One night at the Fox
may 22, 2000. Fox Plaza stands at Market and Hayes,
but it wasn't always there. A magnificent theater once
occupied the entire block. This is about one night at
San Francisco’s "Cathedral of the Motion
Picture." Many called the night historic. For me,
it was an opportunity to create magic.
In 1960, our homes were being wired
for new phenomena called "hi-fi" and
"stereophonic sound." Turn a knob and the bass
shook the house; the high-pitched sounds, we were told,
could shatter glass. We discovered that nothing produced
a wide spectrum of sound like the huge pipe organs
installed in theaters across the country. And by most
standards, the finest organist was George Wright and the
best organ installation was in the San Francisco Fox.
Together they produced "George Wright's
Showtime," still a benchmark for the era’s
recorded sound quality.
If it sounded so great in my living
room, how much better it must sound in the theater. I
wanted to find out. And I did.
Theater management said $500 and the
place was mine. George Wright said $500 and 5,000 of my
closest friends could experience the magic. We had a
deal and the tickets, priced at $2 each, went on sale.
Would anyone buy a ticket to hear a guy play the organ
A few minutes after 10 p.m. on
Saturday, March 5, 1960, the night’s last showing of
"Sink The Bismarck" ended. Outside, thousands
lined the block around the theater. Yes, people
certainly would buy a ticket. In fact, 4,700 came to
hear Mr. Wright.
Just after midnight, the house lights
dimmed and what I will always remember as a defining
moment in my life began to unfold. From the organ
chambers located to the right, the left and above the
stage, came first the sounds of pipes recreating violins
tuning up for a concert. Then, 32-foot pipes literally
shook the building with the intensity of a decent-sized
earthquake. From six floors above and a full city block
away, a piercing spotlight hit the orchestra pit, and
the sound of Irving Berlin's "There's No Business
Like Show Business" punctuated the night air.
Slowly and with an awesome majesty George Wright
emerged, seated at the magnificent San Francisco Fox
Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ. "George
Wright's Showtime" had come to life.
In the years that followed I saw and
experienced the genius of George Wright. Unquestionably
one of the finest musicians America has ever produced,
he created musical moments which are unforgettable.
Wright led an international band of
folks with some very off-the-wall interests. Rational
folks, many might argue, don't spend nights searching
through miles of wires to connect a single pipe to a
keyboard to produce sound. Or giving even more hours to
assure that pipe played in tune with hundreds of others.
The process included a search for music and the goal of
replicating a sound which went out of style years before
television, fax machines, or the internet. Finally, the
product of this accomplishment was, and still is,
usually performed in theaters containing less than 20
people. Praise the Lord for the Castro!!
I take pride in being part of this
very strange group, trying to prevent a sound we love
from slipping away. It is a sound which, for so many of
us, began when we first heard the sounds of George
Wright in the "Fabulous Fox."
The San Francisco Fox Theater closed
in February 1963. Its replacement, Fox Plaza,
exemplifies corporate greed in the 60's. An irony: plaza
supporter George Christopher was the last Republican
elected mayor of San Francisco.
Allen White is a San Francisco writer. He also
produced the first of a series of midnight organ
concerts with George Wright at the San Francisco Fox