Fillmore marquee act: Proposed signage to highlight iconic music venue

San Francisco Board of Supervisors president London Breed hopes to install a large theatre marquee on the famed Fillmore Auditorium in celebration of the area's diverse history. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Among San Francisco’s most storied and iconic cultural institutions is the Fillmore Auditorium, which the late music promoter Bill Graham made famous during the ’60s with psychedelic rock bands and other music legends like BB King and Miles Davis.

From the outside, there is little to suggest the music venue is even there on the corner of Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street or what’s inside. In addition to a full calendar of music acts, there are the walls of psychedelic rock posters and photographs of legendary musicians like Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia — not to mention the venue’s rich history, which includes a reference in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Board of Supervisors President Supervisor London Breed, who represents the Fillmore neighborhood, wants the auditorium to receive more notice by allowing the venue to install an exterior vertical marquee sign that could be up to 125 square feet and up to 60 feet in height.

The venue is currently operated by Live Nation. She said Friday that the venue operators requested the sign law change two years ago.

“This legislation will allow the auditorium to provide signage that is more appropriate for both the size and scale of its building as well as its location adjacent to the Geary expressway,” Breed said Tuesday, when she introduced the proposal.

She likened the concept to the “CASTRO” sign fixed to the facade of the Castro Theatre. “A large sign for the Fillmore Auditorium will help brand the neighborhood as the Fillmore similar to how the Castro Theatre has branded the Castro,” she said.

Breed said she had reviewed an initial concept from the venue operators that would have a “FILLMORE” sign affixed at the corner of the building, visible to those both on Fillmore and Geary. The venue did not return calls for comment.

The sign proposal is the latest development in The City’s longstanding and challenged effort to revitalize the Fillmore by playing to its cultural and musical roots. The once “Harlem of the West” vibrant jazz scene was driven off along with the black owned businesses and residents during over a span of decades through redevelopment.

The City has attempted to revive the area by promoting it as a jazz district and brought in Yoshi’s to the Fillmore Heritage Center at 1330 Fillmore St. But the music venue shut down last year, and a rebranded Yoshi’s effort shut down earlier this year. The large space it occupied remains vacant. Breed said discussions remain underway on future plans for the site.

“I think there’s a lot of great businesses there,” Breed said of the Fillmore area. “It’s an amazing corridor. It has so much potential.”

Breed said the focus of the sign proposal is for the auditorium. But it would apply to the entire area within the Fillmore Street Neighborhood Transit District for buildings of three or more stories, of which there are a “handful.” Breed said to to have large marquee signs along Geary Boulevard will send the message that Fillmore and Japantown neighborhoods are “more than just places to pass by” but are in fact “cultural destinations.”

Breed’s legislation will first undergo a public hearing by the Planning Commission at a date yet scheduled. It would require approval by the full board.

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