 60’s, the posters were designed by two artists who became leaders in psychedelic poster design, Wes Wilson and Rick Griffin.
In the 70’s, The Fillmore became a private neighborhood club, but in the 80’s Paul Rat pioneered the punk rock movement at The Fillmore. He brought in punk rock bands like The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Bad Brains. Bill Graham again took hold of The Fillmore by the mid-80’s, but in 1989 the venue was closed because of the damage it took from the Loma Prieta earthquake. Two years later, Graham died in a helicopter crash. It was one of his final wishes to reopen the venue where he first began his career.
In 1994, it happened. On April 27th, The Smashing Pumpkins played a secret show at the newly reopened venue followed by Primus, who played the first official show the following evening. The Fillmore has been in operation since. In 2007, Live Nation began to lease and operate the original Fillmore location and have since branded the name at old and new venues throughout the country. In my opinion, there’s nothing like the original though especially with all the history it represents and traditions that are still kept alive to this day, making The Fillmore in San Francisco a legendary venue.