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William Ralston built the California Theatre on January 18 1869 after being inspired by the acting of John McCullough and Lawrence Barrett. The California Theatre no longer exists and is now is California Historical Landmark #86.Take a look at the pictures to see what once was!

  • The California Historical Landmark plaque for the California Theatre, located on the side of Pacific Telephone Building.
  • The first site of the California Theatre
  • The Pacific Telephone Building where the plaque is mounted.
The California Theatre was a successful theatre from 1869 through its closing in 1888. It was the leading theatre in San Francisco until its demolition, and was more successful in its time than owner William Ralston ever thought possible. The theatre not only showcased art through performances, but also showcased elaborate murals of San Francisco and a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay on the drop curtain. Some of the performers were Charles W Couldock, Edwin Adams, John Broughan, Edwin Booth, Barton Hill, Walter Montgomery, Mrs D P Bowers, Adelaide Neilson, and Lotta Crabtree. It is speculated that the theatre was the first on the West Coast to use limelight with parabolic reflectors aimed from the house to light up the stage. However, it is known that the California Theatre was the first on the west coast to use electricity; this was at the second site of the California Theatre. The second California Theatre was built at the same location as the first in 1889. The second site of the California Theatre was destroyed by an earthquake and fire in 1906.
A plaque in remembrance of the California Theatre was placed on the The Pacific Telephone Building in 2012.