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Political Notebook: SF LGBT history projects advance

by Matthew S. Bajko

The site of the former Finocchio's, 506 Broadway, would<br>have a plaque installed commemorating its significance to the LGBT community.<br>Photo: Rick Gerharter
The site of the former Finocchio's, 506 Broadway, would
have a plaque installed commemorating its significance to the LGBT community.
Photo: Rick Gerharter  

A trio of projects aimed at honoring and preserving LGBT history in San Francisco's Tenderloin and North Beach neighborhoods, as well as at the city's airport, advanced this week.

The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee unanimously endorsed two of the initiatives at its meeting Monday, June 5, and the full board is expected to approve them later this month. Winning the panel's support was the effort to establish the Compton's Transgender Cultural District in a section of the Tenderloin and the plan to install sidewalk markers at the site of several historic LGBT businesses that once operated in North Beach.

A total of 13 street plaques commemorating historical businesses in what is known as the Top of Broadway Community Benefit District are to be installed in the area. Three would honor now shuttered LGBT nightlife spots that once called the city's Italian enclave centered on Broadway and Columbus Avenue home.

One would be placed at 12 Adler and the adjoining 529 Broadway, where two lesbian bars had operated in the 1950s. The proprietor for both, Eleanor "Tommy" Vasu, was the first known lesbian to legally own a bar in San Francisco, according to the resolution authored by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents North Beach.

Amid a citywide crackdown on gay bars, Vasu was forced to close the bars in 1954, notes Peskin's resolution.

Another plaque would be installed at 440 Broadway, where Mona's Club 440 had operated and was known as "Where Girls Will Be Boys," notes the resolution. Started by Mona Sargent and her husband, Jimmie, the bar is credited as being the first openly lesbian bar in the nation, having first opened in 1936 in a different location.

Women dressed as men would entertain the crowd at Mona's, whose popularity spiked during World War II. In 1948 the bar was renamed as Ann's 440 Club and was where the careers of comedian Lenny Bruce and singer Johnny Mathis began.

A plaque would also be installed at 506 Broadway Street, which between 1936 and 1999 had been home to the legendary Finocchio's female impersonators cabaret. (The business's neon sign is now part of the GLBT Historical Society's archives.)

In 2014 the CBD received a $30,000 Community Challenge Grant from the city for the project, estimated to cost close to $50,000. It intends to pay for the plaques and gift them to the city.

It would be the city Arts Commission's purview to approve the designs for the historical markers. The board resolution instructs San Francisco Public Works to approve their installation.

A privately paid for sidewalk plaque was installed in front of 710 Montgomery Street in 2008 to commemorate its being home of the Black Cat Cafe, the gay bar where bartender Jose Sarria rose to fame for his drag performances. It closed in 1963 after three decades in business.

More recently the owners of 24 Union Street have sought to designate it as a city landmark for once housing the Paper Doll, believed to be San Francisco's first restaurant to cater to the gay community. City officials are expected to vote on their request in the fall.

City historic preservation planners would also like to officially landmark both Mona's and the Black Cat sites. But there is no timeline for when those applications would move forward.

 

Transgender historic district moves forward

The Compton's district would be the first of its kind in the country to recognize the historical significance of a neighborhood to the transgender community, as the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported. It takes its name from that of Gene Compton's Cafeteria, which had operated at 101 Taylor Street.

The long defunct 24-hour eatery was a hangout for transgender and queer residents and sex workers in the Tenderloin. In August 1966 the diner's LGBT patrons rioted against police harassment.

The boundaries of the Compton's district would be the north side of Market Street between Taylor Street and Jones Street, to the south side of Ellis Street between Mason Street and Taylor Street, and the north side of Ellis Street between Taylor Street and Jones Street. Since first being proposed last year, the district would now also include the 6th Street corridor (on both sides) between Market Street and Howard Street.

The idea for the district grew out of the fight to preserve the buildings at 950-974 Market Street, where several gay bars and a shoe store once operated and helped facilitate gay and transgender prostitution and hustling in the area. LGBT activists had appealed plans to demolish the buildings in order to build a hotel, apartments, storefronts, and nonprofit space at the site.

They dropped their objections after developer Group I agreed to allow local historians to document the site before it is torn down and to pay $300,000 to the city toward several transgender-focused initiatives. As outlined in the deal, the planning department is to use one-third of the money to support the creation of the Compton's district.

According to the resolution set to be approved by the board, and authored by District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the Tenderloin, the plan for creating the Compton's district is to be included in the larger LGBTQ Cultural Heritage Strategy the planning department is working to complete by early 2018. The resolution also authorizes the planning department to form an advisory committee for the Compton's district, as it has done for the citywide strategy.

That larger plan is looking at a variety of ways to preserve and celebrate LGBT historical sites and businesses throughout the city. One proposal calls for establishing an LGBT Cultural Heritage District in western South of Market, which has long been home to bars and businesses catering to a leather crowd as well as gay dance clubs.

Milk SFO panel holds second meeting

Wednesday morning the advisory panel tasked with picking which terminal at San Francisco International Airport should be named after the late Supervisor Harvey Milk met for the second time. The members continue to eye the under renovation Terminal 1 as the most appropriate choice.

They also favor naming the airport's access road after Milk, who was the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco. He was assassinated in November 1978 less than a year into his first term.

At its first meeting in April, the nine-person Airport Facilities Naming Advisory Committee indicated it would recommend the city name the airport's first of four terminals and the access road in honor of Milk, as the B.A.R. reported at the time.

That sentiment only strengthened at its second meeting June 7, where the panel heard from airport staff about the redesign of Terminal 1, which is currently undergoing a $2.4 billion remodel that will be unveiled in stages through 2024, starting with a new entrance building in late 2019 or early 2020.

The naming of a Milk terminal grew out of a compromise struck in 2013 between gay former Supervisor David Campos and Mayor Ed Lee . Campos initially proposed renaming SFO in honor of Milk, but after his idea was met with lukewarm support, he reached an agreement with Lee to only name a terminal in honor of the gay icon and form a naming committee to recommend which one.

It wasn't until this year that Lee named his five appointees to the panel, allowing it to begin meeting. It has three months to vote on a Milk terminal and can opt to remain meeting for an additional 15 months in order to recommend names for the other three terminals and additional airport facilities.

The panel plans to hold its next meeting in late June or mid-July, at which it is expected to approve its Milk terminal naming recommendation.

 

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the election of a transgender man and bisexual woman as chairs of the CA Democratic Party's LGBT Caucus.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes.

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:.

 

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