MARITIME SEEKS NEW HALL TO ROCK

No trick, and no treat. Tired of paying high rents, venerable San Francisco music venue Maritime Hall has announced it will close its doors on Halloween, although operators are looking for a new site.

The music club and production studios will vacate the former merchant meeting house after a six-year run of providing space for underground and alternative music. Last year, a rent increase in July catapulted prices from about $7,000 to more than $20,000 a month. With the economy on tenterhooks and rents dropping, Maritime Hall/2b1 Productions is ready to move shop elsewhere.

“I’m the one that gave (the landlords) notice,” says co-owner Boots Hughston, who says he has already found three possible locations. “I don’t want to pay that kind of money anymore.”

The former saxophone player, who founded the club with “silent” partners Grant Jacobs and Bobby Palermo, has already moved the studios to 17th and Folsom streets. Unless a significant counteroffer comes in response to his 30-day notice, the doors at 450 Harrison St. will close.

“This space is going to be a no man’s land,” Hughston says once all the club equipment is moved out of the Hall. “What’s left is going to be a big empty shell.”

The Maritime Hall has specialized in providing an eclectic marquee ranging from reggae dancehall, metal, punk, hip-hop and rap. Organizers say few other venues regularly feature such acts. Bands such as Papa Roach and Incubus established a following there.

This past summer, the hall hosted a three-day festival commemorating a quarter century of punk with British and American bands. Its philosophy of supporting young talent also extended to attendees when it wrangled permission to allow adults 18 and over (most venues allow patrons only 21 and older). Some young music fans attended the raves which the Maritime hosted.

A November 1995 Starship concert marked a first in live Internet broadcasts. The venue says it was also among the first to incorporate Web ticket sales and a bar code ticket system now used by other promoters and stadiums. Its massive video and audio archive of more than 2,600 shows led Maritime Hall/2b1 Productions to create a record label that has so far issued about 14 albums, with 26 ready to go.

Hughston says he is considering a 17,000-square-foot space south of Market Street. He hopes to open early next year under the name Maritime 2. The current 40-plus staff members are invited to the new locale, although realistically he predicts at least a third will have found other permanent jobs by then.

Although club promotion has slim margins – major expenses from rent to salaries are paid out of a 15-percent concert commission – Hughston says he feels “morally and ethically” obliged to provide an alternative to the “BGP/SFX machine churning out corporate bands.” Meanwhile, 2b1 Productions will continue promoting shows outside Maritime Hall.

Two more shows – Enthroned on Oct. 28 and Drop Kick Murphys on Oct. 31 – are scheduled in Maritime Hall before the lights darken.

“I’ll miss Maritime,” Hughston says. “We’ve had 2,600 great shows here – Our customers have been really great. We’ve become friends with all of them. Our staff has been really wonderful.

“Maritime customers are better than any other customers in the world.”

Vera H-C Chan is Times Events editor. She can be reached at vchan@cctimes.com or 925-977-8428.

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