SF preservation panel approves historic designation for Tenderloin intersection

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 17, 2022
Share this Post:
Volunteers put the finishing touches on a Black Trans Lives Matter mural at the corner of Turk and Taylor streets in August 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
Volunteers put the finishing touches on a Black Trans Lives Matter mural at the corner of Turk and Taylor streets in August 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission on August 17 approved the designation of the Tenderloin intersection of Turk and Taylor streets, and 101 Taylor Street, as an official city landmark, commemorating the August 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot unleashed by angry drag queens and trans women tired of police harassment.

Moses Corrette, the senior planner who oversaw the project and introduced the proposal to the preservation commission at its Wednesday meeting, called the effort in his address to the body, "a groundbreaking landmark and a highlight of my career."

Introduced by former District 6 supervisor Matt Haney, who has since resigned after he was sworn in as a state Assemblymember May 3, the effort was inherited by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston after the Turk and Taylor streets intersection moved into District 5 as a result of redistricting. Preston's office then contacted the Transgender District's leadership to find out which issues were on their agenda, said Preston legislative aide Kyle Smeallie in May. The landmark designation was one, and Preston has since adopted sponsorship of the resolution.

Supervisors voted to support the measure without comment in June, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Now that the historic preservation panel has OK'd the designation, it moves back to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

"It's important that the city recognize and lift up the courage of LGBTQ San Franciscans who stood up against police violence and oppression at Compton's Cafeteria," Preston stated in a June news release. "I hope that by landmarking the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets, we can help educate future generations on how important this space has been to the LGBTQ community."

A historical marker denoting the Compton's Cafeteria riot was installed outside the former diner in 2006. In 2016, the city christened the 100 block of Taylor Street as Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way to honor the 50th anniversary of the historic riots that occurred at the long-gone diner. Former District 6 supervisor Jane Kim had authored the honorary street renaming proposal, meaning it did not change the postal addresses of the businesses and residences located on that block of Taylor.

The significance of that space might have been lost, however, were it not for the work of Susan Stryker, Ph.D., a transgender scholar whose academic and historical research focuses on sexuality and gender.

Notably, the marker commemorating the riot doesn't include a date more specific than August 1966. The event had largely been forgotten until Stryker, poring over materials at the GLBT Historical Society archives in 1991, ran across an item detailing an August 1966 event: "Drag queens protest police harassment at Compton's Cafeteria."

That, according to a 2019 story in The Guardian, launched Stryker on a yearslong venture to uncover the events at the former Gene Compton's Cafeteria, which took place three years before the better known Stonewall Riots in New York City. After years of research, Stryker released her 2005 documentary, "Screaming Queens," with interviews with some of the women who were present at the riot that night, along with other trans people. The exact date of the riot has been lost to history, Stryker has previously said.

The corner continues to hold significance for queer and transgender communities. It is currently the site of the Black Trans Lives Matter mural, a visual demonstration calling for awareness of violence against trans women.

"It is time the Compton's Cafeteria riots of 1966 receive the recognition it deserves — it is the first documented uprising of LGBT people in the United States, led by trans people, gender-nonconforming people and queer folks in the Tenderloin, and it warrants the recognition decreed by the Board of Supervisors as a site of historical significance," said Jupiter Peraza, director of social justice initiatives at the Transgender District, in June. "The Turk and Taylor street intersection is a true transgender and queer landmark, and the center of the Transgender District. This acknowledgment and designation of transgender history is truly historic, as most queer and transgender cultural assets have yet to be legally recognized."

That significance wasn't lost on the preservation commissioners.

After hearing the presentation by Corrette and Flora Law, a project manager for San Francisco Public Works, commissioners not only voted 6-0 in favor of landmark status, but also suggested ways to enhance the proposed site, so that its significance might be made even more clear to those who would visit.

"There's so much information about this people would be amazed to learn," said Commissioner Chris Foley, the father of a teenage lesbian daughter who is Thai American. So much so, he encouraged his fellow commissioners to consider adding QR codes to the site so that visitors could have access to even more information.

If ever there were a city that should honor trans history, it's San Francisco, said Commissioner Kate Black.

One aspect of the site that particularly appealed to Commissioner Ruchira Nageswaran was that the designation was less about the buildings at the site, but about what had occurred there. Nageswaran said she was attracted to architectural things, but this made her realize that designations like this didn't have to be about the architecture.

The three commissioners, as well as their other three counterparts on the body, all stated they wanted the site to be more informative, to give visitors a better sense of what happened there.

Stryker, who was not present at the hearing, told the B.A.R. that she was excited her work had played such an important role in the results.

"I'm thrilled that my research into the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot helped lay the groundwork for recognizing the contributions trans people have made to San Francisco's history," Stryker wrote in an email. "The inspiring legacy of resistance to social oppression manifested in the streets of the Tenderloin is something we'd do well to remember and draw upon amidst the current anti-trans backlash."

The inclusion of references to Compton's has become more controversial over the years. When the city established the first legally recognized transgender district in the world in 2017, it was called the Compton's Transgender Cultural District. The district's leaders dropped Compton's from the name in 2020 so it is simply known as the Transgender District.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.