The building at the corner of Turk and Hyde.
If you walk up Hyde Street toward Eddy from the corner of Turk and Hyde, a large sign hangs above the sidewalk proclaiming Lafayette Coffee Shop – Prime Rib. It is now closed, perhaps the same establishment now located at 611 Larkin Street in San Francisco. The coffee shop may have been named after an eatery that occupied the corner of Turk and Hyde back in the 1930s. The building at 240 Hyde Street was known as the Lafayette Hotel in earlier days.
The Lafayette Grill was located at 200 Hyde and offered lunches for 35¢ and a dinner special for 50¢. Token advertising stated that the establishment offered “food par excellence” and for the thirsty patrons cocktails were offered at the bar.
A column in the San Francisco Examiner of September 18, 1932, covered a robbery where two armed bandits threatened the owner and patrons and made off with $45 from the cash register and safe. The dollar amount seems paltry today but must have been catastrophic to the owners who were making a living selling 35¢ lunches and 50¢ dinners. A second restaurant at 460 Castro was hit by the same bandits who made off with $10.
In the 1940s the space at 200 Hyde was known as the Elbow Room, a saloon with the emphasis on liquor. It ran afoul of wartime regulations regarding Army and Navy personnel and was posted “out of bounds and off limits for military and naval personnel.” The Elbow Room was one of twelve taverns receiving the limitation. Infractions cited were: staying open past mandatory closing hours, opening before 10:00 a.m., selling to minors, and maintaining disorderly premises. The list included: Jack’s Place, 1931 Sutter Street; Little Club, 236 Leavenworth Street; Tex Club, 220 Turk Street; Elbow Room, 200 Hyde Street; Coney Island Cafe, 1240 Market Street; Rio Rita Tavern, 339 Eddy Street; Dice Shakers, 217 Taylor Street; Black Cat, 710 Montgomery Street; Vanderbilt Bar, 221 Mason Street; Irish Pub, 282 O’Farrell Street; Club Alabam, 1820A Post Street, and Mona’s, 440 Broadway. The Elbow Room owners petitioned the ruling that was rescinded after a hearing before a special board in January of 1943.
The building at 200 Hyde Street assumed its first feathered moniker in the mid 1940s when it became The Stork Club. The more famous Stork Club of New York petitioned the courts to prevent the use of the name. Their plea was denied by Federal Judge Michael J. Roche as noted in a column in the April 16, 1946, edition of the San Francisco Examiner. The Stork Club might have changed hands again in 1948 when a divorce proceeding named Nick Sahati as part owner of the club at 200 Hyde Street. Sahati was part owner of other nightspots: The Rendezvous, 1151 Ellis Street and The Topper at 2750 O’Farrell Street.
A year later another column in the San Francisco Examiner, June 22, 1949, claimed that a bandit held up Mrs. Dorothy Kilgore, wife of the owner of the Story Club at 200 Hyde Street, escaping with $750 in cash and jewelry valued at $1,100. The newspaper might have got the name wrong and the tavern was still known as The Stork Club? A few months later the truth was revealed when police obtained a confession from Mrs. Kilgore that it was a boyfriend who took the cash and jewels from her in a scheme to obtain insurance money for the loss.
The Eastmen Trio emerged on the San Francisco entertainment scene in late 1947 during an engagement at the El Cap Club at 225 Jones Street. The ad in the San Francisco Examiner noted that they were appearing “direct from Eastern Triumphs” and offered something different in entertainment. The trio members included Ted Noga, clarinet; Al Simon, bass; and Gus de Weerdt, accordion. The trio became very popular with San Francisco audiences with their unique blend of music and zany antics. They appeared at The House of Harris, 555 Sutter above Powell, on a double bill with Carl Ravazza in April of 1948. Engagements in March 1949 at Ciro’s, 645 Geary above Jones, included the Sepianaires with Joyce Bryant. The trio moved to “Say When” at 952 Bush Street in April where they shared the billing with The Alley Cats (Vernon Alley and Nick Esposito) as well as Bullmoose Jackson and His Buffalo Bearcats. At the same club in May they appeared with Connie Jordan and the 4 Knights of Rhythm.
The arrest of Mrs. Kilgore after the robbery hoax in June of 1949 left Mr. Kilgore minus an employee and a wife at The Story (Stork) Club at 200 Hyde. Ownership and name change took place later in the fall of 1949 when ads announced a new feathered incarnation, Blackhawk. The Eastmen Trio opened at their own club on Friday, October 7, 1949. The make-up of the trio was essentially the same with Ted Noga still doing clarinet and vocals, Al Simon on bass, and Ed Curruti handling the accordion.
Ads for the trio suggest that they owned Club Black Hawk, but an article in the San Francisco Examiner edition of March 9, 1959, “A Decade of Jazz at the Blackhawk” by C. H. Garrigues states that the club was purchased by Guido Cacianti and John Noga.
“It all started, Guido recalls, when he and Johnny decided to start a tavern. They got the spot; they got the license; they got the stock. They got everything except the business.
So one gloomy Sunday John said to Guido (or vice versa; Guido can’t remember: “Maybe we ought to put in some entertainment.” And Guido said (or maybe it was Johnny): “You mean some strippers?” But Johnny said, “No, I mean we ought to try some of that jazz they are playing now.”
Guido said, “You mean that stuff they’re playing at Hambone Kelly’s? It’d drive the last three ccustomers out of the place.” But Johnny said, “No, I mean modern jazz. They say it sounds good.”
So they looked around and found the Eastmen Trio which sounded good and didn’t cost very much — and the experiment in bringing culture to the people was born.”
Available recordings of the Eastmen Trio on Cavalier Records and Fulton Records confirm that the trio would not qualify for inclusion in a jazz discography, but Cacianti and Noga brought modern jazz to the Black Hawk when they lured the Dave Brubeck Trio away from their gig at Ciro’s where they were sharing the bill with Sarah Vaughan.
The spelling of the name changed over time. Some versions were: all lowercase single word [blackhawk], all caps single word [BLACKHAWK], title case three separate words [Club Black Hawk], and all caps two words [BLACK HAWK]. The three sided marquee over the entrance was unequivocal regarding the spelling: BLACK HAWK.
Most of the first ads for the club featured text only with the club name and jazz artist in bold font. A short lived format had THE BLACKHAWK at the top of the ad, underlined by a cane pointing to the address with a top hat and white glove in the top left corner. Throughout most of the 1950s advertisements in the San Francisco Chronicle featured a rectangular or square format with Jazz in the upper left corner and The Blackhawk in the lower right corner with the address and telephone number beneath, white letters standing out in a field of black. Ads for a Cal Tjader appearance in 1957 at the club presented a caricature of the artist. The Blackhawk was advertised as the “Jazz CORNER OF THE WEST” in 1954 ads.
Noga and Cacianti exited the jazz club business in 1963. The space at 200 Hyde Street opened in the latter part of 1963 as The Top Drawer. The attempt to draw patrons for top names in entertainment, non jazz, lasted less than a year.
By August of 1964 classified ads for topless dancers, over 21, for The Black Hawk Club appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. The club continued to function for a few years in various disreputable formats. The building was purchased by a union in July of 1970 as noted in the San Francisco Examiner:
Former Jazz Club Bought By Union
“Local 87 of the Building Services Employes Union has bought a San Francisco landmark—the Blackhawk, once the corner of jazz on the West Coast.
In recent years, however, the Blackhawk was an infamous Tenderloin after-hours breakfast club at 200 Hyde St.
The union will either tear the Blackhawk down for an access to the union’s Turk Street parking lot or tunnel it out for the same purpose.”
The operators of the club were caught by local authorities in 1973 for skimming cash receipts, most likely the final straw for the union owning the building who finally had it razed for the parking lot that remains to this day.