Ellis Theatre

1671 Ellis Street,
San Francisco, CA 94115

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Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on March 3, 2020 at 12:43 pm

“Harlem of the West,” a recent book tracing the history of jazz in the Fillmore neighborhood, frequently cites the Ellis Theatre. Previously as the Princess, it was one of the first vaudeville theatres in San Francisco to book black entertainers. The Depression-enforced conversion to movies as the Ellis reduced the theatre to late-run status. To combat the arrival of home TV, management introduced a weekly talent night, when amateurs could compete for cash prizes. Pianist Federico Cervantes recalled: “A radio personality named ‘Fatso Perry’ ran the shows, and as his name indicates, he was quite obese. I got on the musical map by winning a prize of $50, big money at that time. After that, I was hired as the pianist for a little band that played for contestants. The Ellis was usually crowded. A lot of people dropped in for the chance to perform, and their friends came to cheer them on. Everybody would dress up.” Teen vocalist Polaya Ballington Davis is probably the most famous of the Ellis contest winners. The legendary Johnny Otis, who happened to be in the audience that night, was so impressed that he signed her to a recording contract and numerous hit singles under the new name of Sugar Pie Desanto.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 14, 2018 at 12:34 pm

The October, 1907, issue of the trade journal Concrete had this item about the Princess Theatre:

“The Princess theater, just completed, enjoys the distinction of being the only theater structure in the city which is constructed entirely of reinforced concrete. It has a seating capacity of 1,600 and its total cost was in the neighborhood of $180,000.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Here is another photo showing the Princess/Ellis Theatre late in its history, during the 1960s, when it had become Mt. Zion Church.

From the same time period, the back of the theater, with the name Princess Theatre still painted on the stage house. Everything around it had already been demolished for an urban undo-all project, and the theater building would soon fall victim to the same folly.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Here is a 1907 postcard photo showing the Princess Theatre and its neighbor, the Orpheum, later to be called the Garrick Theatre.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm

The April 27, 1911, issue of the City and County of San Francisco’s Municipal Recordreported that Samuel Loverich had been granted a motion picture permit for the Princess Theatre, Ellis Street.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on August 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm

The Princess Theatre got a tiny Wurlitzer pipe organ, opus 900, 2 manuals, 4 ranks, in 1924. The organ was moved to a church in 1931.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 20, 2010 at 6:57 am

The Princess was one of five San Francisco theaters designed by the architectural firm of O'Brien & Werner (Matthew O'Brien and Carl Werner) that were listed in an ad for the firm in the 1907-1908 edition of Henry’s Official Western Theatrical Guide.