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. charmaine cohen

    Robert McClay did my portrait in 1956 when I was a mere 18 yrs old. I worked with his then girlfriend Lorraine at MetLife. We would meet at a “loft/attic” and while he would paint, we listened to “City of Glass” by Stan Kenton. Lorraine arranged the meeting…it cost me 100.00. I’ve been trying to find him for a very long time, Is he still alive and painting?. I am 77 yrs old now and an “old SF gal” and have many, many fabulous stories of SF, including the “bar scene” of the 40’s & 50″s. GREAT times!

  2. I believe, before the Black Hawk, 200 Hyde Street was a small bar called the Stork Club since 1943. It was bought by Nicholas M. Sahati (also a Tahoe casino owner) in 1945, until he was sued by the New York Stork Club for trademark infringement.

  3. Robert B. Livingston

    You’re welcome. Hang in there!

  4. Robert B. Livingston

    Thanks for the comment, info and photos Tobymarx–

    The Tenderloin is fascinating place– with a rich– and edgy– history. Yet, when I walk the streets I can’t help often feeling a sense of hopeless alienation.

    Democratic Party sycophants tell us the neighborhood is changing for the better with sweet deal tech firms like Twitter and others moving in. But I don’t see it.

    Art becomes a reflection of the society in which we live.

    Is it uplifting and human– does it touch, feed , or nurture our souls? Or does it have a short-lived “pay-off?”

    Shock value today is getting awfully thin– very little shocks many of us anymore.

    Where are artists who have something truly original to say with their talent?

    Among the countless murals in San Francisco, some of the best in the world,too many are marred by a thin, shallow, overly-facile and soul-less conformity. They could be clever tattoos, record album covers, or skateboard decorations.

    Don’t mistake me, the older mural at Turk and Hyde was somewhat pedestrian for its era. But the newer one is “in the face” and politically nihilistic: an advertisement for horrors and bad dreams to come in an increasingly austere and fear-provoking world. A statement of sorts surely– but is it a good one for people who too many live in squalor?

    I don’t wish to go on in this vein– only I implore artists to be more creative and thoughtful– and for Arts Commissions to judge with more care– and to consider especially the impact arts projects will have on the oppressed of society and a better future for the city.

    I have visited San Francisco’s Arts Commission in the past– and was totally turned-off by the attitude there of entitlement and a spoiled enthrallment with the gimmicky and low-brow. There may have been people of genius there, but they were quiet.

    I reasoned then that the Commission is but a reflection of an elitist status-quo– a club of sorts: proud of its facility with funding and name recognition.

    Hope my comments will spur some productive thought.

    Best wishes.

    • You have absolutely hit the nail on the head re: the SF Arts Commission. Having applied for a grant myself some years ago, I know from first-hand experience about their attitude of entitlement. I would also point out that these are the same folks that happily give enormous grants to out-of-town artists while ignoring local (and often much better) talent. Another thing I discovered is that the same local artists are given grants each year. In other words, one of the main criteria for receiving grant money from the Arts Commission is being a prior grantee. Hardly surprising, I suppose, in a city where government corruption is rampant.

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful and very perceptive comments.

  5. Robert B. Livingston

    I wonder what the story is behind the destruction of Wullbrandt’s mural by How Nosm. Was there any public debate or input– was it a completely private concern?

    Personally, I believe the entire empty corner where the Blackhawk once stood is an eyesore– the new mural, talented as it appears, is a magnified tattoo– and sinister.

    When passing it, I can’t feel a suspicion that the “edginess” of art which is encouraged parallels the brutal and bloody movie posters that adorn so many of the bus stops and walls in this neighborhood.

    I thought the old mural introduced something of a more civil note– the new mural (by an outsider), adds something demonic to a neighborhood beset by austerity and trouble.

    Perhaps I’m just old fashioned or too sensitive.

    While I’m here, I will also complain about the much lauded “yellow brick road” painted on sidewalks ostensibly of great service to children moving from one child center to another past elbow nudging drug pushers.

    Why, oh why, are they not painted as bricks– but rather like oval drug capsules?

    The irony never escapes me.

    I often suspect there is a quiet conspiracy to forever brand the Tenderloin as a dumping ground for pain and sorrow under illusions of enlightenment which only flatter the tastes of a better-off economic class of people who do not live here– people who have boundless time for civic-engagement, money for self-promotion, and parties to mutually congratulate each other.

  6. jason

    Excellent, can’t find this info elsewhere.

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