Archive for the ‘California’ Category


San Francisco, Calif.

California Hall
625 Polk Street

You’ve probably been reading about the police raid on a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas, just last month – an unusual and shocking event these dayss. In the 1960s, however, police harassment of gay people was de rigueur. Take the New Year’s Ball of 1965, held at this San Francisco site on January 1. The ball was a “respectable” event, organized by six homophile organizations to raise money for the newly formed Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which was designed to open communication between the established church and the city’s gay community. Though council members met with police in advance to ensure a smooth-running event without incident, the police didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. (Surprise!) As intimidation, they took photographs of each person entering the fundraiser and parked patrol wagons outside the hall. Several attorneys were arrested for arguing with a policeman at the entrance.

Despite the deliberate police harassment, 500 people, gay and straight, lay and clergy, attended the ball. Outrage against police interference ran high after the event and led to a greater politicization of the homophile community, which demanded certain changes in police dealings with gays. Concessions ultimately obtained from the city included having a police liaison to the gay community, a hotline for minority groups against police brutality, and a National Sex Forum to educate officials and police about human sexuality.


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Santa Monica, Calif.

Greta Garbo/Mercedes de Acosta meeting place
165 Mabery Road

In 1931, the young Swedish film sensation Greta Garbo met and fell for Mercedes de Acosta, a dramatic-looking writer with pale skin and raven black hair who habitually sported white flannel trousers, silk shirts, berets, and boyish haircuts. Both women had been invited to tea at this address on Mabery Road, which was the home of their mutual friend Salka Viertel. A playwright and stage manager for Eva LeGallienne (who was also her lover), de Acosta had come to Hollywood from New York two years earlier to write a treatment for actress Pola Negri.

After de Acosta and Garbo met, the proverbial sparks flew, and they spent six weeks sequestered at Silver Lake, swimming naked and walking in the mountains. There they “honeymooned” on an island in the middle of the lake, in a small log cabin that belonged to actor Wallace Beery.

Garbo later credited de Acosta with giving her the foundation on which she based the wonderfully androgynous character Queen Christina. While lovers with de Acosta, Garbo began her habit of wearing trousers in public. The two women would stroll boldly along Hollywood Boulevard in similar attire, flaunting their relationship. The same year they met, the lovers moved to adjoining homes on North Rockingham Road in Brentwood. Over the years, their relationship ran hot and cold, each taking numerous lovers. In 1960 came the final split, though, when Garbo – the queen of privacy – became upset by the publication of de Acosta’s tell-all memoir, Here Lies the Heart.

She used to climb ahead of me, and with her hair blown back, her face turned to the wind and sun, she would leap from rock to rock on her bare Hellenic feet…looking like some radiant, elemental, glorious god and goddess melted into one.

–Mercedes de Acosta, writing about her 1931 “honeymoon” with Garbo

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De Force

Lodi, Calif.

De Force Avenue

This street is named for Laura de Force Gordon (1839-1907), a suffragist with a laudable string of accomplishments to her name, who owned a farmed just outside of Lodi. Originally from northwestern Pennsylvania, she was once married (hence the “Gordon” part of her name), but the union ended in divorce.

A Stockton newspaper owner, one of the first two women admitted to the state bar, a women’s rights litigator, and a stunning orator sometimes called the “Daniel Webster of Suffrage,” she was also a woman-loving woman. When a 100-year-old time capsule was unearthed and opened in San Francisco in 1979, a pamphlet written by Gordon on California geysers was found inside. On the flyleaf, she had written: “If this little book should see the light after its 100 years of entombment, I would like its readers to know that the author was a lover of her own sex and devoted the best years of her life in striving for the political equality and social and moral elevation of women.”

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San Francisco, Calif.

Daughters of Bilitis / The Ladder
693 Mission Street

Started in 1955 as a social group providing an alternative to the bars, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first U.S. lesbian organization, expanded rapidly into a lesbian rights organization. The name “Bilitis” was taken from a poem by Pierre Louys about a lesbian of the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s time.

Launched in 1956, DOB’s magazine, The Ladder, started with a post office box number but by its fourth issue was listed at this Mission Street address. Its masthead listed Phyllis Lyon as editor and Del Martin as assistant editor. Lyon and Martin were a couple, and remained so until Martin’s death in 2008. They were the first couple to be legally married in San Francisco after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Early issues of The Ladder contained articles such as “A Citizen’s Rights in Case of Arrest” and the regular column “Lesbiana,” which briefly reviewed books of interest. The magazine’s subscription coupon specified that is cost “$2.50 a year, mailed in a plain, sealed envelope.” The Ladder also included a monthly calendar of DOB events.

The Ladder remained at this location until 1958, when DOB membership and magazine subscribers had grown so much that the group found new, roomier quarters on O’Farrell Street. (Did they know that Alice B. Toklas, lover of Gertrude Stein, had once lived on O’Farrell Street?) The magazine remained in publication until 1972.

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San Francisco, Calif.

Harvey Milk home and Castro Camera
573-575 Castro Street

While we’re on the topic of walking tours…

Cruisin’ the Castro is a popular walking tour of the oh-so-gay Castro district of San Francisco, led by community historian Trevor Howard. The tour includes stops at many sites associated with Harvey Milk (1930-1978), the most famous openly gay politician of our time. Reservations can be made by calling 415-550-8110.

Originally from Brooklyn, Milk moved to San Francisco in 1968, where he worked as a financial analyst and eventually owned a camera shop in the Castro district. This Victorian storefront was the site of Castro Camera, which Milk opened with his lover, Scott Smith, in 1972 and operated for four years. The couple didn’t care that they knew little about cameras – Milk wanted to own a real neighborhood store, like his family back in Brooklyn had. The roomy store had a hand-painted shingle on the door that read “Yes, We Are Very Open.” Harvey and Scott lived upstairs.


As Milk became increasingly active in local politics, Castro Camera functioned as an ad hoc community center and Milk was the “unofficial mayor of Castro Street.” Signs in the store’s large picture windows advertised demonstrations, protests, and neighborhood meetings; camera and film sales became secondary to politics (the store’s sorry financial picture led the couple to close it in 1976). At night, Milk transferred the addresses from every check written to the store into his own political mailing list.

Milk became involved in organizing gay voter registration drives, helping to establish the first Castro Street Fair, speaking out against Anita Bryant’s antigay campaign, and working against the Briggs initiative, a proposal to bar lesbians and gay men from teaching in California public schools. During the mid-1970s, he made several bids for public office, all of which were unsuccessful. His goal, he once told a friend, was to be mayor of San Francisco.

Then the election of the liberal, gay-supportive mayor George Moscone in 1975 paved the way for Milk’s election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, making Milk the first openly gay elected official in the city’s history. Sadly, both he and Moscone were gunned down by the radically conservative supervisor, Dan White, the following year. White’s lawyer pleaded the infamous “Twinkie defense” – that eating too much junk food had diminished White’s ability to reason. White went to jail anyway, but on the charge of manslaughter rather than murder one. After he was released in 1985, he committed suicide.

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I received this press release today, so I’m excerpting it here – those of you living in Southern California, or visiting the area, will be interested, I’m sure:

Frontiers Magazine, Southern California’s oldest and largest gay magazine, will be launching a series of audio walking tours on the gay & lesbian history of Los Angeles beginning March 28 and available online through the magazine’s website or iTunes. Frontiers readers will be able to download the tours onto their portable media devices and explore the hidden and mysterious history of gay life in downtown Los Angeles, as well as Silver Lake and West Hollywood.

Frontiers partnered with Stuart Timmons, a Lambda Literary Award nominee and co-author of the first comprehensive history book on Los Angeles gay life, Gay L.A., to produce the series. Listeners will join Stuart as he shares sordid tales of backroom trysts, cruel oppression, and defiant struggle at the very places these events occurred. An accompanying map and guide will be printed in the magazine, and will also be available online to download.

Arts & Entertainment Editor Japhy Grant explains the program, saying, “We wanted to present the history of gay Los Angeles in a way that would be compelling and fun for our readers. Much of our history has been covered over, both physically and through ignorance and homophobia. L.A. is such a dynamic and transient city that we don’t have a real sense of the past. Through the Frontiers Historywalk program, we’re helping people find a new way to connect to their community on foot and online.”

Frontiers Historywalk is not only the first audio walking tour of gay Los Angeles, but the first professional audio walking tour of gay history anywhere.

Frontiers Historywalk consists of three audio walking tours: Downtown, Silver Lake and West Hollywood. This progression matches that of the gay community in Los Angeles.

The release dates of each tour are as follows:

Frontiers Historywalk- Downtown – March 28
Frontiers Historywalk- Silver Lake – April 11
Frontiers Historywalk- West
Hollywood – April 25

Each tour will be available through the website at tours.frontierspublishing.com, as well as on iTunes. They will be available in a variety of formats, including a format that will display photos of the sites as the tour is playing (requires video iPod).


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San Francisco, Calif.

Black Cat Cafe
710 Montgomery Street

Like many early gay bars, the famous Black Cat didn’t start out that way. Just a few blocks from the center of North Beach, the Black Cat was first distinguished as a bohemian hang-out (it billed itself as Bohemia of the Barbary Coast) and provided the backdrop for part of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Following World War II, when gay men and lesbians swarmed San Francisco after service in the Pacific, the Black Cat assumed a “gayer” personality. The poet Allen Ginsburg, who knew it in the ’50s, described it as an enormous bar with a honky-tonk piano that “everyone” went to: “All the gay screaming queens would come, the heterosexual gray flannel suit types, longshoremen. All the poets went there.”

At a time when homophile organizations like the Mattachine Society were largely conciliatory to the police and to city officials, the Black Cat was noteworthy as a site of resistance. Its owner, Sol Stoumen, refused to pay off the police for protection against harassment, and his bar was routinely raided and fined from the 1940s through the early 1960s. During the 1950s, the Black Cat’s flamboyant drag performer, Jose Sarria, sang campy parodies of torch songs, giving them political twists, and finished each set by leading the bar’s patrons in his rendition of “God Save Us Nelly Queens,” even when members of the vice squad were present. His brand of activist theater made him extremely popular among gays, and in 1961 Sarria decided to campaign for city supervisor, knowing that he had no chance of winning. Though he received only a few thousand votes, Sarria said later that his intention had been to show his peers that a gay man had the right to run, whether he won or lost.

The Black Cat was closed in 1963. Said the attorney for the club, “That place is like an institution. This is like closing the cable cars or the Golden Gate Bridge.” There is now an upscale tapas and wine bar called Bocadillos on the site.

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Los Angeles, Calif.

Rock Hudson home – “The Castle”
9402 Beverly Crest Drive (private)

Situated on a ridge overlooking Beverly Hills, “The Castle” was home to actor Rock Hudson (1925-1985) from 1962 until his death. At the height of his career, Universal Studios purchased it for him as part of his contract renewal. Made of Spanish-style stucco with a red tile roof, the house was protected by a massive gate in the front and high cliffs on three sides, which ensured the closeted actor’s privacy. Oddly, though, the gate to the house and the front door were never locked. A friend explained, “He liked the excitement of the unknown.”

In his authorized biography, Hudson gave a detailed description of the house he loved and spent 23 years meticulously restoring. The interior included two living rooms, a steam room and gym, a theater with stage and footlights, and four fireplaces. Hudson liked to name the rooms of the house, and he christened his bedroom “the blue room” because it was carpeted in a rich royal blue. His bed was an immense wooden fourposter carved with a nude male figure. One of his favorite spots was the “playroom,” or theater, which had originally been a garage. It housed a vast collection of films and all the best in projection equipment. A collection of rare records filled one wall. On the wooden stage, he rehearsed upcoming roles.

The Castle was decorated in what one of Hudson‘s friends termed “early butch” – dark wood, pewter candlesticks, zebra skins, and an assortment of wrought iron. On the red-tiled patio stood sculptures of naked boys. The patio led to a 40-foot pool with jacuzzi and lion’s head fountain, and a 20-foot barbecue that could cook enough meat to feed a hundred people. Also on the three-and-a-half acres was a greenhouse overflowing with orchids.

For most of his years at The Castle, Hudson lived alone with his female housekeeper and seven dogs. But occasionally, he had a live-in lover. When he did, he was careful to maintain two separate phone lines for “appearances,” and to make sure he was never photographed with the other man.

After his death from complications of AIDS, Hudson‘s memorial service was held at The Castle, attended by several hundred guests who were treated to chili, margaritas, and a mariachi band. If Hudson‘s life in Beverly Hills had screamed ostentation, then so did his death.

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