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Pilgrimages: California LGBT Historic Sites

by Joel Martens
Saturday May 17, 2014

Many of us know of the riots at New York's historic Stonewall Inn, one of the places in which the beginnings of the LGBT movement took shape. Few know however, of the other significant locations before and after that seminal event, places that are also a part of our legacy and worth consideration. Locations, some hidden, some not, worth re-examina- tion the next time you're wandering the cities in which they exist-perhaps even worth protection, as a part of our valiant LGBT pilgrimage through time.



440 Broadway Street
Open from 1939 to 1948 Mona's 440 Club became the city's first male impersonation venue. The female staff donned tuxedos, sang and entertained patrons in the North Beach locale and it thrived for many years, along with many other LGBT establishments in the neighborhood. In the 1950s the California Alcohol Beverage Control began raiding local bars, arresting patrons and publishing their names in the city's newspapers. Amazingly, the building still stands, housing The Cosmo Bar & Lounge.

101 Taylor Street
Stonewall is remembered as the seminal LGBT event by most of us; but to be truthful, there were important uprisings that predate it. Compton's Cafeteria was one of those and the city bares witness to the riots that broke out there in 1966 with a commemorative plaque at the corner of Taylor and Turk Streets. The building is gone, but the commemorative plaque there reads, "Here marks the site of Gene Compton's Cafeteria, where a riot took place one August night when transgender women and gay men stood up for their rights and fought against police brutality, poverty, oppression and discrimination."

Look just around the corner for another commemorative plaque: "130 Turk Street, c. 1923. Formerly housed the Bulldog Baths. This building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Uptown Tenderloin Historic District. Only in San Francisco.

401 Castro Street
If you've been to the Castro in San Francisco you have seen this bar still sitting prominently at the corner of Castro and 17th Streets. Now designated as a San Francisco historic site, it is one of the few places on this list that remains open. Notable not only for that distinction, it was also one of the first gay bars to have large, clear windows facing the street unashamedly. Pre-1970, when being gay was a subversive existence and we were subject to arrest just for the mere suggestion of same-sex love. So being visible in a"gay"establishment was making quite a statement.

2362 Market Street
Few things altered the course of the LGBT movement more than the early AIDS crisis of the '80s and '90s. And its lasting symbol is the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Gay rights activist Cleve Jones is said to have landed on the idea of making a quilt because he wanted to memorialize his friends who had passed from the dreadful disease. The NAMES Project was born and the quilt grew from a single panel sewn by Jones in memory of his friend Marvin Feldman to more than 48,000 pieces commemorating over 88,000 individuals. Today the building where it all started at is considered a city landmark and houses the seafood restaurant Catch.

575 Castro Street
Another building that still proudly stands, this property is rich in history and, fittingly, is now the home of the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store. 16 years after José Julio Sarria was unsuc- cessful in his electoral bid, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to win an elected office when he won the race for District 8 Supervisor. Castro Camera was the center of Milk's life and the Castro movement. It was his home, his campaign office and the seat of San Francisco's burgeoning gay community from 1972 until his assassination in 1978.

Authors Note: The aforementioned Serra would in 1964, found the oldest and now second largest, LGBT charitable organization, the Imperial Court System.


2327 Fargo Street
Julian Eltinge was a vaudeville star and female impersonator, who unlike his contemporaries, did not do caricatures of women but offered audiences the illusion of actually being a woman. So successful was he, in fact, that he had a theatre named for him, The Eltinge, which still stands in New York, thought not at its original location, having been lifted and moved in its entirety down the block.

Villa Capistrano, Eltinge’s lavish and opulent Spanish-Moorish home in Los Angeles, with its sunken garden was built by noted architects Pierpont and Walter S. Davis and still stands, sans the garden.

532 South Olive Street
Once called "The Run," Pershing Square was a group of gay-friendly establishments and cruising spots in Downtown Los Angeles that flourished from the 1920s through the 1960s. It was an early place where people could meet and socialize and included the Central Library, the Subway Terminal Building’s bathrooms and the bar at the Biltmore Hotel. Incidentally, the Biltmore was the site of the 1971 International Psychologists & Psychiatrists Conference, at which the organization was going
to declare electroshock therapy as the "cure" for homosexuality. The Gay Liberation Front "disrupted" the meeting, forcing a dialogue and leading to the eventual removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

2328 Cove Avenue
One of the three homes in Los Angeles with LGBT historic designation potential, the Harry Hay House at, is for many, the birthplace of the LGBT movement.

Beginning in 1950, the house and Mr. Hay played host to the first meetings of "Bachelor’s Anonymous," later known as the Mattachine Society, the earliest known homophile organization.

6205 Miles Avenue
According to the L.A. Pride website, Christopher Street West (the organization that produced the first pride parade) was founded in May of 1970 at Perry’s home in Huntington Park and is rumored to be the site of his first official same-sex marriage. Perry was arrested in a 1968 LAPD police raid and subsequent protests at The Patch, a gay bar in Wilmington, which is gone now, but predates Stonewall.

A Pentecostal minister at the time, the event inspired him to create "a church for all of us who are outcasts." That organiza- tion is the Metropolitan Community Church and today ministers to upwards of 43,000 members.

3909 Sunset Boulevard
One of Los Angeles’ historic-cultural monuments, the Black Cat Tavern in Silverlake, opened in 1966 and was the site of a brutal police raid New Year’s Eve
1967 (again significantly predating Stonewall). The full-blown riot flowed out of the bars and spread to adjacent saloons, resulting in brutal police beatings and more than a dozen arrests. The property is now home to its bar/restaurant namesake, The Black Cat.

4730 Crystal Springs Drive
The picnic grounds at Griffith Park was the site of the first Gay-Ins starting in 1968. A flyer for what claims to be the first says it would be "both fun and educational," beginning with a primer on police harassment and ending with a bar crawl.

909 West Adams
Jim Kepner, Harry Hay and several members of the 1950s Mattachine Society, the early "homophile" organization, founded ONE, Inc. in 1952, which began publishing ONE Magazine in 1953, the first wide-distribution magazine for gay people. Kepner amassed what would become the beginnings of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, now housed permanently, courtesy of University of Southern California.

The archives would become part of the world’s largest research library whose sole purpose is to honor and preserve LGBT history. Though technically not a historic site, the museum is a"time capsule" for years of queer achievements.


2250 B Street
Back in 1971, the LGBT movement was just begin- ning to make ground in San Diego. Jess Jessop, Bernie Michaels and Fred Scholl (among others) were co-founders of the first Gay Center, opening in 1973 and located in downtown. Considered to be second oldest and third largest LGBT Commu- nity Center in the U.S., it is now housed proudly
in the heart of Hillcrest. The original building still stands proudly as one of San Diego’s LGBT firsts.


Though the property that housed the original Brass Rail is long gone, its place in San Diego’s LGBT history is a storied one. Originally opened in the Orpheum Theatre Building at 6th and B in the ’30s, it was known early on as the city’s most gay-friendly bar. Owner Lou Arkos, an avowed heterosexual, later purchased the property and continued to openly serve homosexuals. The bar remained downtown until 1963, when Arkos moved it to Hillcrest’s first location and then crossing the street into its current home in 1973.

Many organizations such as the Lambda Archives in San Diego, One Archives in Los Angeles, GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco and many others across the nation are actively archiving our achievements -- there is even a push to build a LGBT National History Museum in Washington, D.C. A history worth saving, don’t you think?

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