A storied if sleazy San Francisco icon looks bound to make its final bow, as the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, an incredibly seedy but historically significant strip club and porn theater at 895 O’Farrell Street, is now up for sale.
Socketsite notes that the circa 1924 building is listed with no asking price, although the same ad offers it for lease at more than $36/square foot.
The marketing brochure features some images of the building (with its unmissable whale mural) and the neighborhood but, tellingly, none of the property’s interior.
The eponymous Mitchell brothers, Artie and Jimmy, opened the club on July 4, 1969, first as a pornography theater and later as a strip club.
The theater was the first in America to offer lap dances to customers rather than just keeping the raciness onstage, as at other nude revues. SFPD raided the venue constantly, a single 1980 bust nabbing 14 customers on top of the following:
A .45 caliber submachine gun, two rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, two pistols, a leather sap, lead-filled sap gloves, brass knuckles, a police baton, $3,000 in cash, a bag of marijuana, and an unidentified white powdery substance which subsequently disappeared from the police evidence room.
The legal liability mostly proved good publicity; in a Playboy interview, Hunter S. Thompson declared it “the place to go” and “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America,” which is a singular laurel if nothing else.
In 1991, Jim Mitchell fatally shot his brother Artie. A jury later convinced him of voluntary manslaughter. In recent years, Jim’s daughter Meta has taken over management of the club, which these days is far less celebrated and no longer displays the Thompson endorsement on its marquee.
The legal troubles have persisted though, with multiple lawsuits about the club’s labor practices and a 2006 attempt by the city to do away with private booths after allegations of sexual assault on the premises.
Probably none of that will make it into the new listing, but for better or worse, it’s a slice of San Francisco history.