Black Flag at Adams Avenue Theater, 4/29/83
After over three decades without music, a legendary part of San Diego’s pop music history is on track to be resurrected as a music venue.
Opened in 1930 as a movie house, by the late '70s the Adams Avenue Theatre had started hosting punk and new wave shows. During its run as a 500-capacity venue, the theater hosted acts like R.E.M., the Stray Cats, Iggy Pop, the Stranglers, and the Circle Jerks. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers played, they opened for the Cramps.
The music stopped in 1986 when the 7,600-square foot building became Discount Fabric.
The yardage store and the building at 3325 Adams Avenue (between Felton and 33rd Streets) was eventually taken over by the Yardage Town chain which kept operating it as Discount Fabric. In January Dean Goldman representing family which owns the Yardage Town chain, announced that Discount Fabric would be closing after a liquidation sale. The Adams Avenue Theater building was put on the market for just over $1 million.
And while the Discount Fabric store's everything-goes sale is in its final weeks, Dean Goldman has announced that his family has taken the building off the market, and is in negotiations to lease it to an operator who will bring it back as a music venue.
While Goldman would not disclose who that new operator is, he seemed bullish on its potential as a music showcase.
“My mom went to the theatre when it showed movies,” Goldman tells me. “We really want to clean up the building and bring it up to code.”
Goldman says his family would only serve as landlords and not be involved in the new business. It was unclear if it might be used for major name headliners like the Balboa Theater or nearby Observatory North Park (both also housed in old movie theaters). It is similar in size to the Irenic.
Normal Heights is already known as music-centric neighborhood thanks to the annual Adams Avenue Street Fair and Adams Avenue Unplugged festivals. Lestat’s West and the Ken Club are the most prominent nearby venues with music. Other smaller pubs in Normal Heights that occasionally host live music include the Rabbit Hole, Sycamore Den, Rosy O’Grady’s, the Ould Sod, and the Triple Crown Pub.
“I think it’s great if it comes back as a theater,” says Lestat’s co-owner John Husler. “My first thought is they would have to do a lot to make it earthquake-safe. And I don’t think those balconies are set up for volume [of people]. I’m excited by it.”
I saw the Hitmakers, one of the original SD punk bands, at a show there in late 1977. Doriot Lair of the Dinettes and the Cockpits was also at that show. “It’s a fabulous idea,” says Lair about the return of music to the 88-year-old theater. “It certainly gives an alternative for music outside of centralized San Diego. It might give a chance for a band like the Dinettes to play that area without playing a bar.” Lair says she doubts it would have the wild and wooly atmosphere of the old days. “I remember somebody once set off a pepper bomb. It took a second for people to figure out what it was before they fled the theater.”
Casbah co-owners Tim Mays and Harlan Schiffman used Adams Avenue Theater to host shows with GBH, The Vandals, Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, X and The Blasters.
“Tim did a show called ‘More Core in ’84,’” recalls veteran local soundman Louis Procaccino. He recalls Schiffman getting arrested at a Social Distortion show he brought there. “They claimed we didn’t have a permit for the event,” he remembers. “It was thrown out of court. They just didn’t want shows there. It started getting harder to get permits from police and fire.”