Midway through leading a spirited tour of the Mission’s brand new Preservation Hall West at The Chapel, located at 777 Valencia St. and set to open October 4th, renovator/developer/overall man in charge Jack Knowles paused and glanced at the floor, short of words for the first time that day. His eyes then shifted up to the beautiful arched ceiling of the building’s main room and simply said “I just…I believe in live music, and I believe in the Mission.” Poignant words for a guy who is filled with entertaining one-liners and speaks quickly, but also the perfect anecdote from someone who’s about to open a premier concert venue in the heart of San Francisco.
The idea spawned a few years ago during a visit from Knowles’ longtime friend Ben Jaffe. Jaffe is the Creative Director for New Orleans’ iconic and historical Preservation Hall, and the son of its original co-founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe. As Knowles is wont to do, he took Jaffe to his favorite San Francisco neighborhood. “Any friend who visits me here, I take them right to the Mission. What the Haight and North Beach once were to the city’s cultural history, I believe the Mission is that of today.” While Knowles waxed about the new vibrancy Valencia St. had seen recently, they passed 777 and Jaffe was immediately taken by the old building. That instant, Knowles says, “Ben goes, ‘I want this to be Preservation Hall West!'” By that point Jaffe’s idea of opening a second Preservation Hall had taken to him across America, but he’d yet to pull the trigger on a location. San Francisco won.
The site of Preservation Hall West is a 1914 building originally constructed as a mortuary. When you walk in, your first stop will be the small foyer where standard admittance procedures (ID check, box office) take place. From there you have two options: take a left into a mid-sized dining area complete with a full, wrap around bar, or go straight through to the concert floor and stand amid what will surely become the Hall’s trademark, 40-foot ceiling. From here you can walk upstairs to an elevated viewing area with an additional bar. This section will quickly become the most sought after positioning and, as Knowles explains, was not built with VIP-ers in mind. “Truthfully, I think a lot of VIP areas are kind of boring. I’m not a big fan of separating fans of music, so this area is as open to you as it is to me.”
(((folkYEAH!)))‘s own Britt Govea has been brought on as the Hall’s talent buyer, a perfect hire in our minds, and it’s exciting to think of the constant eclectic schedule we’ll be presented with. Knowles has also thought a lot about who will play inside those walls. “It’s important to maintain the Preservation Hall spirit of jazz, New Orleans,” he says. “But I want all kinds of music in here, and collaboration too. Play your show, maybe sit in on the next set. We’ll have a piano by the bar, maybe someone will finish their show and then sit down and play the piano.”
Owning two notable Oakland resturants, A Cote and Rumbo al Sur, Knowles is also heavily focused on the Hall’s dining aspect. When the doors open in less than two weeks, The Chapel restaurant will be serving light bar fare, with a full opening Knowles says is targeted for “hopefully next June.” The restaurant will also feature an outdoor seating area and take up a large portion of the 777 Valencia building. Until then, it will remain partitioned off from the music hall and initial dining space.
The Mission getting a top flight concert venue is inarguably an amazing addition to an already red hot neighborhood. What makes the whole venture even easier to root for is Knowles’ child-like excitement surrounding the venue’s accessibility not only for the fans, but also the musicians. “I see this as a place where musicians can come play, walk outside and immediately have all this,” he says pointing up and down Valencia. “I want them to experience the Mission. Right now, if they play one night in San Francisco, they might not have time to come down here and explore.” Knowles also likes the idea of keeping musicians here for an extended period of time. “We want to have residencies here. Musicians can play multiple nights, they can stay in the Mission…we want them to be proud of this place.” Further exemplifying this stance, as he treated those in attendance to a champagne toast, Knowles raised his glass and, doing that same pause he did in the main room, said “Thanks for coming, and now we’ll toast to the San Francisco music scene.”