8,000 Performances and Counting…The History of The Curran Theatre
After the 1906 earthquake, 445 Geary St. remained empty for 12 years, until an ambitious 37-year-old Midwesterner decided it was time for San Franciscans to have access to the finest theatrical productions touring from Europe and New York.
Born into a wealthy Missouri family that owned a wheel manufacturing company, Homer Curran veered away from the family business and instead opted to pursue his passion for the arts. He traveled west to study music at Stanford University, where he established himself as an accomplished pianist and composed scores for musicals and operas on campus. After graduating, Curran first worked as a house manager for a theatre in Atlanta and then spent eight years managing San Francisco’s Cort Theatre, which he would eventually own.
- A Fortuitous Partnership
The construction of the Curran Theatre became possible in 1920, when Curran formed a business partnership with Schubert Corporation, one of the most successful New York theatrical organizations of the 20th century. To compete with a rival company, Schubert created a national chain of theatres, including one in San Francisco. Having spent more than a decade in San Francisco’s theatre business, Curran was able to provide the Schuberts with an invaluable understanding of local audiences’ interests. In exchange, the Schuberts paid to erect the Curran Theatre. The Schuberts’ international acclaim enabled the theatre to book first-rate productions from New York and Europe.
On Sept. 11, 1922, the Curran Theatre opened to the public with a performance of Mike Angelo, a play about a young Italian painter who eventually becomes a successful artist in New York. The audience was not only captivated by the performance but also impressed by the grand design of the theatre. Unlike many vaudeville houses of the time that were defined by their gaudiness, the Curran had an elegant, refined appearance. Along with the crystal chandeliers and a rose and tan interior, the lobby was adorned with artwork by Arthur Matthews, a celebrated artist who was a key figure in the California Decorative Style movement. As crowds flocked to performances, the Curran quickly gained a reputation as being “the handsomest theatre on the Coast.”
Since the Curran opened its doors in 1922, it has staged more than 8,000 performances and showcased countless stars such as Ingrid Bergman, the Lunts, Melville Cooper, Katharine Hepburn, Hugh Jackman, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. SHN has presented shows at the Curran Theatre since 1977, one of which, the beloved musical Wicked, originated there in 2003. Under SHN’s guidance, the Curran continues to make San Francisco a destination for theatregoers from all over the world.
By Gracie Hays