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A Pioneer Music Store

In the delirious, confused and tumultuous period of gold-mad adventurers, in the early fifties, who though of music and musical instruments? Yet there was one extraordinary man in all this medley of struggling, passionate humanity, who fixed his whole attention on violins, guitars, pianos and organs.

Andrew Kohler, after his arrival on the coast, saw that San Francisco was to be a great city. With its central location, its wonderful harbor, and the rushing in of so many thousands of people from the four corners of the globe, this seemed inevitable to the young merchant. So he resolved to stay by it through thick and thin, to cast his lot with it, to grow with it, and become part of its future greatness and renown. Photo of the Kohler & Chase Building, 20 O'Farrell St., in the 1920s

He had the foresight to bring with him a miscellaneous collection of musical instruments when he embarked for the new El Dorado in the year 1849. While the rest of the pioneers rushed away to the diggings like men pursued by a swarm of angry bees, Andrew Kohler rented a crude little barn-like structure near the foot of Broadway and placed on sales the diverse collection of musical instruments he had brought with him. This was in January, 1850.

A few months after Andrew Kohler opened the first music store in San Francisco, he was doing so well that he moved his establishment to Stockton Street, between Pacific and Jackson, which was the direction in which the young town was expanding. At first he had great difficulty in getting new stocks of music and musical instruments, owing to uncertain deliveries. But when the Pacific Mail [steamship line] put on its regular service he obtained prompt deliveries of goods he required.

After being three years in a prospering and growing business, Andrew Kohler took into partnership his nephew, a hale and vigorous pioneer named Quincy A. Chase, who also saw more prospects of success and wealth in the commercial end than in contracting fever and ague in some of the mining camps.

Like all the developing pioneers, Quincy A. Chase put into his business his whole personality. He did not wait for business, he went after it, established branches in other cities of California, until soon the Stockton Street store grew too small. So the firm moved to news quarters on Clay Street near Kearny in one of the large business buildings of the town. Here Kohler & Chase gathered together one of the finest collections of musical instruments in the country.

The pressure of enlarging business compelled the firm to move again to larger quarters at 424-430 Sansome Street; from Sansome Street Kohler & Chase moved to the spendid new store in the Dashaway Hall Building at 139 Post Street, thence to 26-40 O'Farrell Street; the retail business was then transferred to a large store on the southeast corner of Kearny and Post Streets, while they managed the wholesale departments at 715-717 Mission Street.

In 1886 Andrew Kohler, the pioneer founder of the firm died, and the surviving partner, Quincy A. Chase in 1891, desiring to preserve the historic good will built up through a long course of years by creating a reputation for sterling quality of goods, had the firm incorporated with himself as the first president of the company.

Within a week after the [1906 earthquake and] fire, there emerged a new and dominating figure in the history of Kohler & Chase, who was to bring the firm a new prestige and glory. This was George Q. Chase, son of one of the founders, who after studying the business from every angle by serving his time in different departments, was now ready to take over the helm. George Q. Chase is a worthy son of a pioneer father, and his act in the great emergency was to hang out a large wooden sign at 824 Fulton Street with the firm name printed in large letters, telling the world that Kohler & Chase was standing by San Francisco and was still in business, and ready for the new era.

San Francisco News Letter
September 5, 1925
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