This article describes the troubled, politically fraught path to the realization of San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, the first municipally owned operatic performance venue in the nation. Although envisioned prior to the 1906 earthquake (in which the two most important opera houses in the city were destroyed), the realization of an innovative concept in which the people of the city would found and maintain an opera house took a quarter century to materialize. Supporters of the idea ascribed to the common sentiment of the time that classical music had an “elevating” and “ennobling” potential to “uplift” the poor and create a more responsible citizenry, but opera's historic association with wealth and elitism counteracted these arguments and blocked progress on the building until at last, in the 1920s, San Franciscans raised $2 million in direct contributions and voted for a $4 million bond issue.

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