The story of Nutcracker may take young Clara—and the audience—on a journey to a magical world, but our production is still pure San Francisco.
Inspired by the fact that Nutcracker made its American debut here in “the City by the Bay” back in 1944, SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson chose to set our current Nutcracker right here in SF. So join us on a trip into our beautiful city’s past through its photography archives!
Residence of J. H. Neustadter, Northwest Corner Van Ness Avenue and Sacramento St., San Francisco, 1891. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Our Nutcracker opens on a bustling street on Christmas Eve, 1915, lined with the kind of Victorian architecture that San Francisco is famous for—before taking us inside one of those mansions, where Clara’s magical night unfolds.
A house on Steiner Street, 1906. Image courtesy Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library
Clara’s home is lucky to still be standing in 1915, as many of these homes did not fare well in the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906—a disaster which destroyed over 80% of the city.
The effect on houses built on loose ground after the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906. Image: US National Archives
San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker © Chris Hardy
Christmas tree lighting in front of City Hall, December 26, 1933. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Visitors to our Nutcracker have long enjoyed seeing City Hall across Van Ness Avenue lit up in green and red for the holidays—and those who take a short stroll to the other side of City Hall will still be rewarded with the sight of Civic Center Plaza’s holiday tree.
Holiday shoppers walking along Market at 5th Street, December 2, 1942. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Nutcracker’s curtain comes up on a busy Christmas Eve street scene, full of San Franciscans hurrying to and fro in preparation for the festivities ahead. This 1942 photo—taken just two years before SF Ballet premiered the first full-length Nutcracker in the United States—shows that some things don’t change in the City by the Bay.
A floral Christmas display outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, December 25, 1934. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
San Francisco’s 135 year-old Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park is the inspiration for Nutcracker’s voyage to “The Garden in the Pavilion of Dreams” and its envisioning of the famous “Waltz of the Flowers”s at the beginning of Act II. The Conservatory is the oldest wood and glass conservatory of its kind in North America, with a central dome that is almost 60 feet high.
A Christmas tree decorates one end of the suspension section of the Bay Bridge, December 23, 1938. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
The Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland was still 21 years away from being built at the time our production of Nutcracker is set, but ever since its opening in 1936 (just two years after this photo was taken) it’s held a special place in the hearts of Bay Area inhabitants. The Golden Gate Bridge may be older (by a few months), but the Bay Bridge is almost three times as long as its more famous cousin.
San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker © Erik Tomasson
Shoppers eat and drink under the Dome, 1910. Photo courtesy of Westfield/La Boulange
This holiday season, you can see Westfield San Francisco Centre’s historic Dome transformed each evening into a state-of-the-art surround theater, with Nutcracker Under the Dome: a free, six-minute animated 3D light spectacular inspired by SF Ballet’s production of Nutcracker (nightly until November 21 through December 31, 2013.) With over 20 million visitors passing under it each year, the Dome represents a truly significant piece of our city’s history.
The collapsed Dome after the 1906 firestorm. Photo courtesy of Westfield
The huge retail destination where Westfield is now located was established in 1896 as the beaux arts-style “Emporium,” with the 102 feet-wide Dome as its skylight and social hub—complete with a two-tiered bandstand, café, and weekly concerts. Yet like much of the city, the Emporium and its Dome were devastated by the massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and took two years to rebuild.
Construction workers take a break from rebuilding the Dome, 1906-1908. Photo courtesy of Westfield
San Francisco Ballet School Trainees perform under the Dome. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Ballet School
Midnight in Chinatown, 1904. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Clara’s Nutcracker journey includes a stop-off in China, a scene that recalls Chinese New Year—an annual celebration which finds its home in Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is truly a city within a city, and is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, as well as the oldest Chinese neighborhood in North America.
Chinese Quarter, San Francisco, 1880/1885 by Carleton E. Watkins. Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program
Having been the oldest, poorest neighborhood in the city during the 19th century, Chinatown was substantially rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, becoming a tourist attraction that reportedly sees more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge. In a sad twist, the earthquake completely destroyed the Bay Area studio of photographer Carleton E. Watkins, who captured the above image—and with it, untold images of Chinatown and its inhabitants.
The Chinese buildings of Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Hansuke Yamamoto in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)
Hayes Valley and Lone Mountain horse car, 1870. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
This 1870 image shows how much our popular Hayes Valley neighborhood has changed in the past century and a half. “Lone Mountain”, where this horse car travelled to, is a historic hill in the Inner Richmond area, surrounded by the University of San Francisco campus.
Alamo Square Park, Hayes & Steiner Streets sometime before 1906. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
San Francisco’s famous Alamo Square is only about eight blocks from the War Memorial Opera House where we perform Nutcracker. The park offers an iconic view of the famous “Painted Ladies”, and downtown San Francisco, that hasn’t changed much in a hundred years.
Exterior of the War Memorial Opera House, where we perform Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)
A group of children on a San Francisco cable car, 1929. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
SF Ballet’s Nutcracker has enchanted children of all ages for almost 70 years—but did you know San Francisco reportedly has the smallest share of children of any major U.S. city? Since this photo was taken, the percentage of the city’s under-18 population has steadily dropped over the decades to a little over 10%.
Ricardo Bustamante in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)
A girl and boy help out at a San Francisco Community Chest toy stand, December 3, 1934. Image courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Nutcracker’s magical adventures begin with Clara’s mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer, first seen onstage in his San Francisco toy shop. He arrives at her family’s Christmas party with the Nutcracker doll that will transform into her prince.
For almost twenty years, our Children’s Enchantment Fund (CHEF) has provided local under-served children and families the opportunity to see SF Ballet’s Nutcracker totally free of charge. Since its inception in 1992, CHEF has enabled over 27,000 children and their families—served by social service agencies throughout the Bay Area—to come to the War Memorial Opera House and enjoy the performance at no cost. For many, it’s not only their first experience of this holiday tradition, but also a rare opportunity to see dance onstage – and it’s all made possible by your generosity. Find out how to donate on our CHEF page.
Want to see even more archive photography exploring San Francisco’s roots? Discover SF Ballet’s 2011 Nutcracker Guide to Our City!