Mary Ellen Cunha

  • Wednesday March 18, 2015
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February 19, 1935 �" January 29, 2015

Mary Ellen Cunha, a lesbian who with her business partner purchased the Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro district back in the 1970s, died January 29 in Palm Springs, California. She was 79.

Twin Peaks was purchased by Ms. Cunha and Margaret Forster in 1972 and began its life in the middle of the Castro and the LGBT community. In 2013 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors designated Twin Peaks a historic landmark as it's the first known gay bar to feature full length plate glass windows, becoming a visible symbol of the LGBT movement. Ms. Forster died in 2008.

George Roehm, a gay man who worked for Ms. Cunha at Twin Peaks for over 20 years, later bought the establishment from her. His business partner is Jeffrey Green, also a gay man who worked at the bar for many years.

"Her contribution was when she opened the bar it had the floor to ceiling windows," Roehm told the Bay Area Reporter in a brief phone interview. "It was 1972 and gay bars weren't visible. It was a grand gesture."

Roehm added that at the time, people could still be fired for being gay and that Ms. Cunha wasn't sure Twin Peaks Tavern would be successful.

"But it was packed from the day it opened," Roehm said.

Ms. Cunha was a successful businesswoman and owned other enterprises and properties in San Francisco and Palm Springs, according to an obituary published in the Merced Sun Star.

Born on February 19, 1935 in Los Banos, California, Ms. Cunha graduated from Los Banos High School. She then moved to San Francisco.

According to the obituary, Ms. Cunha loved to travel with her friends. She was an enthusiastic fan of all college and pro sports; one of her favorite times of year was March Madness, college basketball's playoffs.

Ms. Cunha was preceded in death by her parents, Fred and Katherine Cunha; brother, Fred Cunha; and sisters, Vera Streeter, Rosie Tipton, and Betty McClendon. She is survived by three sisters, Kathy Graper, Shirley Daguerre, and Helen Huckobey (Ray), along with many nieces and nephews.

Services for Ms. Cunha were held last month in Los Banos.