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Monday, October 22, 2012

San Francisco Has Some of the Gayest Buildings in America

Posted By on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 1:04 PM

click to enlarge rainbowflag1.jpg

Recently, California Home+Design decided to honor gay and lesbian history by creating a gallery of the "Gayest Buildings in America." No, the buildings themselves aren't gay, but they do hold special meaning for our LGBT community. 

Inspired by the panel "If These "Walls Could Talk," the gallery focuses on buildings that represent a special place in time and space. Much of the history of the LGBT community is unknown because for so long it was illegal for gays to gather in public -- thus, some historic sites remain in the closet. 

The panel, sponsored by the GLBT Historical Society and the San Francisco Architectural Heritageis trying to document the history of these buildings before it's too late. 

Gallery creator Mary Jo Bowling said she was inspired by historians fighting to save the story of the LGBT community members who were brave during a time when society didn't tolerate gays. San Francisco is one of the few cities with guidelines for preserving LGBT historic buildings, she noted.

"As people get older and pass away some of that history gets lost," said Bowling. "On the national level, there are so few landmarks that have to do with the GLBT past.

Here's a few San Francisco buildings on the list:

Twin Peaks Tavern on Castro Street
This was one of the first gay bars to have large glass windows, which exposed bar patrons to the public. They symbolized visibilty and openness.


Jose Julio Sarria's Home on 21st Street
The top floor was home to the first openly gay man to run for public office, Jose Julio Sarria, who performed in drag at the Black Cat. During this time period, when police raided a gay bar they would publish the names of the patrons in the local newspapers. Anyone whose name was published in this way could kiss their career goodbye. Sarria, a school teacher, was one such person. After his arrest he turned to performing to make ends meet. The basement of this house was also home to S.F.'s first fisting club.

click to enlarge Photo: Gerard Koskovich
  • Photo: Gerard Koskovich

Castro Camera on Castrol Street

Home of Harvey Milk, gay rights champion and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. This building served as home, business, and campaign headquarters to the S.F. supervisor who only served 11 months of his term before being assassinated by Supervisor Dan White.


Compton's Cafeteria on Taylor Street
The site of a transgender and gay riot during 1966, this building was a hangout for the transgender community. When one transgender woman grew tired of being arrested, she threw a cup of coffee in a cop's face and the riot began.

  • Photo: Gerard Koskovich
Photo: Gerard Koskovich
The Toolbox at Fourth and Harrison

The first leather bar in SOMA boasted a mural by Chuck Arnett. When the building was torn down the wall displaying the painting was left up and for two years passersby were able to see it.

Courtesy GLBT Historical Society ; used with permission

"Although many of these people were financially motivated they were also brave," said Bowling. "These personal stories I thought were really powerful."

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Coburn Palmer


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