AKA: California Theater #2, San Francisco, CA; New California Theatre, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Wood, James M., Architect (firm); Sidney P. Lovell (architect); James Madison Wood (architect)

Dates: constructed 1889, demolished 1906

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414 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

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Nationally-known theatre designer James Madison Wood designed the New California Theatre, opened in 05/1889, and billed in its advertising as the "handsomest theatre in the world." (See “New California Theatre,” Daily Alta California, vol. LXXXII, no. 153, 06/02/1890, p. 1.) It was built on the former location of the California Theatre #1 on Bush Street between Kearny Street and Grant Avenue. The California Theatre #2 became the first theatre on the West Coast to operate completely using electricity.

Building History

The Calfornia Theatre #2 opened with a performance of Shakespeare's "Othello" on Monday, 05/13/1889. The inaugural performance included renowned actors Edwin Booth and Lawrence Barrett, and was directed by Arthur B. Chase, who often worked with Booth and Barrett. Reserved seats for the play's opening night were auctioned beginning on 05/08/1889 to the highest bidders, according to Lawrence Barrett, "...to protect the theatre and the public from speculators." (See "A Chat with Lawrence Barrett," Salt Lake City Herald, 05/07/1889, p. 5.)

It operated in the same building as the California Hotel operated by R.H. Warfield in 1896. (See Crocker-Langley San Francisco, California, City Directory, 1896, p. 359.) The Richardsonian Romanesque theatre block was reputed to have cost $300,000. (See "Plays and Players," Patterson, NJ, Morning Call, 01/12/1889.)

Architect James M. Wood (1841-1923), who specialized in performance spaces during the last half of the nineteenth century, designed the New California Theatre in San Francisco, CA. Wood became a leading theatre designer, earning the approval of such significant actors as Edwin Booth (1833-1893), Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) and Madame Helena Modjeska (1840-1909). According to the 1892 book, The Bay of San Francisco: "His design and supervision in erecting the magnificent New California Theater in this city was through the endorsement and special recommendation of the most eminent artists in the profession, -- Booth, Barrett, Modjeska and others." (See The Bay of San Francisco, [San Francisco: Lewis Publishing Company, 1892], accessed 06/18/2014.) Barrett co-managed the previous California Theatre in 1867-1870 and Booth and Modjeska had an illustrious record of acting at the previous California Theatre, the three garnering rave reviews from San Francisco audiences.

Building Notes

In 1889-1890, Al Hayman was the proprietor and lessee of the New California Theatre and the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco. Harry Mann, who previously worked in New York theatrical jobs, became the manager in 1889. (See "Amusements: The Bostonians Coming," Salt Lake Herald, 06/12/1889, p. 8 and “New California Theatre,” Daily Alta California, vol. LXXXII, no. 153, 06/02/1890, p. 1.) In 1896, the Al Hayman Company, Incorporated continued to run the theatre, which was then managed by Louis A. Morgenstern. (See Crocker-Langley San Francisco, California, City Directory, 1896, p. 359.)


In its last years, the California Theatre #2 became the "California Theatre and Hotel." Its dome and chimneys collapsed in the 1906 temblor, falling onto a neighboring fire department building at 410-412 Bush Street. This collapse killed San Francisco's Fire Chief, Dennis T. Sullivan (d. 1906).


The California Theatre #2 perished in the Earthquake and Fire of 04/18/1906.

PCAD id: 19254