President Follies Theatre

60 McAllister Street,
San Francisco, CA 94102

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donlwat
donlwat on May 5, 2016 at 12:35 am

I used to go to the President Follies from 1955 to1957 when I was in the Air Force at Travis AFB. At the time I was 17 and 18 and had seen my first Burlesque show in Los Angeles. It was during my induction into the AF and that evening I saw Tempest Storm in the Burlesque theater on 3rd street downtown LA. At 17 in 1955 I had never seen anything like that before. In trips into San Francisco I discovered the President Follies and I might have gone there maybe a dozen times over the next few years. Back in those days I was mostly interested in seeing the girls and the President had, if I remember right, a stripper then a comedy skit, then a stripper and so on until the headline act. I seemed to suffer through those comedy routines. Years later I would remember some of them and wish that I had payed more attention since I think they were the last of true vaudeville spicy comedy acts. Always had the busty blond and a duo male/female or male/male with sexual gestures and dialog ending in the punch line pa bump bump from the drummer. The band was 3-4 members in the pit for music. At the President if the pasties came off it meant a more relaxed political attitude at with city hall. If things were tightening up then the pasties stayed on. Mostly smaller crowds when I went and it seemed to me more military types. I still think it was a great time in my youth. Things certainly when down hill in the 60s in North Beach when the topless and Bottomless took over.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 24, 2016 at 10:02 am

The Colonial Theatre was under construction, and probably fairly near completion, at the time of the Earthquake of April 18, 1906. Construction had begun in 1905, and the year was engraved in stone below the cornice above the entrance.

There is no historic record indicating that the theater had actually opened before the disaster. Like many other substantial buildings in the downtown area the structure was gutted by the subsequent fire, but it was restored, and the Colonial Theatre finally opened on October 6, 1906.

The house became the Plaza Theatre in 1922, when it was taken over by a repertory company that grew out of Berkeley’s Greek Theatre Players. I don’t know how long it remained the Plaza, but the name was in use at least into 1923. The theater had never had much success either as a legitimate venue or as a movie house, and changed hands frequently until it finally found its niche as a burlesque house.

It is very likely that Reid Brothers were the original architects of the building as well as of the 1919 renovations.

Mary K. Skolak Trumble
Mary K. Skolak Trumble on January 24, 2016 at 2:14 am

As the daughter of Eddie Skolak I last commented here in June of 2011. At that time I mentioned that my mother Cathy Carver Skolak was living on the San Mateo Coast. Sadly she passed away 2/21/15 a week after her birthday. I had the privledge of being with her when she passed. One of my daughters was able to come and help me with the final arrangements. She is interned at next to my father at Cypress Lawn in Colma Ca. At the actual Service for her at least two of her grandchildren were able to be there to attend along with a surviving brother and two clost family friends from OR. I just wanted to say that with the passing of both of my parents, a lot of history of those early yrs. of the President Theater is done. Unless some others have more stories. I have given all the info. that I know of of which I wish I had listened more when I was a young girl.

xsallnow
xsallnow on November 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Used to see Cathy Carver sing at the Follies many times in the early 60’s. Her specialty was Country & Western songs and she was quite good. Cathy was very attractive, blond, medium height and in her mid to late 20’s if my memory is correct.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on September 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

The AKA list for this theater indicates that it was once known as the Oriental; here is a picture of an Oriental Theater in San Francisco from 1919.

StevenC
StevenC on August 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I used to go to the President Follies back in 1962-63 with my guitar teacher, the great Warren Nunes, who played in the band. I’m sure the band was at least 4 or 5 pieces at that time. The leader was an ancient piano player, Charlie who didn’t like my being there. I was only 19, but Warren would sneak me in to see the shows and I’d sometimes go backstage, where the strippers would be sitting around with barely anything on, reading books, playing cards, bored, waiting to go on. They also showed old movies and featured vaudeville comedians as well. The only stripper’s name I can remember was Bobette. When the President Follies closed, the owner Cathy Carver threw a party at her home in South San Francisco, which I attended with Warren. It seems to me that Cathy sang onstage there too, because I remember her giving Warren the recording of “Detroit City,” which was hugely popular, for him to learn so he could accompany her.

Mary K. Skolak Trumble
Mary K. Skolak Trumble on June 26, 2011 at 3:37 am

I am the surviving daughter of Eddie Skolak who owned the theater from the 1940’s till his death in 1960. My mother who was the surviving widow and ran it till 1963 (Cathy) is still alive as of this date. She is living on the San Mateo Coast. I have little bits of info. since I had been around ‘the theater’ (as we called it) from birth till age 16. The theater was bought by St. Boniface Church who boardered it on Golden Gate Ave. They had been after that property for yrs. saying that they wanted it to expand their school, I was told by my mother. My father fancied himself as another Flo Ziegfeld but never reached the heights that Mr. Ziegfeld (sic).did. My father moved out to SF from Chicago Il. where he was born in 1901. ‘The Theater’ was a problem for me growing up since the business sort of clashed with the Catholic Church. I attended Perochial School for eight yrs. and I was always treated sort of different by them because of it. I do not approve of the business but the actual theater was really something. I was pretty sad that it was never salvaged by some sort of historical group in SF to preserve it and maybe put in respectable plays, etc. I think that if it had been upgraded and refurbished it would have been really something to see. There was beautiful/ornate structural artistry to it. My father and mother had told me that it withstood the 1906 earthquake and fire but I really do not have any historical proof of that. When my mother sold much of the artwork from the inside of it before sale of the theater, there were some very valuable paintings and mirrors. It must have been a somewhat classy theater in it’s beginning.

fripp
fripp on July 12, 2010 at 9:41 am

In 1959, the President Follies Theatre was operating as one of the last real ‘Strip Tease’ parlours. It had a live three-piece band. It was not like any of the nude dancing or lap dancing parlours of today, but featured real strip tease, and was great place for college boys to hang out.
Contributed by William Gabel
Yes, I’m sure it was. And it was probably due to pretty faced strippers and tough bouncers. The counterpart, Market Street Cinema, boasts gang-bangers, drug sales and consumption, rampant stripper-customer sex, rip offs and the occasional visit from one of San Francisco’s Finest to ascertain that “everything is o.k.”.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm

The September, 1919, issue of The Architect and Engineer said that the Savoy Theatre was being extensively altered for conversion “…into a high class moving picture theatre….” Architects for the project were the Reid brothers.

princeofprocrastination
princeofprocrastination on January 1, 2010 at 4:39 am

I was wondering if anyone knew anything about the burlesque entertainer Nickie “The It Girl” Joy who worked at The President Follies in San Francisco. Ms. Joy is currently in the Comcast “Something Weird” free films. Ms. Joy is truely mesmerizing.

Rodney
Rodney on October 28, 2007 at 7:08 pm

With all due respect to the 05/15/04 comment about Lon Chaney making his 1912 stage debut at this theater. Mr. Chaney’s first theatre job was in 1902 as a stage hand at Colorado Springs Opera House. Soon after he acted in a national tour stock company before settling for awhile in Oklahoma City to be near his beautiful 16 year-old sweetheart, Cleva Creighton. Around 1909 he appeared in his first film with Tom Mix at the Bison 101 Studios in Ponca City, OK.
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ManorAvenue
ManorAvenue on February 15, 2007 at 3:35 pm

My late mother enjoyed reminiscing years ago about the time in the early 1940’s when my grandfather (her father) and another Armenian man decided to play a good-natured prank on a third Armenian man who was coming to SF to visit family. The third man was a rural rancher and somewhat naiive to City life. They told the rancher they were taking him to the movies, and into the President Follies they all marched, the rancher completely oblivious to the photos of all the bombshell attractions! When the music began and the first gal stepped onto the runway, the rancher was heard to exclaim, “AMAN!” which is Armenian for “Oh, my God!” He decided not to attract attention to himself by bolting from the theater, but I believe his sensibilities were somewhat offended and he was embarrassed to tears. It’s my understanding the famous Tempest Storm was one of the regular attractions at the President Follies.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on October 29, 2005 at 5:18 pm

From the SF Public Library website:

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Tillmany
Tillmany on May 15, 2004 at 10:56 am

As the Colonial Theatre, construction began in 1905,
but was halted by the devastation of the April 1906 earthquake and fire.
Still named the Colonial, the theatre formally opened on October 6, 1906.
On December 12, 1909 it was renamed the Savoy,
In 1912, Lon Chaney is said to have made his stage debut there.
On September 30, 1913 it was renamed the Oriental,
and on October 14, 1916 it was renamed the Savoy again.
On September 27, 1922, it was renamed the Plaza,
and (finally) on May 14, 1925 it was renamed the President,
and remained so until it closed on September 5, 1963.

During the 1920’s the President was a popular legitimate theatre,
offering the live stage productions of the Henry Duffy company,
but the popularity of talking pictures and the stock market crash of 1929,
followed by the great depression, ended all that, and by
the mid-1930’s the President was offering double feature film programs for fifteen cents.

Burlesque saved the day in 1941 when Eddie Skolak turned it into
the President Follies, and as such it served San Francisco audiences
through the halcyon war years, the 1950’s and into the 1960’s.
After the death of Skolak, his widow sold the theatre, and on
September 5th, 1963 it terminated its lonely distinction as California’s last burlesque house.
It was torn down soon afterwards.