4th & B, one of the largest and oldest pop concert venues in downtown San Diego, appears to be history, at least in its current form and under its current ownership.
Ticket sales for all pending shows at the 21-and-up venue, including Wednesday’s performance by pioneering hip-hop group Public Enemy and the Dec. 14 concert by reggae music mainstay Barrington Levy, have been halted. The "Buy tickets" portion of of the venue's web site yields the message: "Upcoming events -- No performances," even though five upcoming shows are still listed on the web site's Calendar page.
“It is my understanding that all the upcoming shows have been canceled,” Issa Wilson, 4th & B’s marketing and promotions director, said in an email Thursday from Los Angeles. “Honestly, I have not been able to get the latest status on the situation.”
That situation pits 4th & B’s current owner/operators against the owner and leaseholder of the 21,000-square-foot building that houses 4th & B.
On Nov. 26, San Diego Superior Court Judge William S. Dato denied a petition in which current owners Vincent and Judy Puma of Speth Brothers Inc. sought relief from forfeiture of a lease. The forfeiture stemmed from a Nov. 15 court judgment, also by Dato, that resulted in the Pumas’ rental agreement being canceled.
As a result of the Nov. 15 ruling, the Pumas were ordered to pay $125,077.56 in back rent and “holdover damages” to the site’s owner, Crown Invest LLC. A writ seeking eviction of the Pumas from 4th & B was filed on Nov. 27 at San Diego Superior Court.
Calls made to Vincent Puma on Wednesday and Thursday were not returned. A representative for his attorney, San Diego-based Christian A. Curry, said Thursday that Curry “cannot comment on an ongoing case.”
Crown Invest LLC is represented by Christopher J. Connolly of Connolly Law Office in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. “I’m not in a position to make a comment,” Connolly said Thursday.
4th & B, a former First Interstate Bank building, opened its doors Nov. 30, 1995, with a sold-out show by Crosby, Stills & Nash. The 1,500-capacity venue was opened by Bob Speth, who previously owned and operated what was one of the area’s top music clubs, the Bacchanal, in Kearny Mesa.
Speth spent $500,000 to refurbish the former bank that housed 4th&B. He added a balcony and mezzanine, and installed a bar in the bank's former vault, near the entrance. A similar amount was spent on the sound and lighting system, which Speth upgraded in 2000. He also added two large video screens at either side of the stage, made the women's restrooms twice as large as the men's. In 1998, he added a main-floor VIP lounge, which could be removed to accommodate extra seating for sold-out concerts.
Bill Silva, then San Diego's top locally based concert promoter, booked the first 11 concerts at 4th & B, after which Speth began booking shows at 4th & B on his own. At the time, Silva was a partner with HOB.
In 1998, to coincide with the Super Bowl being held in San Diego, HOB rented 4th & B for a week of concerts by Los Lobos, Wyclef Jean and others. It is unclear if the success of those concerts inspired HOB to open its own live music club here 7 years later, just a few blocks from 4th & B.
In late 2003, Speth sold the venue to real estate developers Eric DeBlasi, the owner of 17 nightclubs across the nation, and Dale Polselli. In early 2005, Ali Nilforushan, a majority owner in Pacific Entertainment, acquired full ownership of 4th & B. It was Nilforushan who sold it to Vincent and Judy Puma in 2009.
Vincent Puma and his wife, Judy, lost their Rancho Bernardo home during the 2007 wildfires, which also destroyed a lifetime’s collection of rock-and-roll memorabilia, including Eddie Van Halen-autographed guitars, T-shirts and albums.
During Speth’s tenure, 4th&B hosted concerts by B.B. King, Linda Ronstadt, Wu Tang Clan, Crystal Method, Tito Puente, Gregg Allman and many other major acts. However, when 4th & B opened 17 years ago, there were no other comparably sized venues downtown presenting national and international talent on a weekly basis.
That changed in 2005, when House of Blues (HOB) opened just a few blocks away. Although its capacity is only two-thirds that of 4th & B, HOB is part of a national chain of live music clubs owned by Live Nation, the world’s largest concert and live events promoter. A year later, 4th & B added reserved VIP boxes, a move designed in part to boost revenues and to compete with the nearby HOB, which offers reserved seating in its balcony.
The advent of HOB here made it more difficult for 4th&B to book major acts without getting into a bidding war with HOB. Following a major turnover of 4th & B’s staff about two years ago, both the quantity and quality of the venues bookings steadily declined.
“Once Bob Speth decided to get out, 4th & B really hasn’t measured up to what it was capable of,” said veteran San Diego concert promoter Tim Mays, who owns the much smaller Casbah nightclub in Middletown. Over the years, Mays presented concerts at 4th & B by White Stripes, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and dozens more.
“There are certain bands a venue the size of 4th & B is useful for,” Mays noted. “But there aren’t enough to fill it on a regular basis."
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