Are women and lesbians represented enough throughout the Castro’s plaques? Above, the names of Carole Migden and Rikki Streicher are in local public view, but the numbers still favor the men when counting plaques in the Castro. Photo: Michael Petrelis
Lesbians underrepresented in Castro memorials
An informal survey conducted in time for LGBT Pride Month by the Castro Courier of memorial plaques or named public spaces in the Castro business district shows a higher number for gay men than for lesbians or bisexual women.
There are an estimated 26 memorials for gay men versus 11 for queer women, and these numbers include several individuals with two or more memorials.
For example, the trailblazing drag queen and office-seeker Jose Sarria has part of 16th Street named in his honor, and there is also a plaque for him embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Eureka Valley Library, while the late San Francisco police officer Jane Warner enjoys a plaza named for her at Castro and Market streets where a plaque bearing her name is located in a cement planter.
The person with the most memorials is, of course, icon and martyr Harvey Milk. The local branch of the San Francisco Public Library is partially named for him, there’s also the plaza which included a plaque near the Muni station entrance, the Harvey Milk Center for Recreational Arts, the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, a painting of him adorns the facade of the building above his former camera store and a plaque embedded in cement is in front of that location.
Among the Rainbow Honor Walk individuals selected for public recognition dotting the Castro’s sidewalks, a total of 14 diverse queer men are memorialized in bronze. However, for lesbians, the walk salutes only five queer women.
Here is the list of all known lesbian-related memorials in the gayborhood. Among the Walk’s plaques Jane Addams, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Frida Kahlo, artist and political activist, Del Martin, pioneering feminist organizer, Gertrude Stein, writer and thinker, and Virginia Woolf, novelist and publisher, are all celebrated.
The aforementioned Jane Warner is recognized with the pedestrian plaza. Then there is Rikki Streicher, who was a co-founder of the Gay Games and owned the sorely missed lesbian bars Amelia’s and Maud’s. Streicher is honored with two plaques at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center where a softball field is also named for her.
Politician and lesbian activist Carole Migden is the only living LGBT leader venerated with a plaque that is located high above eye-level on a brick wall in the bowl of Harvey Milk Plaza. Many people are unaware of this plaque. Not one person interviewed one busy evening rush hour could point to the nameplate for Migden.
Included on this list is the bronze marker at the Pink Triangle Park, which prominently mentions lesbians were among the Nazi’s victims.
The Castro Courier asked Melanie Nathan, a member of the San Francisco Pride board of directors, for her thoughts about other lesbians whose life and contributions ought to be remembered:
“I think women have not been honored enough in the Castro with regard to its public memorials. An example is Sally Miller Gearhart, who should be given a plaque in the Castro. She is a famed out lesbian, feminist, activist and scholar who fought alongside Harvey Milk to help defeat Proposition 6, known as the ‘Briggs Initiative’ which sought to ban homosexuals from academic and teaching positions, playing on the myth and fear that homosexuals were out to recruit and hurt children.
“Teaching at San Francisco State University, Sally was the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the United States, and together with Harvey, [she] co-chaired the United Fund Against The Briggs initiative, a rainbow coalition of minorities, feminists and gays that succeeded in defeating the ballot prop,” said Nathan, speaking for herself and not on behalf of SF Pride.
The out lesbian executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, Andrea Aiello, echoed the sentiments of Nathan.
“Lesbians sure could use more visibility with increased visual and public recognition of their crucial roles in advancing equality for everyone in the LGBT community,” Aiello told the Castro Courier. She said Gearhart is alive and living in retirement in Northern California.
Emails to Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society were not returned before press time.
Sausage Factory in danger of closing, community in uproar
The Sausage Factory was founded in 1968. A recent ad promised that the ground floor of the building where the restaurant is located could be delivered vacant.
The Sausage Factory is a Castro classic — and one that is not immune to the dangers of the current real estate climate.
Aside from overwhelmingly positive reviews from local citizens and out-of-towners on Yelp, legions of stories from happy customers on Facebook threads, and mentions in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, a recent real estate ad mentioned that the building was for sale (for an asking price just shy of $5 million), promising that the restaurant space on the ground floor “could be delivered vacant.”
The Sausage Factory was founded in 1968 and has been run by the same family for 45 years. While the name seems cheeky now, it was in fact named for a real factory that existed on the premises until the 1940s.
During the 60s, however, the neighborhood received a change in tone, bringing it from a working class Scandinavian, Italian, and Irish immigrant neighborhood to the character we know and love it for today.
The Azzolino family, who still operate the restaurant, bought the space in ’72 and quickly adapted to the neighborhood’s queer surroundings. By maintaining some of the interior historical facades, the restaurant space managed to be a relic of both the past and current Castro communities as well as a solid neighborhood option purely for the goods proffered.
“When my food arrives I am not staring at some small portion on some fancy plate,” says local political activist and LGBT community member Jack Song.
Despite running the restaurant in tip-top form, the Azzolino family never registered the business as a legacy business, the local policy that recognizes small, long-running businesses as historic assets. This oversight leaves the business open to interlopers of any kind and no recourse when faced with the building being sold.
The upstairs residential units, also for sale, have been the home of a large group of the Radical Faeries, a long-running queer collective who believe in being LGBT and in expressing it in some sort of spiritual way (although the group refuses to be defined by something even this narrow).
The news from the real estate description has caused quite an uproar both online and off.
Hope for the restaurant still remains. While the building is for sale, the future owners could continue to operate the business either for moneymaking endeavors or for the kindness to the traditions that have started there.
Kindness, however, is not a trait that San Franciscans have come to associate with real estate grubbers and contemporary building buyers. What else can be done?
The current residents hope that they can leverage their community impact and their already cooperative and collective space to potentially save the space as a community land trust, a system that uses city and nonprofit funding to purchase buildings for the tenants themselves.
A thread on the ‘Preserving LGBT Historic Sites in California’ has been going strong since the news was announced last week with local denizens paying their tributes with stories of first dates, first trips to San Francisco, and just good pizza.
These stories, and many others, tell of the integral nature of this restaurant to the community.
“It is a safe place,” Jack Song says. “No bottomless mimosas. No ‘rosay all day’. People can be who they are: family, tourists, drag queens, LGBTs.”
It is up to the community now to find a way to preserve this space for future generations, future celebrations, and future San Franciscans.
Counseling for LGBT Couples in the Castro
Brandan Neff-Hall started the Queer Couples Center to help LGBT couples with their psychological well-being. Photo Tony Taylor
Donna Sachet To Host Signature Pride Brunch at Hotel Whitcomb
How does Donna Sachet do it? She seems to be everywhere, lending her voice and her talents and her charm and her wit to so many of the most worthy causes, fun nights, and grand affairs. During certain times of the year, including of course Pride season, that’s especially true. Her signature Pride event has to be the Annual Pride Brunch that she and Gary Virginia co-founded 19 years ago to support Positive Resource Center, which does such incredibly important work within our community. The 19th Annual Pride Brunch happens at Hotel Whitcomb (1231 Market Street), which is on the very doorstep of the Pride festival in Civic Center on Saturday, June 24th.
SF Pride, Pink Triangle coming into focus
82-Year-Old Section 8 Tenant Faces Eviction:
Landlord Opts out of Housing Contract to Make Way for TIC Sale