Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed Contributor Alex Bevk highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.
The Cow Palace in 1958 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]
The massive Cow Palace exhibition center (now technically located in Daly City) was once, true to its name, a livestock pavilion. Over the years it hosted everything from The Beatles to political rallies, but is still owned under the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Division of Fairs and Expositions with extensive stable and barn facilities, and home to the annual Grand National Rodeo.
The Cow Palace was first dreamed up following the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where the fair's huge livestock exposition proved to be one of its most popular attractions, and local business leaders decided to build a similar permanent structure. Originally the building was supposed to be located in the Marina, but years of slow fundraising and the Great Depression stalled any construction. By 1941, with a different site selected, building began through the W.P.A. Program and put thousands of unemployed to work. The first event to be held in the new arena was the Western Classic Holstein Show in April, 1941, with the first Grand National Rodeo held that November.
1952 Grand National Livestock Exposition, Horse Show and Rodeo [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]
Pearl Harbor was attacked the same year, and the Cow Palace was rented by the Federal Government for $1.00 per year for the next five years, using the building for troop deployment and as a repair garage. The first sports event held at the site was an inter-collegiate basketball game in 1947, with the the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus following a year later. The success of those events inspired legislation in 1949 to open the facility to general public use, and all sorts of sporting and entertainment events followed. The San Francisco Warriors called the arena home from 1962–1964 and from 1966-1971, eventually moving across the bay to the Oakland arena and changing their name. The Beatles opened their first North American concert tour at the Cow Palace on August 19, 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Freedom Riders rally in July 1961 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]
The site also hosted political rallies, as the home of two Republican National Conventions in 1956 and 1964, and a Freedom Riders rally in July 1961 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today the building still hosts large exhibition events, concerts, circuses, and the annual Grand National Rodeo.
· About the Cow Palace [Cow Palace]
· The Beatles kick off first U.S. tour at San Francisco's Cow Palace [History.com]
· Cow Palace Retains Its Colorful History [NBC Bay Area]