‘Footloose’ on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

San Francisco has a worldwide reputation as a wild, anything-goes town in which no form of debauchery or unbridled rumpus would be shocking. It is that, sometimes, but at other times the city has favored a prudish, conformist side that fastens its buttons a bit too tight. Would it surprise you to find that mere months before the Summer of Love, dozens of people trekked to City Hall to testify against allowing teenagers to dance at an Ocean Beach concert hall?

Poster advertising The Turtles in concert at Donovan's Reef, March 3 and 4, 1967.

Poster advertising The Turtles in concert at Donovan's Reef, March 3 and 4, 1967. Image from Rock Prosopography 101.

The Rock Prosopography 101 blog has a story of San Francisco when listening to music and dancing to it were two very different (and, in the view of some residents, dangerous) moral issues. Some of it, no doubt, will seem familiar to people concerned about the recent state crackdown on San Francisco nightclubs.

History is written by the winners, but sometimes the story of the losers can be more revealing. Most scholars of San Francisco rock music are at least generally aware of how the Fillmore battled with the City of San Francisco over various permits. San Francisco had a peculiar law left over from prohibition that required separate permits for presenting music and allowing dancing. In most cities, it was assumed that the right to present music implies the right for patrons to dance, but in San Francisco that was not the case. Apparently the original purpose was to discourage Speakeasies, but by the 1960s it had become a form of de facto bureaucratic control over San Francisco nightlife. …

It is informative to actually read the San Francisco Chronicle in 1967 and see how much pressure there was from younger people for the City to join the post-Prohibition era. One saga that received extensive play in the paper for months on end was an establishment called Donovan’s Reef, located at 2200 Great Highway (at Rivera), on the very Western edge of both San Francisco and North America. The venue had originally been called The Sea Breeze in the late 19th century, and then Roberts-At-The-Beach, after its proprietor, Shorty Roberts. It had not survived Prohibition very well, but had continued on as a sort of destination amusement palace and carnival. …

The Board Of Permit Appeals shot down every effort to allow a Dance Hall Permit for Donovan’s Reef. The club already had a Concert Permit, but patrons would be arrested if they danced. The strange tone of the article above, from the February 7, 1967 edition of the Chronicle, only makes sense if you understand that it is a sort of Ocean Beach replay of Footloose, arguing over the right to dance in public without police interference. After months of struggle, Donovan’s Reef had already opened, presenting rock bands but preventing patrons from dancing. Needless to say, it did not make for an ideal teenage experience.

Read the rest of the story at Rock Prosopography 101.

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