Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Online Extra: Political Notes: Meetings set to discuss
Castro history project


Castro Upper Market Community Benefit District President Alan Lau, at head of table, presides over a board meeting last week as board members Ken White, Jim Laufenberg, and Wendy Mogg listen to a member of the public address the group.
(Photo: Matthew S. Bajko)
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A Castro group overseeing the creation of a history walk in the city's gay neighborhood plans to hold three public meetings to gather feedback on the facts for the project.

Officially known as the Castro Street History Walk, the project entails etching 20 historical factoids about the neighborhood into the sidewalks on the 400 and 500 block of Castro Street. It is part of the sidewalk-widening project currently under way and is being funded by the Castro Upper Market Community Benefit District.

As the Bay Area Reporter has noted on its blog, the CBD agreed to cover the $10,000 cost for the history walk after city planners cut it out of their budget due to limited funds. It convened a group of local residents and historians to work with Nicholas Perry, a planner and urban designer at the San Francisco Planning Department who worked on the sidewalk-widening project and lives in the Castro, to develop a list of facts to be embedded in the concrete two apiece near where new trees will be planted.

It is meant to cover the breadth of the neighborhood's 230-year history, beginning with the Native Americans who called it home, then the various Europeans who moved into what became known as Eureka Valley, and later migrations of LGBT residents who referred to it as the Castro.

It is separate from the Rainbow Honor Walk, which is installing 20 bronze plaques along Castro Street honoring deceased LGBT individuals.

As for the Castro history walk, 10 of the 20 proposed facts deal with the earliest periods of the neighborhood starting from pre ‐1776, when the native Yelamu people lived nearby, up through 1943, when the area inspired local Norwegian‐American author Kathryn Forbes to use it as a backdrop for her novel Mama's Bank Account.

The later 10 proposed facts all relate to the area's LGBT history, beginning in 1953 when lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon moved into a Castro Street home. Three facts tell the story of Harvey Milk, a gay man who opened a camera shop on Castro Street, became the city's first out politician, and was assassinated within a year of winning office in November of 1978.

Three facts are related to the AIDS epidemic, which ravaged the Castro's gay male population in the 1980s. The timeline ends with the street celebrations in June 2013 celebrating two historic U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality rulings.

"The historical stuff is neighborhood specific and not necessarily gay," said CBD board member Ken White , the manager of the Books Inc. store on Market Street, who has been assisting with compiling the list of facts. "It is not about heroes. It is about the historical facts of the neighborhood."

The CBD has faced questions about its approval process for picking the 20 factoids, a list of which was publicly revealed Friday, April 4. It pulled the project from the agenda of a subcommittee that meets during the day due to the criticisms and held an informational presentation about the history facts during its evening board meeting last Thursday, April 10.

One of those who raised questions about public input on the project, Trey Allen, commended the CBD during last week's meeting for agreeing to fund the history walk. He also praised the list of facts it has generated and offered a few edits for it to consider.

"Nick Perry did a fabulous job," said Allen, adding that the facts are "thorough and robust. I am really happy with the results."

According to the CBD's executive director, Andrea Aiello , only four people had emailed her regarding the history facts as of last week's meeting. Three were from people wanting to remember their parent's former businesses on Castro Street and the fourth, from queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, had more substantive changes for the history facts.

His edits included explaining that the Native Americans were driven off due to European colonization and additional LGBT facts, such as the openings of gay-owned businesses Josie's Cabaret in 1990 and A Different Light Bookstore in 1989; the 1999 write-in mayoral campaign of Tom Ammiano, now a gay state Assemblyman; and programs for LBGBT youth and the homeless that were launched in 1997.

"I am concerned that the walk tell the complete history (as much as is possible) of the neighborhood, so I included things that I felt were left off and which are vital to this history," Avicolli Mecca told the B.A.R. in an email.

The facts can only be 230 characters (including spaces) to meet contractor letter-sizing specifications and ensure a well-laid out and easily readable design, according to the CBD. They will be installed chronologically along Castro Street in a U-shape, starting with the earliest fact near Harvey Milk Plaza then heading down to 19th Street and circling back on the other side of the street to end near the Castro Theatre.

The public has until April 18 to submit comments, suggestions, or edits about the history facts to the CBD by emailing Aiello at

The CBD is hosting the first of three public meetings about the history walk facts from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 21 at 501 Castro Street in the 2nd floor meeting room.

Two additional public meetings about the project will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 7 at the same location. Then the CBD board will review the feedback and make a final determination on the 20 facts to be included.

It is also checking with city planners about the ability to include more facts in addition to the 20 already proposed.

"We will come up with a criteria and consider them as objectively as we can," said CBD board member Gustavo Serina , a gay Castro resident. "If we can stimulate thinking then I think we have done our job."


Here is the list of the 20 proposed history walk facts under consideration:

1 Pre‐1776. Eureka Valley is a verdant grassland and chaparral. The native Yelamu people live nearby in the seasonal village of Chutchui.


2 1776. Spanish expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza establishes Mission San Francisco de As's near a creek they name Arroyo de los Dolores, running along today s 18th Street. The Mission comes to be known as Mission Dolores.


3. 1846. Mexico grants Rancho San Miguel to Jos de Jes s No , the last Mexican Alcalde (Mayor) of Yerba Buena (San Francisco). The 4,444 acre ranch encompasses the area later known as Eureka Valley.


4. 1854. American settler John Horner purchases portion of Rancho San Miguel. Castro Street, named after a prominent Mexica-era Californio family, marks the western border of the nascent neighborhood known as "Horner's Addition."


5. 1895. Five room cottages on Castro St. rent for about $15 a month. Transit improvements, including the Castro St. cable car, spur settlement by working class Irish, German, and Scandinavian families in the late 19th century.


6. 1900. Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church is established. Instead of Eureka Valley, for many decades residents refer to the neighborhood as "Most Holy Redeemer Parish."


7. 1907. The Swedish American Hall opens at 2174 Market Street. The hall, along with local businesses such as Finnila's Finnish Baths and the Norse Cove restaurant anchor Eureka Valley's "Little Scandinavia" community.


8. 1918. Twin Peaks tunnel opens, connecting Eureka Valley with West Portal via electric streetcar. Mayor James "Sunny Jim" Rolph serves as the motorman on the first streetcar through the tunnel.


9. 1922. The Nasser brothers open the Castro Theatre, the first movie palace designed by prominent local architect Timothy Pflueger. The theatre is declared San Francisco's 100th City Landmark in 1977.


10. 1943. Castro Street becomes nationally known as the setting of Mama's Bank Account, a novel by local Norwegian-American author Kathryn Forbes. It inspires popular adaptations including the 1948 film, I Remember Mama.


11. 1953. Lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon move into their first home together in San Francisco on Castro Street. They help establish the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization.


12. 1963. The Missouri Mule, the first gay bar in Eureka Valley, opens at 2348 Market Street. By the 1970s, an influx of gay residents and businesses revitalize the neighborhood, which comes to be known as the Castro.


13. 1972. Twin Peaks Tavern, established in 1935, reopens as the first known gay bar in U.S. to feature full-length plate glass windows. The clear windows become a symbol of the gay community s increased openness and visibility.


14. 1977. Castro resident, merchant, and activist Harvey Milk, known as the "Mayor of Castro Street," is elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and becomes one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country.


15. 1978. Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated. As news of their death spreads, tens of thousands of mourners spontaneously gather on Castro Street and form a candlelight march to City Hall.


16. 1979. The assassin of Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone is cleared of murder charges. Outrage among the gay community spurs "White Night" riots at City Hall and a retaliatory police raid of the Elephant Walk Bar at 500 Castro Street.


17. 1981. Openly gay nurse Bobbi Campbell posts notice about gay cancer on the window of Star Pharmacy at 498 Castro Street. The disease, identified as AIDS in 1982, becomes a global pandemic that devastates the Castro.


18. 1987. Cleve Jones organizes the AIDS Memorial Quilt at 2362 Market Street. Throughout the 1980s, numerous organizations take root in the Castro to fight for awareness, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDS.


19. 1998. After losing nearly 16,000 San Franciscans, including many Castro residents, to AIDS-related deaths, the "No Obits!" headline of the weekly Bay Area Reporter marks a milestone in the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS.


[Last week the B.A.R. submitted alternative proposed wording to Aiello for Item 19, noting that context was lacking in the draft write-up, and that the exclamation point in the headline was incorrect.]


20. 2013. A jubilant crowd fills Castro Street to celebrate the Supreme Court decision allowing same‐sex marriages in California. The event highlights Castro Street's historic role as a place of communal celebration.


Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail


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