Whether you’re a visitor in San Francisco for a day or two, or you’ve been living here for years, the Swedish American Hall is one of the landmarks that you absolutely must experience. With a grand, spectacular ballroom that doubles as the centerpiece of a broad, bustling, multi-part venue, this stately, iconic edifice will take your breath away.
Sitting on the north side of Market Street, near Sanchez, The Swedish American Hall was constructed in 1907 – but its story dates back even further, to 1873, when an organization named the Original Orpheus Singing Club was formed, before being renamed The Swedish Society of San Francisco. After living an itinerant life in the city, in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, the Society decided to construct themselves a home, and the Swedish-American Hall was born. Swedish-born San Franciscan architect August Nordin was hired to lay out plans for the new building. Nordin, who was the mastermind behind around 300 other buildings in the city – including the Buena Vista café’s building at Hyde and Beach – designed the building with exposed wood in the Arts and Crafts style, putting old-world charm in a new-world city.
Amazingly, the design of the interior of the hall has hardly been updated since. A recent refurbishment was more of a restoration than a rethink, and that makes this one of the west coast’s true gems: a place where history doesn’t get in the way of the present, and where the present doesn’t cover over history. Instead, they dance side by side.
In recent years, the Swedish American Hall has become home to Noise Pop’s regular shows. Billing themselves as ‘Champions of Independent Culture’, Noise Pop is quintessentially a San Francisco project, and with its vaulted ceilings, polished edges, and deep history, the Swedish American Hall is the perfect venue for them.
It’s one of the great San Francisco venues; at once full of history and spinning on the cutting edge of great music, great art, and a great community. The last few years have seen some of this century’s best artists come through the doors, with acts ranging from the wistfully-plucked heartstrings of Mumford and Sons, The Decembrists, and Iron and Wine, to the piano-pop of Train, the guitar quirk of Cake, to comedian Scott Capurro. The venue has played host to Arthur Lee and Love’s last show, agent provocateur Vincent Gallo, and Welsh alt-scene heroes The Joy Formidable’s driving, purposeful rock.
The Swedish American Hall is where the city has come for a good time since long before the commercialization of the good time, and it’s still going strong. As always in this city, the best testament to a rich history is a rich present. Just this week, the Swedish American Hall has performances by This is The Kit and Luke Sital, and Words & Music by Dan Wilson and Jenny Owen Youngs scheduled for the following week. With Café du Nord’s lower-ceilinged, laid-back vibe (and award-winning food) downstairs, there are the makings of a great night out in a single, beautiful building.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/CC Ritwik Dey