Sunday, February 08, 2009
Phoenix Theater; where the spirit of the young mingles with ghosts of the past
The Phoenix Theater
Was built in Petaluma, Ca in 1896 as the Hill Opera House. The theater was successful and luminaries such as Enrico Carouso and the famous Houdini performed there until it was nearly destroyed by a fire in the early 1900s. The theater was restored and reopened as a movie theater. The building was purchased by California Movie Theater and continued until August 5, 1957 when another fire took the roof of the building. The building was again restored and eventually renamed by a theater employee; Tom Gaffey, in 1982. Gaffey renamed the theater the Phoenix because the building seemed to ‘rise from the ashes.’
In the early 1980s, movies continued to be shown at the theater and live music was played late at night. There were performances by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Ramones, along with then-local bands Metallica, Mr. Bungle, Green Day, Primus, and AFI. Other bands like Victims Family, The Conspiracy, Disciples of Ed, the Circle Jerks and The Distillers drew audiences. Sublime played their last show at the Phoenix, and a memorial to lead singer, Bradley Nowell, can be found backstage, tagged on a wall by the Long Beach Dub Allstars. To this day, the Phoenix continues to bring in established artists as well as local favorites.
The interior walls of the Phoenix are covered in graffiti. "The walls are tagged and painted with everything from the simplest one color tag to entire paintings of mushrooms and other Alice in Wonderland-themed drug references that gave the place a raw feel."
During the day, the Phoenix serves as a neohaven for local kids to use after school. After school tutoring as well as a free health clinic and poetry arts workshops are offered. When I visited the Phoenix today and took photos of graffiti on the back of the building, several friendly young people wandered around. They informed me that the graffiti on the building is a work in progress and changes continually. As you can see the Phoenix attracts very talented artists. If you would be interested in supporting this community project follow this link.
The Phoenix is also rumored to be haunted. Ghosts have been seen in the bathrooms, on the balcony, and in the backstage area. These sightings are rumored to be a reason why the balcony is closed and locked for most performances. All in all this was a perfect outing for me said Princess Haiku before she disappeared behind the ghostly curtain of the theater.
AFI wrote a song about it called "The Days of the Phoenix," referring back to when they got their start at this theater.