The I-Beam was founded and owned by Sanford Kellman, a former astronomer, with the help of his business partner Bob Wharton. The building it was located in was the former Park Masonic Hall. In 1966, the Park Masonic Hall was host to the ironically titled Straight Ashbury Viewing Society (Non-gays are called straights), a theatre that showed avant-garde gay films. In 1967, it was again ironically renamed as the Straight Theatre (Non-hippies were also called straights; the word straight rhyming with Haight.) and rock dances with psychedelic light shows were held there. The I-Beam began in October 1977 as a popular gay disco (dance club). Before opening the club, Sanford Kellman had an impromptu party there and found that all the neighbors complained about the noise. Therefore, Sanford Kellman was required by the City government of San Francisco to soundproof the entire building at great expense, delaying the opening of the club for several months.. On the opening night of the club in October 1977, groups of bare chested men in jeans and construction hats carried I-Beams on their shoulders into the club.
Inside the I-Beam was shaped like a giant cube about forty feet on each side. There were Mylar covered cardboard I-Beams hanging from the ceiling above the center of the dance floor. At the entrance there were framed pictures of various astronomical objects such as galaxies and planets put there by former astronomer Sanford Kellman. There was a small room in the front near the entrance with pinball machines and pool tables. Saturday nights and Friday nights at the I-Beam hosted heterosexual dance parties.
The club hosted I-Beam Sunday Night Tea Dances, which took place from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sunday night. Free passes to this popular tea dance were routinely handed out in the gay neighborhoods of San Francisco. Tim Rivers and Steve Fabus played at the Sunday Night Tea Dance from 1977 to 1980. From 1980 to its end in 1992 Michael Garrett was the DJ--he played modern rock dance music by artists such as Madonna, Prince, New Order, R.E.M., Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, etc. The temperature inside the I-Beam was deliberately kept as warm as possible in order to encourage people to take off their shirts while they were dancing; sexual encounters in the bathrooms and the parking lot were a common occurrence. In January 1988 three go-go boxes (cubes four feet square with a black and white checkerboard pattern of squares one foot by one foot on top; thus the surface of each go-go box had a checkerboard pattern of 16 black and white squares) were installed in the club, and on Wednesday night, the Boy Club was held, for which young male Go-Go dancers were hired by the I-Beam for the first time. The Boy Club continued until the end of 1988. From 1988 to 1992 many fun events were held at the I-Beam such as strip contests and appearances by gay porn stars such as Lou Cass. On Monday nights beginning in 1988, there was a hip-hop dance club that appealed to the African Americans in the neighborhood. In 1989, the year rave dances first started in San Francisco, Wednesday night became Acid house Night at the I-Beam.
In the early 1980s, New Music Night was instituted on Monday night, and later Tuesdays at which emerging new rock groups played.
Monday nights became known as New Wave Nights and were booked by Cathy Cohn, a KUSF DJ. The crème de la crème of new wave, punk, industrial, and indie bands played the I-Beam from 1986 to 1992. Many well known groups played at the I-Beam such as Duran Duran, The Cure, Gene Loves Jezebel, Flesh For LuLu, New Order, Motörhead, Big Black, The Butthole Surfers, 10,000 Maniacs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Firehose (band), Soundgarden, Trouble Funk, Alice in Chains, Counting Crows, Soul Asylum, Camper Van Beethoven, Gwar, Jane's Addiction, X, Primus, The Slits, Sugarcubes, Bush Tetras, The Bangles, Wilma, Meat Puppets, and Chris Isaak.
The I-Beam closed in 1992 after a long battle with neighbors over sound issues. Live rock music shows over the last few years were few and far between. The Sunday Night Tea Dance continued until closing in July 1992, but the last year had few patrons because by that time house music had become more popular than modern rock among gays who liked to go dancing.
After the I-Beam closed in 1992, the Park Masonic Hall remained vacant for 12 years. The former location of the I-Beam (the Park Masonic building) was torn down and an apartment house with retail at street level was constructed there in 2004.
The enduring Traxx bar is the only remaining vestige of upper Haight Street's gay scene as of 2008; however Traxx is much smaller than the former I-Beam, and as a neighborhood bar (as opposed to a niteclub), it has no dance floor.