Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of three of San Francisco’s performing arts venues – the War Memorial Opera house, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall and SFJazz Center. All three are venues where you can go to see and hear spectacular performances but they are also spectacular examples of great design of their time and well worth a visit even when there isn’t something happening on stage..
The opera house, completed in 1932, is one of the last examples of the magnificent Beaux-Arts architecture built in the US. The structure was seismic-retrofitted after the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. At that time, the building was raised 6″ to sit on rubber rollers so the building can ‘rock and roll’ with the next tremor yet there is no visible change made to the 1932 interior or exterior. Quite an amazing design feat!
The symphony hall, a modern design completed in 1980, was a bit of an embarrassment at the time because, although it looked beautiful, it was an acoustical miss. Performers couldn’t hear each other while spectators heard distorted sound. It was so bad that, just four years after it opened, they started a remodeling effort to figure out how to acoustically retrofit the interior. They did an amazing job of the retrofit as you would never know that it wasn’t the original design if you had not seen the original interior. The efforts paid off as today the hall is both beautiful to look at and has the stellar acoustics to match.
SFJazz center is the new kid on the block. It is a modern glass/steel/concrete structure that was completed in 2012 and just finished its first season of performances. It is a spectacular venue that is the first stand-alone structure in the US built specifically for the acoustical particularities of jazz music. If that weren’t enough, it is also LEED-certified! I am totally impressed with how well thought out the design of the building is and how acoustically fantastic it is whether you are in the auditorium, the labs, the practice rooms, the lobby or even climbing the ‘oh-so-quiet’ metal staircase!
I have to admit, though, that of all the sights and sounds I saw at each center, I just fell in love with the tile murals at SFJazz. They are floor-to-ceiling masterpieces of blue and white tiles just accented with the occasional use of gold that line the interior wall outside the auditorium doors. You won’t be able to see them by just stopping in the lobby. They are an extra-special treat reserved for those who have come to see a show. I think I had best go order up some tickets!