The earthquake and fire of 1906 wrought destruction on every facet of life in San Francisco, and the performing arts faced a crisis without precedent. In the destruction following the April 29 earthquake, however, the city lost all eight of its downtown theaters.
San Francisco gave high priority to the replacement of performing arts buildings as reconstruction of the city got underway. From 1906 until October 17, 1989, only the Geary remained in full-time operation as a professional theater. It has been cited as "the traditional seat of legitimate drama in San Francisco since 1910," the year of its completion and opening.
Bliss and Faville, one of the most prominent architectural firms in San Francisco, designed the Geary Theater. Construction of the Geary began in 1908, and re-opened on January 10, 1910. It was then known as the Columbia Theater, named after a theater at Powell and Ellis streets, that had been destroyed in the earthquake and fire. Following changes in management between 1924 and 1928, when the building was known briefly as the Wilkes, and then the Lurie Theatre, it reopened as the Geary Theater on February 6, 1928.
At 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989, disaster struck once again. During the Loma Prieta earthquake, the proscenium arch of the Geary collapsed, ripping a two-thousand-square-foot hole in the ceiling and crushing the front-of-house lighting bridge and the first six rows of orchestra seats beneath tons of fallen plaster. Miraculously, no personal injuries were sustained.
The Geary was closed; the American Conservatory Theater raised more than $28.5 million to complete the renovation and seismic stabilization of the building, in 1996. In addition to bringing the theater into compliance with all current city building codes, the reconstruction and renovation of the damaged Geary improved comfort and accessibility for theatergoers and brought state-of-the-art technology to the Geary Stage.