Epitaph: the Black Hawk


“Hyde and Turk” (2007 Survey)

(336/2) 225–229 Hyde Street; Hotel LaSalle, The Cosmopolitan Hotel. Mid-priced hotel with 128 rooms and 128 baths, converted to apartments. 6B stories; reinforced concrete structure with stucco facade; twisted colonettes in four-story bay windows, wrought iron balconies, galvanized iron cornice; three-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; alterations: lobby and ground floor remodeled 1950s, creating recessed vestibule with plaster, aluminum and glass door. Original owner: A.B. Hasbacher. Architect: unknown. 1927.

(337/21) 200–216 Hyde Street; parking lot (Black Hawk site).

(337/12) 222–226 Hyde Street; flats. (Trompe l’oeil mural on south wall by John Wullbrandt, 1983). 1911.

The parking lot on the corner of of Turk and Hyde is the site of the legendary Black Hawk nightclub, where on the evening of 21 April 1961, Miles Davis recorded his landmark album, Miles Davis In Person Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco.

Photo courtesy of Robert and Marina McClay

Black Hawk nightclub, 1959. Local artist Robert McClay (left) and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet outside the entrance to the club.

The Modern Jazz Quartet’s first West Coast club date was at the Black Hawk. Other notables who performed there included Shelly Manne, Thelonius Monk, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Mongo Santamaria, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and many more.

Johnny Mathis was discovered at the Black Hawk. When a local sextet brought young Johnny to one of the club’s regular Sunday afternoon jam sessions in 1955, club co-owner Helen Noga heard him sing and decided that she wanted to manage his career. Shortly afterward, Johnny got a regular gig singing at Ann Dee’s 440 Club, and Helen talked the head of jazz A&R at Columbia Records, George Avakian, into seeing him. After coming to the club and hearing Johnny sing, Avakian sent a telegram to his record company: “Have found phenomenal 19 year old boy who could go all the way.” And go all the way he did.

Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library (Photo: Alan J. Canterbury)

Top Drawer, 1964. After its final closing, the Black Hawk was briefly reincarnated as the Top Drawer lounge. The building under construction in the background is the Eddy Street Central Tower (now one of the Mosser Towers).


Filed under Local Characters, Tenderloin

14 responses to “Epitaph: the Black Hawk

  1. Joseph C. Moore USN Ret.

    In 1957 I was a young trumpet player drafted into the navy waiting for transport to Guam. I stopped in the BlackHawk where Virgil Gonzalves was playing and my friends asked Virgil if I (trumpet) could sit in on a song. Business must have been slow as he asked me up. I borrowed the group’s trumpet and played a few tunes. Virgil was very gracious and told me that when I got out of service to look him up. Very sorry to see that all the old clubs (like the Blackhawk and (old) Birdland in NYC) are no longer around.

    Those were GREAT old days when you could listen to the best musicians while just nursing a reasonably priced beer.

  2. Devin Ball

    Hello there, Just wondering if there are any art galleries that display Mr. McClay’s art work? My uncle ( Virgil Gonzalves ) l who actually got Johnny Mathis is first gig at the Blackhawk was also good friends witj Robert McClay had multiple original paintings from ’58 to ’59. One is called “The Blackhawk” it features Miles Davis , Robert McClay, Virgil Gonzlaves, Johnny Mathis and many other musicians and atists that frequented the location.

Leave a Reply to tobymarx Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s