The sun is shining in San Francisco as I head off to explore one of the city’s most famous areas, the Castro. Known as one of the world’s gay mecca’s the Castro has a lot more to offer than just nightclubbing, bars and sex shops, there’s some beautifully restored Victorian architecture, some interesting shops and a whole lot of history.
Leaving the MUNI station I exit into Harvey Milk Plaza and see the enormous rainbow flag towering above me.
Harvey Milk was America’s first openly gay elected official who won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He served just under 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. On November 27th, 1978, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor.
The Most Holy Redeemer Church sits on the corner of Diamond Street and 18th Street and is known locally as “the gayest church west of the Vatican”. The church was built in 1901 at a time when the area’s local blue collar population began moving to other newer parts of the city. The Catholic church was not particularly welcoming to the increasing gay population until, that is, the arrival of Father Tony McGuire in the early 80’s. He preached tolerance and transformed his parish.
On 18th Street, particularly those houses with numbers in the 4330’s date back to the 1880’s and are built in the Edwardian and Italianate styles. The two I’m looking for at 4425 and 4427 are Queen Anne cottages that have been beautifully restored.
Clarke’s Mansion is a grand Queen Anne house that was built in 1882 and originally sat on 17 acres of land. Alfred Clarke, who built the house, was a lawyer, the story goes that his wife allegedly refused to live in the house as she thought it was too ostentatious. The house with it’s cupola and turrets is now 11 apartments.
One of the local elementary schools in the area is the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and outside on the front is a glass mosaic which was created by the students and honours science, technology, civil rights, arts and literature.
On Castro at number 575 is where Harvey Milk opened his shop Castro Camera in the early 70’s, he also lived above the shop with his then partner. The camera shop became the headquarters for his gay rights campaigning. Painted above the shop front is a picture of Harvey Milk with his motto “You gotta give ’em hope!”.
The GLBT History Museum is at 4127 18th Street and houses an interesting collection of photo’s, film footage and other artefacts about Harvey Milk and his assassination. It also covers other subjects relating to San Francisco’s gay history.
One of the Castro’s most long standing stores is Cliff’s Variety, a neighbourhood institution that stocks everything from boas, feathers and sequins to paint, doorknobs and kettles.
Just a little further up from Cliff’s is the famous Castro Theater. Built in 1922 in the Spanish baroque style it still screens films. You can expect to see old classics, art house, indie or some foreign titles as well as a few sing-along features. Screenings are often preceded by an organist playing the theatre’s Wurlitzer.
To finish off my Castro stroll I head back up to Jane Warner Plaza, named after a locally loved police woman, “Officer Jane”, who passed away after a long illness.
It’s also the last stop for the F Line trams before they turn around and head back along Market Street and the main shopping area which is where I’m heading now.