Sep 10, 2018

January 24-26, 1969: Avalon Ballroom

On Jan. 24-25-26 the Avalon will reopen under new management with an opening bill consisting of the Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, and Initial Shock.
(from the San Francisco Examiner, 14 January 1969) 



After a month and a half of eerie quiet, the Avalon Ballroom will rock again tonight to the same bands whose sounds caused police to close the place down last month.
Presumably to convince neighbors it won't be that bad this time, the promoters of the new rock dances have fitted themselves with the promising name of Soundproof Productions.
The name is in striking contrast with Chet Helm's Family Dog, the outfit whose dance license was taken away because of the barking and all.
Soundproof Productions was formed by several former employees of the Family Dog. Helms himself wasn't asked to join.
The new company will stage its shows with the benefit of the dance license of John Whooley, who has the master lease on the Avalon.
Though Whooley said "a lot of work" has been done to make Soundproof Productions live up to its name, he can't promise that some of the sound generated inside won't be audible outside.
If necessary, more money than has been spent already will be poured into making the Avalon as sound proof as it will ever be, he vowed, adding: 
"If it isn't perfect this weekend, it will be next weekend."
To supervise the crowds and make sure they behave inside and outside, Whooley and Soundproof Productions have hired eight special police officers.
A full time janitor, who'll sweep up in front of the Avalon after the shows, is also on the payroll.
The Avalon's bill tonight includes the Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, and Initial Shock. The light show is by the Garden of Delight.
It all starts at 9 p.m. at Van Ness Avenue.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 24 January 1969)


It's a dog-eat-dog world. Two former partners in Chet Helms' Family Dog are proving their pedigrees at the old and new Avalon Ballroom which reopened last night.
Bob Simmons and Gary Scanlon left the Family Dog when, in their own words, "it looked like everything was over." The trio had been together since student days at the University of Texas. Simmons and Scanlon call their new Avalon operation Sound Proof Productions. The neighbors fervently hope so.
Equipped with the landlord's good will and his dance permit, they began with the Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, the Initial Shock, and a bit more soundproofing.
"We plan to bring bigger acts than ever to the Avalon," they said, naming stars like Ike and Tina Turner, Lee Michaels, and the Youngbloods.
How does Chet Helms feel about the break? Bitter, disillusioned, but undaunted, he believed things will work out for him at Playland where he plans to open using the Family Dog name.
Both ventures will bring needed competition in that phase of the music business back in the Bay Area. Nobody should corner the market.

(from Tom Campbell's "Pop Scene" column, "The Sound of Competition," San Francisco Examiner, 25 January 1969)



The rains came and, buffeted by the winds, the small line of rock fans huddled under umbrellas in front of 1268 Sutter.
In contrast to the long queues that ran four abreast around the corner and up Polk Street several months ago, it appeared the reopening of the Avalon Ballroom was a bust.
But inside, past the security guards, the line Saturday night streamed up to the dance area, where it appeared all sweetness and light.
This was the new look and softer sound promised at the reopening of the controversial rock and strobe light mecca for the hippie set.
The saxes honked and the electric guitars blared while the Garden of Delight played its lighting against the walls. The Grateful Dead was on the bandstand and the floor was packed with the long-hairs, the unisex, the gay trappings associated with the hippie element.
To the uninitiated, it would seem to be a huge Halloween costume ball. A young man walked by, and somewhere in that mass of hair there was a face.
Soundproof Productions was making the scene. Everyone was being careful not to create the unwholesome atmosphere that resulted in [the] closing of the Avalon for a month and a half.

But, outside, in addition to the record rain that was flailing the Bay Area, there were other storm clouds gathering. Neighbors, who complained in October that the Avalon element created filth, loud noises, and such indecent incidents as urinating in doorways, were adopting a "watch and wait" attitude, like the lull in the eye of a hurricane.
Deputy Police Chief Al Nelder revoked in October the license of Chet Helms, who operated the Avalon under the name of The Family Dog. The revocation was subsequently upheld by the Permit Appeals Board.
John Whooley, who has leased the ballroom the past ten years, reopened it Friday in conjunction with Gary Scanlan, 26, and Bob Simmons, 28, both lately of Austin, Tex.
Whooley has said a lot has been done to make Soundproof Productions live up to its name. "If it isn't perfect this weekend, it will be next."
But has the noise been kept down?
Not so, says Mrs. Catherine McLean, operator of the nearby Madison Hotel and one of the complainants against the Family Dog.
"You can still hear the noise," said she, "maybe not quite as loud but still noisy." Two of her tenants complained about the noise this weekend and are going to move out, she added.
"I don't know what I am going to do, I have to make a living."
George Kaplanis and Fran Scarpulla are two other neighbors who are adopting a wait and see attitude. Kaplanis, owner of the Via Vai cocktail lounge on Polk, said burglaries and crimes pick up when the hippies are around.
Scarpulla, who owns and operates The Tortola restaurant at 1237 Polk, said he was concerned with "the way the street has deteriorated" but feels the situation can be controlled.
Jean Maunas, partner with Mrs. McLean in the Madison, said the music is still loud and "you can't even go through the alleys because of the cars."
He complained about "hippies" congregating in the lobby Saturday night and throwing cigaret butts and candy papers around.
Whooley and Soundproof Productions have hired eight special police officers to control the crowds. Scanlan and Simmons said there were no problems Friday and Saturday nights.
The Avalon is permitted a 950 capacity at a time and no one under 18 is allowed in the place. Kids under 18 can get in if they have a letter of authorization from their families, Scanlan added.
The weekend storms kept the queues down on Sutter and up Polk. Whooley, Scanlan, and Simmons say they are keeping the noise down and controlling the crowds. The neighbors are marking time.
Next weekend may have some answers.

(by Dick Alexander, from the San Francisco Examiner, 27 January 1969)

More on Soundproof here.


  1. Nothing on the Dead here, but these articles give some interesting background to these concerts.

    The Family Dog had been kicked out of the Avalon in the fall of '68. From the Examiner, 10/30/68:
    Unless the Board of Permit Appeals overrules the Police Department, the weekend rock dances and light shows at the Avalon Ballroom...will soon be a thing of the past.
    Indignant residents of the area prevailed at a hearing yesterday before Deputy Police Chief Alfred Nelder, who revoked the dance permit issued in the name of Family Dog...
    Nelder heard testimony from nearby residents that blaring electric guitar music rocked the neighborhood long after the legal closing time of 2 a.m.
    In addition, he was told, patrons of the ballroom created filth and dirt and frequently urinated in nearby doorways..."

    Chet Helms went before the Board of Permit Appeals for a hearing in November, but despite a massive petition from Family Dog lovers (and letters warning that "youngsters deprived of their Family Dog may well take to the streets like a bunch of wild dogs"), the license revocation was upheld after negative testimony was given about the "unbearable noise," hippie behavior, narcotics peddlers, the odor of marijuana, underage children roaming after midnight, etc.
    Good old Mrs. McLean said that "in all of her 50 years in this country she'd never seen anything like it... Mrs. McLean bristled: 'They're using my toilets, they sit in my lobby, they spit in my lobby. Why should I put up with this?'"

    Helms continued putting on shows at the Avalon for a couple months while the case was on appeal, but in December his final appeal was voted down. "Helms said afterwards the dances may be moved to another location where they won't disturb neighbors, if he can get a new permit." His eyes soon turned to distant Playland on the beach.

    Anyway, that gives an idea of what Soundproof were up against (and why they so hastily pulled the plug on the late-running Dead on both 1/24 and 4/6). Soundproof put on concerts at the Avalon for less than three months; the Dead shows in April were their last, and after that Soundproof folded; and that was it for rock shows at the Avalon. (The building was converted a movie theater that December.)

    The Examiner was more interested in the neighborhood controversy than with anything happening inside the Avalon. Their coverage of "the hippie element" was never very positive, and here the Avalon is described as "a huge Halloween costume ball" filled with "the long-hairs, the unisex, the gay trappings..." The music was immaterial to this reporter: unwary readers would think that the Dead were playing with saxes.
    The Dead themselves were taking advantage of the hometown concerts to record for a live album; despite technical glitches on opening night, they liked Jan. 26 to include part of it on Live/Dead. Garcia recalled it as a night "when the spirit was hear everybody’s really that real thing..."

    1. More details on the October '68 Family Dog hearing, from Rolling Stone's 11/23/68 issue:

      Family Dog has lost its permit to hold dances at the Avalon Ballroom ... because nearby residents and businessmen complained about noise, debris, and misdirected piss. At the Police Department Permit Bureau hearing, about a dozen complainants, nearly all of them in their sixties, presented petitions and gave testimony to the effect that the Avalon had regularly operated until four and five in the morning.
      A cocktail lounge owner alleged that patrons of the Avalon had pissed in his doorway. A very senior citizen, about 75, claimed to have been solicited several times by a prostitute working a car parked in back of the ballroom. All the old folks argued that the noise had been excessive.
      The high-point of the one-hour proceedings came when the elderly woman who runs the Madison Hotel - whose tenants are claiming dented eardrums - wound up her testimony in tears, saluting the flag, proclaiming the United States to be the country that she loves.
      The police bureau agreed, and revoked Family Dog's permit - though, curiously, it did not revoke permission for "conventional" dances to be held at the Avalon. [...]
      Family Dog has occasionally run 10 or 15 minutes over 2 a.m. closing, according to Helms, but the only time he ever ran until 4 or 5 was a New Year's Eve - with the police chief's permission. As to the debris, Helms does not contest that Family Dog has brought a good deal more traffic into the neighborhood than it had ever seen.
      'But a guy who urinates in a doorway has probably been drinking, right? I don't think that sounds like our people,' Helms holds.
      Helms has reason to suspect that his landlord 'has some interest in trying to get me out,' he says. [....]
      Despite losing its permit, the Dog is still in business. Upon appealing the Permit Bureau ruling, the revocation is placed in legal limbo, which means Family Dog can continue to function at the Avalon.
      What if the appeal should fail?
      'Well,' says Helms wistfully, 'there aren't too many other places in this city that we could use. I guess we'd just concentrate on putting on one-night spectaculars.
      'It just goes to show you, man. All these people talk free enterprise, but when you actually do it - start with nothing, like we did three years ago, and build to an operation with 45 people on the payroll, these people just won't let it happen. Not if you're a longhair, and that's one thing I'm not going to change.'"

    2. The 12/7/68 Rolling Stone reported:
      The Family Dog, which two weeks ago lost its permit to hold dances at the Avalon Ballroom, has been given notice of eviction by the Scottish Rite Temple, owner of the Avalon building."
      Helms held a press conference at the Avalon to protest the harassment, supported by statements from the AFM union president & Bill Graham that the Avalon contributed to the well-being of the city, "none of which altered the eviction notice, nor made Family Dog's chances for regaining its permit any brighter."

      Matters continue to go badly for the Family Dog. There have been two hearings already ... with the same result each time: City fathers say the ballroom runs too late, too loud, too messy, and therefore has no right to exist. [...]
      Despite the hard times, Family Dog remains in business at the Avalon, holding dances with the likes of the Sir Douglas Quintet Plus Two and the Velvet Underground, on more or less a week-by-week basis. Family Dog President Chet Helms plans yet another appeal of the license revocation.
      Their eviction from the ballroom carries a November 30 deadline. Helms' strategy is to continue operations as long as possible, and physically resist any attempt at eviction."

      But on 1/4/69: "FAMILY DOG SHOT DOWN."
      The license revocation was upheld by the permit board, which refused to hear new evidence in favor of the ballroom, calling it "irrelevant." One of the concerns was that "LSD was openly smoked there," even though there had never been any narcotics busts at the Avalon. But the board proclaimed that the Avalon attracted "every kind of undesirable person."
      The last shows were on Dec. 6-8 (Johnny Winter, Magic Sam, Kaleidoscope), for which the landlord jacked up the rent, and only a few hundred attended. Helms decided that the cost of continued appeals would be too high, and started seeking a new location.

      Ralph Gleason wrote an opinion piece in the same issue ("It Ain't Really Funny") about the conservative reaction against rock music:
      "The Family Dog may or may not get its dance permit back. Righteous Elders testified before the Permit Appeals Board that hippies did unspeakable things outside and inside the hall. A City narc testified to the drug traffic he had observed (but had not acted upon!) within the hall. Logic is useless. Everyone should be in bed by nine, the neanderthal chairman of the Appeals Board announced...
      This society fears its young people deeply and desperately and does all that it can to train those it can control in its own image... If you knew nothing of the truth and heard only the testimony of the Elders condemning the Family Dog dances, you would construct in your head a picture of lines of hippies standing in the street outside the Avalon Ballroom all pissing blithely on the sidewalk. Not even in the gutter."

      That was the last of Rolling Stone's reporting on the Avalon. No Dead content, I'm just posting these as general background on the Avalon shows (and as interesting cultural commentary). With this kind of opposition from the neighbors, you can see why Dead shows at the Avalon had to be so short!