Building the future of the arts one show at a time
The Lost Church on Columbus Street in North Beach gives the impression of a speakeasy. The doorway is small, and the club itself is down a long, narrow descending flight of stairs. The stairwell opens up on a small cozy space, with a small stage, a merch table off to one side, seating for 99 people and a bit of standing room. It’s perfect for intimate performances. The place is the brainchild of Brett and Elizabeth Cline and actually began when they turned the living room of their apartment into a small theater.
“My wife and I had a band called Juanita and the Rabbit,” Brett Cline explained. “It was a duo, with me on a six-string bass that can play rhythm and melody, and Liz on drums. We wanted to tour, so we rented out our house, moved into a van and toured for about six years, but being on the road is tough. I was getting older, and we wanted to have kids, so we came back home.”
As they settled in, they realized they missed performing and interacting with other bands. “I told Liz we could run a theater in our big living room, if she was willing to work the bar, while I handled the booking and ran the shows,” Cline said. “I’d been working as a stagehand in San Francisco theaters for about 10 years, so I knew what went on backstage. She sewed some curtains, designed the lighting and redecorated the room.
“It took about four months to build the first iteration. It went through three different remodels as we developed the space. I had a small indie label called The Lost Church of Rock n’ Roll and a sound design business called The Lost Church of Light and Sound, but they weren’t successful. They lost money; hence, The Lost Church,” he continued.
Along the way, the Clines turned The Lost Church into a non-profit organization, with a board of directors, which was another challenge. “For the first few years, Elizabeth and I funded the space with our own money,” Cline said.
“When you become a non-profit, it becomes a full-time job to look for grants, so you have to hire and pay a funding director. We lucked out and found Josh Windmiller, who became our development director,” he noted. “You have to apply for grants for years before you get them, and tell donors how you’re going to spend what you get. It took a while, but we now have a great fundraising, as well as an operations team. The grants supply some of the money, but we rely on ticket sales and our donors to keep operations going.”
After the COVID shutdown, the Clines closed their home theater and looked for a new, small space. It took several years to find the North Beach location and get it up to code. “We wanted to stay in the Mission and be near BART,” Cline said, “but we couldn’t find a place that was small enough, without apartments above it.
“We finally found the Columbus Street location, and the landlord gave us a 15-year lease, which made it worthwhile to refurbish. It took about $280,000 to bring it up to code and get the permits to remodel,” he continued. “It’s a struggle. You have the same regulations as a larger theater, with one tenth of the income. We had to build the stage, greenroom, restrooms, bar and storage, as well as put in new lighting, paint and curtains. We finally opened it in October of ’22.”
Since its opening, the North Beach location has continued showcasing an eclectic variety of performers: singer/songwriters; poets; spoken word artists; comedians; and bands that play Americana, rock, folk, bluegrass and jazz. With the extra space, they’ve also started a monthly dance night, many featuring the Clines’ new band, Edge City Fever.
“I sing and dance; Liz plays drums. Roger Rocha from 4 Non-Blondes is on guitar, and Ari Gorman is on bass,” Cline said. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always had punk rock bands. Over the years, I started working my way back in time to the roots of punk, which is boogie music. It’s the purest form of what I liked in the beginning.
“In Edge City, I hang out with the people I love and get to encourage people to dance, or as John Lee Hooker would say, ‘Boogie!’” he said. “We were recording an album, before COVID put everything on hold, but we did make a video for our song ‘My Baby.’ It combines my love of sci-fi, horror and boogie music. Some people call it the blues, but I never use the term ‘the blues.’ It’s been bastardized into a long, soloing format. The whole point of the music we do is to make people dance.”
For a schedule of upcoming events, visit The Lost Church at thelostchurch.org. Music from Edge City Fever is at edgecityfever.com. Music by Juanita and the Rabbit is at juanitaandtherabbit.com.