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The I-Beam was a popular nightclub in San Francisco that was located in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood at 1748 Haight Street. Before opening the club, Sanford Kellman had an impromptu party there and found that all the neighbors complained about the noise. Therefore, Sanford Kellman was required by the City government of San Francisco to soundproof the entire building at great expense, delaying the opening of the club for several months. On the opening night of the club in October 1977, groups of bare-chested men in jeans and construction hats carried I-Beams on their shoulders into the club.
Dancing, Dj's, Music, Clubs, and Events at the I-Beam
The I-Beam began as a seven night a week gay club in 1977, the second largest gay dance club in San Francisco. The City Night Club also known as the Cabaret was the first large gay club in North Beach district. As the crowd left the I-Beam for the newer clubs South of Market such as The Trocadero and later on Dreamland, the I-Beam opened only for five days a week. Randy Schiller who built the new sound system for the club was operating a recording studio where he had a long list of bands recording in his studio decided that we should reopen on Monday nights which started "Monday Night Live." with local bands.
Inside the I-Beam the main room was forty feet by sixty feet. There were Mylar covered cardboard I-Beams hanging from the ceiling above the center of the dance floor. At the entrance there were framed pictures of various astronomical objects such as galaxies and planets put there by former astronomer Sanford Kellman. Randall Schiller installed an award-winning sound system including lighting and later, video.There was a large room in the front near the entrance with pinball machines and pool tables. Friday and Saturday nights at the I-Beam hosted heterosexual dance parties later on.
The club hosted I-Beam Sunday Night Tea Dances, which took place from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sunday night. Free passes to this popular tea dance were routinely handed out in the gay neighborhoods of San Francisco. Michael Garrett was the first dj to play there when it opened in 1977, immediately after which Tim Rivers was hired and played Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights. Eventually, a Sunday Tea Dance was added and Tim played the opening hours, 4 - 8 pm, after which Steve Fabus took over the 'tables. Steve played at the Sunday Night Tea Dance from 1977 to 1980. From 1980 to its end in 1992 Michael Garrett was the primary DJ—he played modern rock dance music by artists such as Madonna, Prince, New Order, The Cure, R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, etc. Guest DJ's Micheal Dinella and Jim Caldwell frequently created original remixes on the impressive DJ equipment.
The temperature inside the I-Beam was deliberately kept as warm as possible in order to encourage people to take off their shirts while they were dancing; sexual encounters in the bathrooms were a common occurrence.
In January 1988 three go-go boxes (cubes four feet square with a black and white checkerboard pattern of squares one foot by one foot on top; thus the surface of each go-go box had a checkerboard pattern of 16 black and white squares) were installed in the club, and on Wednesday night, the Boy Club was held, for which young male Go-Go dancers were hired by the I-Beam for the first time. The Boy Club continued until the end of 1988. From 1988 to 1992 many fun events were held at the I-Beam such as strip contests and appearances by gay porn stars such as Lou Cass. Beginning in 1988, there was a hip-hop dance club that appealed to the African Americans in the neighborhood. In 1989, the year rave dances first started in San Francisco, Wednesday night became Acid house Night at the I-Beam.
Starting on 28 July 1980 with The Lloyds and Ultrasheen, New Music Night was instituted on Monday night, and later Tuesdays at which emerging new rock groups played. With the temporary closing of The Fillmore Auditorium following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the I-Beam was able to book many bands that would otherwise have played the larger venue. Because of this the club was featuring live music up to four nights a week, usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, with the occasional Sunday afternoon 'matinée' performance (a legendary Butthole Surfers show, among others). On Monday, November 14, 1988, The Escape Club performed, marking the only time a band with the current number one record on the Billboard Hot 100 chart ('Wild, Wild West', week of Nov. 12, 1988) played at the club.
Monday nights became known as Monday Night Live! started by Randall Schiller and was originally booked by Alan Robinson and then Randy persuaded his employee Cathy Cohn to take over the booking, a KUSF DJ. After Cathy and Randy left, the booking duties for the club were handled by Anita Rivas, and eventually Eddie Jennings. Randall Schiller installed the latest EAW Loudspeaker system in the I-Beam as he was the first to introduce EAW to the Bay Area asa a long time dealer for the product. The crème de la crème of new wave, punk, industrial, and indie bands played the I-Beam from 1981 to 1992. Many well known groups played at the I-Beam such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Killing Joke, Gun Club, The Chameleons UK, Clan of Xymox, Dead or Alive, Billy Bragg, Tones on Tail, The Pursuit of Happiness, Duran Duran, Nina Hagen, The Damned, The Church, The Fall, Pylon, Faith No More, Gene Loves Jezebel, Flesh For Lulu, New Order, The Legendary Pink Dots, The Lemonheads, Meat Beat Manifesto, Ministry, Motörhead, Big Black, the Butthole Surfers, 10,000 Maniacs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Firehose, Soundgarden, Trouble Funk, Alice in Chains, Counting Crows, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Soul Asylum, Camper Van Beethoven, Gwar, Henry Rollins Band, Jane's Addiction, X, Specimen, Primus, The Slits, Sugarcubes, A House, Bush Tetras, The Bangles, Fear, Flipper, The Wipers, Translator, Wilma, Tackhead, The Mermen, Meat Puppets, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, Psychic TV, Manufacture, The Rosemary's, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Primitive Painters, T.S.O.L., Curve, Social Distortion, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Lloyds, Buck Naked and the Bare-Bottom Boys, and Chris Isaak.
End of the I-Beam
The I-Beam closed in 1994 after a long battle with neighbors over sound issues. Live rock music shows over the last few years were few and far between. The Sunday Night Tea Dance continued until July 1992, but the last year had few patrons because by that time house music had become more popular than modern rock among gays who liked to go dancing.
New Wave City, San Francisco's First & Foremost 80's Dance Party, presented its "Just Can't Get Enough" event at the I-Beam on the last night of the I-Beam's operation, July 23, 1994.
After the I-Beam closed, the building (originally the Park Masonic Hall), remained vacant and boarded up for 10 years until 2004, when it was torn down and a modern apartment house with retail shops at street level was constructed on the site.
I-Beam on Haight Street today
The enduring Traxx bar is the only remaining vestige of upper Haight Street's gay scene as of 2008[update]; however Traxx is much smaller than the former I-Beam, and as a neighborhood bar (as opposed to a nightclub), it has no dance floor.
- Diebold, David Tribal Rites:San Francisco's Dance Music Phenomenon Northridge, California:1986—Time Warp Publishing--"I-Beam" Pages 144-146.
- Photos of the I-Beam and people's reminiscences about the I-Beam—at Discomusic.com/clubs.