A large fishbowl caught my eye at an estate sale a few weekends ago. It was half full of vintage matchbooks. These are the little things at estate sales that make my heart skip a beat. I love matchbooks for the possibilities they represent. They are a window into the community as it once was.
Intrigued, I dropped my hand into the bowl and started fishing. Were these from places this homeowner visited over the course of his adult life? Hotels he stayed in while traveling? Memories of birthdays or anniversaries? Calling cards for bars and clubs? Or, were they simply utilitarian matchbooks he picked up when he needed a light?
The matchbooks were from the typical places: bars, restaurants, hotels, and gentlemen’s clubs. Most of them were from the San Francisco Bay Area, apparently remnants of local excursions.
Looking at these matchbooks, I thought about how as we walk down the streets of our cities, we are often unaware of the ghosts of establishments past. Sometimes shadows of the past remain. Remnants of popular hotspots may be immortalized in photos hung on the walls of the restaurants that now pay their rent. The skeletons of motels may live on after a facelift, assuming their proprietors were smart enough to swap out hi-fi for wi-fi. Yet many bars, clubs, and cafes have been razed to make room for condos or other developments. These live on only in these little matchbooks. Here are a few stories of places past. Some live on; some are lost forever.
PART 1: NIGHT CLUBS
506 Broadway, San Francisco, CA (North Beach)
Then: Started as a San Francisco speakeasy in 1929 on Stockton Street. Moved to North Beach in 1936 and became a nightclub known for its female impersonation acts. Closed in 1999 to the disappointment of locals. Laurence Ferlinghetti, the owner of City Light’s Bookstore, was quoted as saying, “What a drag!” when hearing about the closure.
Now: Location is the home of law offices.
The Pink Pussy Cat
7069 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA
Then: A burlesque nightclub in Hollywood that was a popular spot for locals, tourists, and even the Rat Pack. Also famous as the “Pink Pussycat College of Strip tease.” (As the inside of the matchbook eloquently explains.) Closed in the late 70s.
Now: Over the years, this space has been host to a lesbian bar (Peanuts), a “provocative” night club (Club Voyeur), and a dance club (Club 7969). It is currently a night club called DBA.
Varni’s Roaring Twenties
807 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA
Then: A topless club in the 60s known for its “girl on a swing” — a girl would swing over the stairwell in the middle of the room.
Later: In the 70s it became a rock club known as the Orphanage. The club was used as locations in the films Petulia and Experiment in Terror.
Now: A nondescript building tucked between an investment firm and a graphic design company.
412 Broadway, San Francisco, CA (North Beach)
Then: A topless club from 1963-67. After that it became Mr. D’s, a supper club opened by Tony Bennett, where Bobby Darin performed.
Later: It became Matrix, another music club where Bob Marley and the Wailers performed one of their first US concerts. This location later became Soultrain, then Hippodrome, and then The Stone. Prince, the Jerry Garcia Band, James Brown, The Four Tops, and The Temptations were some of the famous people who graced the stage here in the 80s.
Now: Penthouse Club (strip club)
The Geisha Cocktail Lounge and Piano Bar
675 Broadway, San Francisco, CA (Chinatown)
Then: Advertised as the “most popular place in town.” But for as popular as it may have once been, it has left no information behind for us to find.
Now: Chinese restaurant
Object: Vintage matchbooks
Source: Estate sale in California
Notes: Great for learning about the history of your community and imagining how a different generation had fun
Status: Personal collection
Stay tuned for PART 2: RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS.