In the fall of 1985 I took some photographs of Winterland being torn down. They were taken over three visits. The first must have been lunch time, I was able to go inside without anyone seeing me. Some interesting interior shots were taken, showing a large hole in the roof and lighting fixtures dangling from the ceiling. On the third visit, I happened to be there when they removed the tall, narrow, red, neon Winterland sign from the only remaining corner of the building. I was the only one taking pictures at that time.
One morning I was listening to KFOG radio and a member of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society was the guest. He was talking about donations and I called the studio saying I thought I had the photos described above. The member said if I found the photos, contact his office.
The photos were found, having been stored for over 22 years. While thinking about donating copies of the photos to the museum, I came up with the idea of soliciting stories regarding Winterland to accompany them.
The comments were provided by friends and members of the on-line fan communities Rust List - The Neil Young Community and Philzone (Phil Lesh & Friends). The stories, from multiple contributors, are intermingled covering various topics. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to those who contributed to this project. I was left with the impression that everyone had a strong sense of connection with Winterland and also a sense of loss and sadness while viewing the photos of it being torn down.
I did some research attempting to find all the performers who played Winterland during the Bill Graham years. I feel confident the list is complete.
My only Winterland concert was the Grateful Dead Dec. 30, 1977 and I inserted my thoughts among the tales.
Thank you very much Thrasher's Wheat for hosting this project. Keep on truckin' and rockin' in the free world!
Chris Horn May 2008
I would like to thank those who have given me positive feedback concerning this project and to those who sent additional stories. It is my goal to perform occational updates adding more stories and links.
An update was long overdue – a couple more stories, new links and removal of links no longer active.
I’d like to draw your attention to Brit Rock By The Bay – a site with Bay Area show memories and some stunning photos. It contains reviews of Winterland shows – Archive section. It is an ongoing project so check back there from time to time for memories of shows added.
Finally, I was honored to have one of my 1985 photos published in the book The Light in Darkness. It is a book about Bruce Springsteen focusing on the year 1978 – the year ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ was released and the supporting tour. The publisher wanted a photo of the Winterland sign. The one in the middle on the first page of Winterland Photos was used.
Chris Horn February 2010
June 29, 1928
The building known as Winterland was built in 1928, on the corner of Post and Steiner, and was originally named "New Dreamland Auditorium." It was preceded by another theater named the National Theatre, built in 1906. The name of the building was changed to Winterland in the late 1930’s and hosted ice skating (Ice Follies shows too), opera, tennis, boxing, labor rallies, dancing and in later years rock concerts. It was torn down in 1985 and the site is now occupied by an apartment building.
Bill Graham started using the building in 1966 (capacity of 5,400) to accommodate acts that got too popular for his Fillmore Auditorium, a few blocks away. It inspired great performances from those who played there and it hosted some of the most historic rock shows anywhere. To name a few, The Band’s farewell concert The Last Waltz on Thanksgiving 1976, The Who and Rolling Stones (long after they had outgrown halls of that size), the Sex Pistol’s last concert in 1978, and two Bruce Springsteen shows that same year - regarded among his best.
Its closing night was on December 31, 1978 hosting the Grateful Dead (who played there more than anyone else), The Blues Brothers and the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Acknowledging the role the Dead’s audience played in inspiring performances and their support of the band, Bill Graham added Dead Heads to the marquee billing.
The evening’s festivities were broadcast live on KQED TV and KSAN radio.
One song Dead Heads loved through the years was “Dark Star”. By 1978 it had not been performed in San Francisco in over 4 years. Every time the Dead played Winterland dead heads hung a banner documenting the number of days since the last time. That New Years Eve the banner read “1535 Days Since Last SF Dark Star”. Imagine the pure joy in the audience when they played the opening notes, starting the third set that early New Years Day.
Initial Thoughts and Feelings
Quote from Gary Lambert in the liner notes from ‘Closing of Winterland’ – a live recording from December, 1978 at Winterland in San Francisco.
“Before we get all teary-eyed about the Closing of Winterland, you must remember this: The place was a dump. Ah, but WHAT a dump!”
It's amazing how that particular dilapidated old building can evoke such strong emotions.
While it was just a building, it was iconic, and lives on in the memories of those who went there. It was more than a concert venue, it had life. It was real. It had personality, it smelled, and had a sound of its own. It was truly unique. Winterland had that sense of place like no other and that simply can never be duplicated again.
There was something completely unique about that building, and it had an effect on me that actually played a significant role in setting the course of my life and what I have done in the years since it closed. That might seem like a strange statement, but it's very true.
I still miss it and I drive around the block where it stood all the time, listening for the ghosts and appreciating what we still have now.
For me, living in Sacramento, we would just go to a show, any show. It really did not make any difference who was playing then. We would get off work, fly down the road and see a show. Sell a couple of photos and in we went. You would see the same faces it seemed at every show if you went the same place (under the ball for me).
Music changed after Winterland closed. No matter the venue, there was no MY HOUSE feeling that we got at Winterland. Someone else owned them and you always felt like you were just renting. But at Winterland we painted on the floor. It was OUR HOUSE.
When folks ask me what Winterland was like, it is always difficult to express to them how special that ol' building was.
From the time I went there with my Grandma to see the Ice Follies, to the last shows I experienced with The Dead, it was a perfect gateway to seeing the other side of this life.
Those were the good old days, I think. At least you can say those experiences were unique. I saw things there I have never seen since. It is all part of us now.