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The Avalon Ballroom is a music venue, in the Polk Gulch neighborhood of San Francisco, California, at 1268 Sutter Street, on the north side, one building east of the corner of Van Ness Avenue. The space operated from 1966 to 1968 and reopened in 2003. Large events include Pagan Fest USA, that is held in May.
The building that housed the Avalon Ballroom was built in 1911 and was originally called the Colin Traver Academy of Dance. The Avalon was founded by Robert E. Cohen, impresario Chet Helms and his music production company, Family Dog Productions, which had offices on Van Ness.
Bands were frequently booked to perform at the Avalon on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Extraordinary posters advertising each event were produced by psychedelic artists, including Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelly and Victor Moscoso.
In the 1960s, at the Avalon, two bands typically performed two sets during the evening beginning at about nine o'clock. Many local bands, such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Steve Miller Band, served as backup bands, as did the early Moby Grape and headliners such as the The Doors, 13th Floor Elevators, The Butterfield Blues Band and Big Brother and the Holding Company, which Helms organized around singer and performer Janis Joplin in spring 1966.
On January 29, 1967, it hosted the Mantra-Rock Dance musical event, organized by the local Hare Krishna temple, which featured Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, along with Allen Ginsberg, The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape and Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Janis Joplin.
The Avalon occupied the two top floors of the multi-story building at 1268 Sutter. An L-shaped, second-floor balcony surrounded the first-floor along the south and western walls, and the dance area was in front of the elevated stage in the northeast corner where musicians performed. The entrance doors were downstairs, and opened onto Sutter Street.
The Family Dog maintained a hippie residential house that functioned as a commune at 1812 Bush Street, a block away from the Avalon, frequented by Helms and his friends. The Avalon was not as large as the Winterland Ballroom or The Fillmore, which had been used by Helms before Bill Graham allegedly violated their partnership agreements. However, the Avalon had the capacity of up to 500. The ballroom was 80 to 100 ft (24 to 30 m) by 160 to 180 feet (49 to 55 m). This area included the stage, which was 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 m) wide. The dance floor could accommodate several hundred dancers. An omnipresent light show was created by several local lighting companies.
The Avalon lost its lease in November 1968; Cohen and Helms moved on to other pursuits—Helms became an art dealer while still occasionally producing concerts. Cohen went on to form the national touring audio company, Bob Cohen Sound, that would tour with many former Avalon acts, and later founded Clearcom Intercom Systems. The space was converted to the Regency 2 Movie Theatre, that operated until 2001. In 2003, after learning from Stanley Mouse that the building was available, neo-hippie Steve Shirley (aka Morning Spring Rain) of the Hog Farm commune restored and re-opened the Avalon Ballroom as part of the Regency Center, a music hall and special-events space.
The French indie band, Phoenix, makes reference to the Avalon by stating in their song "Rally,""April 22nd at the Avalon, you teased me." The band also then mysteriously refers to the Avalon in their music video for "Long Distance Call" by having a long abrupt interruption for a man to write down in a journal, "22 April - Avalon."