A relic from the Beatles’ last concert in SF has been unearthed

No one expected the Beatles’ August 29, 1966 performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco to be their last official concert, except for the band members themselves. And now a relic from that night—one stolen from the Inner Richmond restaurant where the Fab Four dined more than 50 years ago prior to their legendary farewell—has been rediscovered.

On the final stop of the band’s summer tour, Paul, John, George and Ringo were joined by singer-songwriter Joan Baez as they walked through the doors of Simpson’s catering service at 926 Clement St. There they dined on a pre-show meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, stuffed jacket potato, salad, relish and French pastries while making rough sketches in chalk on the white linen tablecloth.

“Among the gravy stains and pudding droppings were doodles of almost psychedelic persuasion, drawn by the Beatles in a moment of contemplation before their backfield concert,” the Chronicle reported at the time.

Co-owner John Vilardi told the paper that Lennon had drawn “an interesting kind of Japanese sunset,” while McCartney had etched “faces in abstracto.” Before the band left for the concert, Simpson’s staff asked them to sign their artwork, and proudly displayed it in a 12-foot-wide window display the next day.

A tablecloth from Simpson's Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

A tablecloth from Simpson’s Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

Thanks to Bonhams

“Some of those excited little girls wanted to touch it or take pictures of it,” Vilardi told the Chronicle of the prized tablecloth, adding that he also received offers of up to $300 for the artwork. The police advised him to take it down, but he paid no heed to their warnings.

Within a week, the tablecloth was stolen in broad daylight, leaving nothing but a shattered window. Vilardi was devastated and the treasure was thought to have been lost forever.

In some ways, the Beatles’ 30-minute performance that night turned out to be quite disappointing. Only 25,000 tickets were sold, ranging from $4.50 to $6.50, leaving 7,000 empty seats. Since 15% of that ticket sales had to go to the city of San Francisco, local promoter Tempo Productions incurred a financial loss. It was a staggering difference from the year before, when the band played a sold-out show in front of 55,000 people at Shea Stadium.

A tablecloth from Simpson's Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

A tablecloth from Simpson’s Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

Thanks to Bonhams

Still, the band’s press officer, Tony Barrow, remembered the evening fondly. McCartney asked him to record what he knew would be a historic moment for the band. Their set began with “Rock and Roll Music” from their 1964 album “Beatles for Sale”, followed by the iconic hits “I Feel Fine”, “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Day Tripper”. Just as they started playing their closing song “Long Tall Sally,” Barrow’s band ran out.

It was “probably the most unique Beatle recording in existence,” Barrow later wrote in his 2005 biography, “John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me.”

Police clear the field of eager fans as the Beatles perform at a bandstand in Candlestick Park, San Francisco.

Police clear the field of eager fans as the Beatles perform at a bandstand in Candlestick Park, San Francisco.

Bettmann/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Flash forward to 2022 – the tablecloth, a nearly forgotten memento of that evening, has been recovered. Vilardi’s grandson was reportedly approached by the sister of the man who had owned it for the past 50 years, who said he was unaware it had been stolen and that it had been given to him in the early 1970s rather than a debt. After learning the story of the relic, he wanted to return it to the family.

Now his fate is uncertain. The tablecloth will go on sale Oct. 7 through private auction company Bonhams, which estimates the item’s value at $15,000 to $25,000 — a far cry from the $300 Vilardi was offered all those years ago.

In a press release shared with SFGATE, a Bonhams spokesperson said it had contacted Joan Baez’s agent about the tablecloth. The singer verified the story and “remembered it fondly.” Her only correction was that McCartney didn’t draw the abstract faces – she did.

The auction will run until October 19, 2022.

Freelance writer Ana Leorne contributed to this report.

A tablecloth from Simpson's Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

A tablecloth from Simpson’s Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

Thanks to Bonhams

A tablecloth from Simpson's Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

A tablecloth from Simpson’s Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

Thanks to Bonhams

A tablecloth from Simpson's Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

A tablecloth from Simpson’s Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

Thanks to Bonhams

A tablecloth from Simpson's Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

A tablecloth from Simpson’s Catering Service, a former restaurant at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco, with signatures and drawings made by the Beatles in 1966.

Thanks to Bonhams

The Beatles dine at Simpson's catering service at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco.

The Beatles dine at Simpson’s catering service at 926 Clement St. in San Francisco.

Thanks to Bonhams

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