Petrelis On the Beat
What’s crossed my screens in recent weeks? These items of interest.
LAST CHAPTER FOR AARDVARK
In our household, my husband Mike Merrigan is the book-lover and I enjoy reading magazines and newspapers, and we’ve been patrons of our cherished Aardvark Books since we first became a couple over two decades ago.
We’re both saddened hearing the news that this Church Street institution, dedicated to publications printed on paper will close in 2018, because the building housing it is being sold. The book store opened it’s doors in 1978.
The asking price for the property is $2.8 million and it wouldn’t surprise me if the building is razed and condos erected on the lot. Seven workers, five full-time and two part-timers, have kept the store operational and we’re going to missing buying our printed reading materials from them.
Aardvark’s proprietor John Hadreas, says he’ll keep the place going until the end of January and that he’s not making a profit anymore. He also confirms that Owen, the beloved tabby pussy cat keeping watch over customers when not nodding off in the window, has a new home and won’t go uncared for or hungry. Well, that’s a bit of good news!
DEAD PALM TREE
Since at least the Frameline festival in late June at the Castro Theater, there’s been an eyesore in front of the Castro Coffee shop. A dead palm tree needs to be removed and a new one planted, services I’ve twice requested from the City via SF311.
I’ve supplied the City with photographic proof of the tree’s demise, but as of late September, it’s still blighting the sidewalk. Here’s hoping by the time you’re reading this October issue of the Castro Courier, a living palm plant is occupying the that piece of the Castro Street’s sidewalk.
In some quarters of Sup. Jeff Sheehy’s District 8, one of his local donors, the gay businessman and property owner Les Natali is derisively known as The Blight King of the Castro because he keeps many of his storefronts empty that sadly diminishes the vitality of the neighborhood.
The Castro Courier last month reported on Sheehy accepting $500 from Natali in June, which sparked my curiosity about what parcels of land and buildings are owned by Natali and any and all Doing Business As licenses (DBAs) he possesses.
A review of public records from the Assessor’s Office at City Hall shows Natali Incorporated owns the parcel of land at 531 Castro, in the heart of the business district, and it includes the addresses 527, 529, 531, 533 and 533A Castro.
The 531 Castro address is where the Patio Cafe space has long been unoccupied and unopened for any business.
That is where Natali has several DBAs and they include the Patio Cafe, the Castro Bar, Bar Castro, Castro Bar and Food, and Hamburger Mary’s Patio Cafe. Despite these DBAs at 531 Castro there are no indications it soon will open for business of any sort.
Additionally, Natali is the owner of apartments at the 527 Castro and 535 Castro locations but I was unable to learn from any City agency how many units are in the buildings and if they are currently occupied.
On another major artery of the neighborhood, under his legal name Leslie Natali, he owns the parcel at 4121 - 18th Street, which encompasses the addresses 4121 through 4131 on 18th Street. He operates the popular Badlands bar within this parcel.
Across the street and under his name, not his corporation, he has the parcel at 4144 - 18th Street and that piece of property comprises buildings from 4144 through 4150 - 18th Street. The Castro Hot Dogs, Lee Loy Cleaners and Zapata’s Mexican Grill, all now closed, used to lease space from Natali in one of the buildings on this lot of land.
At 4146 - 18th Street, Natali’s always crowded watering hole Toad Hall is open for business. A rumor going round the neighborhood is that Natali wanted Zapata’s Mexican Grill shuttered so he can eventually knock down a few walls between this bar and the former food venue to enlarge Toad Hall and attract larger crowds of folks out for a good time.
Only time will tell what his plans are for this now vacant venue. If I’ve missed other properties or businesses owned or operated by Natali, send the information about them to firstname.lastname@example.org for a future update.
Natali’s property portfolio is significant because of its relatively large size and the fact that the parcels and business venues are smack dab in the middle of the busiest area of the Castro, yet it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who is pleased with how he maintains his properties.
It would be of tremendous benefit if Sheehy publicly addressed widespread concerns many have about Natali’s stewardship of his businesses.
ALL WASHED UP
Efforts to save the iconic Little Hollywood Launderette on the outer edge of the Castro, on Market at Laguna, weren’t successful and the owner began removing the washers and dryers a week before officially closing on August 31.
A discretionary review petition was filed with the Planning Commission in the early summer seeking to deny a request to rezone the laundromat’s space as an eatery with a full service kitchen, but the commission didn’t hear the matter until September 7, after the wash-and-dry business folded. Work might begin soon to transform the space making it suitable for a Scandinavian themed restaurant to begin serving food and drinks.
As a longtime patron of Little Hollywood, I wanted it to remain in business or a new owner found to operate a laundromat because one is needed in that location.
Many renters, homeless and semi-housed individuals, condo and home owners and others all were customers. I often did my laundry with a homeless person also using the machines, and saw many people in BMWs or other luxury automobiles drive up and run in with clothes to be professionally washed-and-folded or dry cleaned.
I would have preferred if the Scandinavian restaurateurs took over an existing empty venue, say, at 531 Castro or the old Sparky’s Diner on Church Street near Market Street.
Losing another laundromat negatively impacts the quality of life of the area and we’ll all have to be patient and see if the new eatery is a success.
Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable Halloween!
Michael Petrelis is a longterm AIDS survivor who lives in District 8 and has been happily partnered with Mike Merrigan since 1995. They are renters and actively keep their block free of trash and graffiti.
After 15 years vacant, The Patio is approved to operate a “place of entertainment” after Labor Day. Photo: Tony Taylor
Natali’s Donations & Gilbert Baker’s FBI File
As the summer closes and before we get too far into September, let’s have a peek at what crossed our radar over the past two months while the Castro Courier was on hiatus.
NATALI’S MONEY TRAIL
Following the money can shed much light on who underwrites our elected representatives and how political agendas are created, was as true when Deep Throat posited that advice during the Watergate scandal as it is today.
The San Francisco Ethics Commission at the tail end of June released new information on who’s donating to candidates for races in 2018 and 2019, and of keen interest were the contributions from controversial Castro businessman Les Natali.
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy accepted $500 from Natali for his campaign to retain his District 8 seat and former state Senator Mark Leno received $500 from the Badlands bar owner for his mayoral campaign. Leno also received $16,000 for his state races including his aborted run for Lieutenant Governor since 2002 from Natali.
Another recipient of Natali’s donations is state Senator Scott Wiener who accepted $2,000 for his Democratic County Central Committee run in 2012, $700 for his 2014 supervisorial reelection, and last year took in $8,400 for his senate campaign for a grand total $11,100.
Moderates also cashed Natali’s checks. Former elected official Tom Ammiano accepted $750 when he ran for mayor and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty received $1,000 for his supervisorial reelection and campaign for mayor.
Questions should be raised with the recipients of his largesse as to whether they endorse how Natali manages his extensive real estate holdings in the heart of the neighborhood when they cash his checks.
The Castro Courier will continue to monitor where Natali spends his political dollars as the 2018 and 2019 races unfold.
Speaking of Natali, many Castro residents and visitors were dismayed he was unable to give reasonable and acceptable terms to the longtime owner Jorge Perez of the popular Zapata Mexican Grill on 18th Street, so the restaurant closed in August. The grill operated at this location for over two decades and enjoyed an enormous and loyal customer base.
Perez share his thoughts on his Facebook page the day he shuttered his business: “We are tremendously grateful to our staff, customers and community for supporting us over the years.
The Castro will always be a magical place of rainbows and love to us. Thank you for sharing it with our Zapata family.
An outpouring of support sprang up for Perez and his dedicated staff, while Natali was again criticized for his business practices that many believe contributes to blight in the Castro. He’s kept The Patio restaurant empty for 15 years and his representatives maintain an entertainment permit from The City, approved in July, that will allow Hamburger Mary’s to open a food and “place of entertainment” after Labor Day.
Zapata’s was an institution that made the Castro special and we miss it.
GILBERT BAKER & THE FBI
After flamboyant longtime Castro activist and rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker passed away at the age of 65 in New York in March, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for his FBI file, assuming one existed
It took just over one month to receive a response. A thin 6-page public file. The FBI record on Baker revealed he and another member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marched into the agency’s San Francisco headquarters, in May of 1987, wearing full nun drag, to discuss their plans for Pope John Paul’s upcoming visit later that year
“It should be noted that Mr. Baker was dressed in a black and white nun’s habit, however, the attire included a rhinestone cowl, as well as long red tights and patent leather high heel shoes.
The nun’s habit was slit on the skirt at very strategic locations. Mr. Baker came to the office accompanied by one other person similarly dressed and provided the interviewing Agents with copies of three documents ... [including] a press release proclaiming that the group is peace-loving and non-violent; a press release denouncing the cost and intent of the Papal visit; and a third press release commenting on the civil law suit which currently involves the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.”
Baker is quoted telling the agents that The Sisters are “gay male nuns that are dedicated to promulgate universal joy and expatiate stigmatic guilt.”
No one should be surprised in the least, given Baker’s quite colorful life, that he came to the attention of the FBI during his decades of social justice advocacy and drag performances. As a matter of speculation, we imagine he’d be delighted to know this file exists. And bravo to the agent for taking such campy notes!
Some FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) info you should know. After someone dies, you can request their FBI file as long as you provide the feds with an online or printed obituary or other proof of death and ask for it under the full provisions of the law.
And finally, we incorrectly assumed the FBI also had a file on The Sisters, and not just the local troupe but maybe also containing information at the various outposts across America of the venerable and cherished activists
After filing another FOIA request, the feds quickly responded stating, “We conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA. If you have additional information pertaining to [the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence] that you believe was of investigative interest to the Bureau, please provide us with the details and we will conduct an additional search.”
Seems a bit odd the file on Baker was full of references to the Sisters, yet the FBI says there are no investigative records on the Sisters even though in 1987 there was contact between the government agents and the drag nuns and probably much surveillance of them leading up and during the Pope’s visit.
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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.