Archive for the ‘California’ Category

For those readers who live in California … or maybe make a yearly trek to San Francisco … or  just love queer historic sites — there’s a new Facebook page you should definitely check out. It’s called Preserving LGBT Historic Sites in California, and it’s an online archive created by a group of preservationists, dedicated to documenting and preserving the sites of significance to queer history in the Golden State. Meeting places, homes, gay rights landmarks, bars, hangouts — you name it, you’ll find information on it there. So drop in and “Like” this great new resource!


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Me (left) and Katie

In looking through some old photos, I found one of me and my partner Katie in 1992, when we were newly a couple and took our first trip together, to visit friends in L.A. Apparently, I was crazy for queer sites even then, as my friend snapped a shot of us paying homage to the cement hand- and footprints of Joan Crawford in the famous forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Click here for a guide to other stars’ signatures at Grauman’s.

I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman – a lot in every man.”

-Joan Crawford

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San Francisco, Calif.

City Lights Books

261 Columbia Avenue

The legendary City Lights Books in San Francisco, which was founded in 1953 and remains a literary landmark, has just been named bookseller of the year by trade magazine Publishers Weekly. City Lights was an informal center for the Beat poets in the 1950s.

City Lights’ publishing arm was founded in 1955 and has a distinguished history of publishing cutting-edge and queer work. In the most famous example, the co-founder of the bookstore/publisher, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was present at Allen Ginsberg’s first reading of “Howl” in 1956, and asked if he could publish the poem. The following year, after copies of Howl were seized by customs officials, Ferlinghetti was arrested for publishing and selling the book, which was deemed “obscene.” In his subsequent trial, the ACLU defended Ferlinghetti, and the judge ruled that Ginsberg’s work was not obscene. “‘Howl’ knocked the sides out of things,” Ferlinghetti later said. Kudos to City Lights for its long history of championing queer voices.

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Harry Hay

Los Angeles, Calif.

Harry Hay home/Mattachine Society

2328 Cove Avenue

This split-level house located in a cul-de-sac in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles was home to Harry Hay (1912-2002) and his wife, Anita, beginning in 1943. The living room boasted a grand piano and a view of the lake that was the Hays’ “pride and joy.” In those days, Hay was a member of both the Communist Party and the folk music movement, and his home was the site of numerous meetings and soirees.

But even while married, Hay began acting on his same-sex desires, becoming lovers in 1950 with Rudi Gernreich, future designer of the topless swimsuit for women. Because Hay had a wife and Gernreich lived with his mother, the lovers met clandestinely at the home of a friend at 313 Alta Vista Drive in Hollywood to be together. Hay later said that he and Gernreich formed a “society of two” that became the Mattachine Society.

It was at this Cover Avenue residence that Hay, Gernreich, and two of their friends, Chuck Rowland and Bob Hull, began meeting every week to discuss homosexuality and homosexual disenfranchisement. Hay discovered the name “Mattachine” in his research into folk songs. The Mattachines had been all-male troupes of jesters during the Middle Ages in western Europe, who boldly dressed as women and performed songs and dances throughout the countryside for the poor and oppressed.

The Mattachine meetings of the early 1950s were always secret. If a guest was invited, he would meet a member in public and be driven around to disorient him before being taken to Hay’s home. Eventually, as the group grew in size, public meeting sites were chosen. In 1953, a Mattachine convention at the First Universalist Church at Ninth and Crenshaw, a rift in the membership forced out Hay and other founders and brought in a more conservative leadership. The group became less political and eventually disbanded in L.A., resurfacing in a new form a few years later in San Francisco. Other Mattachine Societies sprouted up in cities across the country.

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What a Babe

San Francisco, Calif.

Babe Bean birthplace

806 Green Street

Babe Bean, a cross-dressing woman who lived on a houseboat in a lake near Stockton, was born Elvira Virginia Mugarrieta in 1869 at this address in Russian Hill. Bean’s father was the former Mexican consul to San Francisco, while her/his mother was the daughter of a former U.S. Congressman and Louisiana Supreme Court Justice.

Bean came to fame in the fall of 1897, when detained by police in Stockton for wearing men’s clothing. The Stockton newspaper published Bean’s picture in a man’s tie and hat, along with a series of sensational stories in which Bean was referred to “the mysterious girl-boy man-woman.”

After a brief stint as a newspaper reporter in Stockton, Bean enlisted in the army during the Spanish-American War and served in the Philippines. Later, Bean moved to San Francisco and served for three decades as a caretaker of poor and homeless men, until her/his death in 1936. Other names that Bean went by included Jack Bee Garland, Beebe Beam, and Jack Beam.

Although beginning in the late 1970s the lesbian community claimed Bean as a butch lesbian, according to community historian Liz Highleyman, Bean does not appear to have shown any romantic interest in women. In 1990, transman Lou Sullivan wrote a biography of Bean in which he speculated that he was a fellow transman with a sexual affinity for gay men. But the evidence remains murky. “From today’s vantage point,” wrote Highleyman, “it is impossible to know how Garland—who sometimes seemed to straddle the genders purposefully—would have identified.”

As a man, I can travel freely, feel protected and find work.”

–Babe Bean

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Los Angeles, Calif.

Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way

The Los Angeles Times carried an interesting story about queers in the Old West this week. It seems there’s a new series on the history of homosexuals and transgendered people at L.A.’s Autry National Center of the American West. The shirts worn by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain have been on exhibit at the Autry since July of this year (see above), but this is a broader exhibit, a milestone in the presentation and recognition of queer history – it’s the first exhibit of its kind at a western heritage museum.

Here’s the complete story from the LA Times. And just to remind you, I had already written about Charley/Charlotte Parkhurst on this blog, so take a look at that if you missed it the first time around.

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Ladies’ Man


Los Angeles, Calif.

Cary Grant/Randolph Scott home
2177 West Live Oak Drive (private)

Though he married women five times, movie star Cary Grant (1904-1986) enjoyed several gay relationships during his early career in New York and Hollywood. His most famous same-sex romance was with fellow actor Randolph Scott (1898-1987), the rugged star of numerous westerns. Grant and Scott met at Paramount Studios in 1932 and were immediately attracted to each other. Soon after, they moved in together, sharing this house near Griffith Park. The move was disguised by studio P.R. agents as a way for two young actors to “cut costs” and share expenses, even though both made ample salaries and could afford their own homes. Even after Grant’s marriage to Virginia Cherrill, the two men continued co-habiting; Cherrill simply moved into the house with them.

Between liaisons with other men and women, Grant and Scott’s relationship persisted, well known to their colleagues in the industry. (If for some reason you’ve never seen it, don’t miss the two as co-stars in the outrageous My Favorite Wife.) In the late 1930s, Grant and Scott occupied a Santa Monica beach house at 1019 Ocean Front (now 1039). In fan magazines, they were  photographed together in domestic bliss, wearing aprons and cavorting poolside or on the patio. According to Grant’s biographer, they believed their public flamboyance would raise them above suspicion of homosexuality. They must have been right, because Grant enjoyed a screen career as a suave ladies’ man for the next three decades.

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Los Angeles, Calif.

Dorothy Arzner/Marion Morgan home
2249 Mountain Oak Drive

While doing research for a study of film director Dorothy Arzner (ca. 1900-1979), professor Judith Mayne discovered boxes of material relating to Arzner in the UCLA research collection. Inside one box was a photograph of the atrium of Arzner’s opulent home in the Hollywood Hills, with an annotation in the director’s own writing: “Home of Marion Morgan and Dorothy Arzner/1930-1951.” “That moment of discovery was thrilling,” Maybe later wrote in Directed by Dorothy Arzner, “for here was evidence of a home and a life shared by two women.”

Starting as a script typist and working her way up to film editor on such silent movies as Blood and Sand, Arzner progressed to directing in 1927. With credits including The Wild Party, Working Girls, Christopher Strong, Dance, Girl, Dance, and The Bride Wore Red, the butchy Arzner was the only successful female director in Hollywood during its golden age.


It was on the set of her first movie, Fashions for Women, that Arzner met Marion Morgan, a vaudeville dancer with her own performance troupe and a busy career choreographing movie dance sequences. After working together on several movies, the two women set up their home together in 1930, and they remained devoted to each other until Morgan’s death 40 years later.

Also in the boxes Mayne discovered were numerous snapshots of Arzner and Morgan entertaining guests (among them, Marlene Dietrich) at their elegant home. The photos of the house’s lush atrium suggest a love of natural light and greenery. After Arzner’s retirement from directing in 1951, they moved to a new home in La Quinta, a community in the Southern California desert. There Arzner was an avid gardener whose correspondence made frequent and proud mention of her roses. But even in her retirement, Arzner continued to keep a hand in the industry, teaching at UCLA’s film school, producing plays, and directing Pepsi Cola commercials for Joan Crawford.

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Los Angeles, Calif.

Gay Community Services Center
1614 Wilshire Boulevard

With news that the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, Calif., which was founded in 1981, may be forced to close its doors unless it can raise $50,000 by September, I decided this was an apt time to start a series of blog entries on LGBT community centers around the country and why they are so important to our people. Thanks to Richard Burns (former ED of the NYC LGBT Community Services Center) for the idea, and Terry Stone of CenterLink for sending me some terrific photos of centers, which you’ll see in upcoming posts.

The gay community center movement got its start just a couple of years after the Stonewall Riots. As noted by CenterLink, the national association of LGBT centers, the idea was “revolutionary”: “that lesbian and gay people deserve to live open, fulfilling and honest lives free of discrimination and bigotry, with access to culturally appropriate social services, as equal partners in the cultural and civic life of the community.” Prior to the founding of centers, many gay people had no organized meeting places in which to find support, friendship, lovers, and services, other than bars and ad-hoc meeting spots, like the early gay bookstores. Now, many LGBT people will tell you how local community centers saved their lives.

The Los Angeles, Calif., and Albany, N.Y., LGBT centers both claim the distinction of being the first in the country. Since the founding of those two organizations in 1971, the community center movement has grown exponentially, with 181 now listed in the CenterLink directory.

This address on Wilshire Boulevard was the first location of what was then called the L.A. Gay Community Services Center (they added “lesbian” nine years later, and dropped the word “Services” along the way). The physical space changed locations several times over the next three decades; its main building is now at 1625 North Shrader Boulevard (there are four additional buildings). From humble origins, the L.A. center grew to be the largest in the country, with a $43 million budget, serving a quarter of a million people annually. The center provides mental health services, legal help, a cyber center, recovery services, youth programs, an HIV/AIDS clinic, a lesbian health clinic, senior services, and much more.

(Next in the series: the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Albany, N.Y.)

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The Real Barbary Lane


San Francisco, Calif.

Macondray Lane

Macondray Lane is best known as the inspiration for Barbary Lane, the fictional Russian Hill street of Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the City series. In 1976, Maupin’s story began as a daily serial in the San Francisco Chronicle, relating the adventures of an eclectic group of residents at 28 Barbary Lane. When it was published as a book in 1978, Tales was an immediate best-seller. Maupin followed a community of friends and lovers, straight and gay, through six volumes, ending with Sure of You in 1989. His chronicle of Barbary Lane proved a keenly observant satire of the ’70s and ’80s, and was an early chronicler of the AIDS epidemic in fiction. In 2008, he revisited the characters in a new novel, Michael Tolliver Lives.

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