Monday, July 06, 2009


Gay Plaques of the Castro:

A Photo Essay

In the days leading up to Gay Pride, my friend Rick Gerharter, veteran photographer and community historian, and I were medicating on 420 and he asked me how many gay plaques or commemorations existed in our little gay district, the Castro. My mind was foggy and together we compiled a list of such places.

Rick inspired me to snap pics of all the commemorations, and with the help of my partner Mike Merrigan, who took the photos of the Mark Bingham plaques, we created this photo essay. I believe my montage is the most comprehensive pictorial of gay-related plaques in the Castro village.

Let's begin our tour with the highest elevated plaque, in the Pink Triangle Park, literally above the Castro on the high parcel of land between Market and 17 Streets heading up to Twin Peaks.

At the entrance to the triangular-shaped park is this plaque, with a photo of German homosexuals lining up in a concentration camp as a Nazi guard inspects them. The plaque describes the history of the pink triangle and the creation of the park. Notice that former Mayor Willie Brown's name appears in the middle, and in type almost as large as the plaque's title.


A walkway divides the pillars with pink triangles on top.


A prominent section of Harvey Milk Plaza is dedicated to celebrating his life and times.


There's a wonderful photo spread on the metal fence protecting the plaza's lower-level garden.


And this Milk plaque is near the subway entrance, and gives a basic introduction to his life.


This plaque honoring political animal Carole Migden is on the brick wall to the left of the fence with the Milk photos, and is high up and obscured by a thick row of bamboo plants. To view and read it, one has stand on the bent metal bench in front of the bamboo.


On the top level of the plaza is this plaque at the base of the enormous pole and rainbow flag, central to plaza's design. The plaque notes the history of the rainbow flag's creation by Gilbert Baker, and a lot of space is given to elected officials in office in the late 1990s when the pole and plaque erected. In the middle of the sign are the politicians' names, next to the title of the office they held.


At the Eureka Valley Recreation Center on Collingwood Street, a plaque hangs in the lobby near the gymnasium, honoring Mark Bingham, who was killed on 9/11 on United flight 93 when it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.


Over the entrance to the gymnasium is this plaque.


Near the steps leading up to the Rikki Streicher Field on the recreation center's property, is a plaque commemorating the life of a legendary lesbian leader active in sports and gay politics, and owner of lesbian bars. She died in 1994.


On the fence bordering the steps up to the field is where you'll find this sign.


The cement wall under that green sign has this plaque in memory of Sean P. Garvey. I don't know who he was, or if he was gay, and I hope someone who did know him or why a plaque was created for him at the recreation center, can enlighten me to his life and contributions to the neighborhood.


On 19th and Collingwood Streets is the neighborhood's public grammar school, named in honor of Milk.


To the left of the academy's entrance are a number of mosaics, including one of Milk in his big moustache/long hair phase.


Near the curb in front of what was Milk's camera store on Castro Street, is this small almost-impossible to read plaque. One has to really be looking to notice it.


Above the entrance to the former camera store is a beautiful painting of Milk, looking down on his beloved Castro village. Unfortunately, the ego of Willie Brown mars the image. Notice that under the name of the artist who created it, Josef Norris, sponsorship credit is given to the former mayor.


Friends of gay military vet Leonard Matlovich created this fine plaque for him and it's on display on the 18th Street side of the large green apartment building at Castro and 18th Streets.


This sign marks the very small part of 16th Street, almost at Market Street, in front of the Eureka Valley public library, for drag performer and political activist Jose Sarria. Most people know him by his nom de drag - the Widow Norton - the surviving spouse of Emperor Norton, who in the 1860s proclaimed he was the ruler of America.


At the base of the street sign is a plaque featuring Widow Norton in drag, and details about her life and advocacy.


A plaque almost at sidewalk level on the entrance to Catch restaurant on Market Street, several feet under the menu display, marks the venue as the original site of the AIDS quilt workshop and storage space.


In Duboce Park is where you'll find the newly remodeled neighborhood arts and crafts center named for Milk.


Near the second floor entrance of the center is a colorful display of Milk photos.


I hope you like the photos and my effort to capture on film all of the plaques and commemorations in the Castro. Let me know if I missed any plaque(s) that should be included here.

8 comments:

Mary said...

Harvey would be very happy!

Anonymous said...

Excellent work, thanks so much for the leg work, I was not aware of several of them,

Michael said...

hey mary, i totally agree with you.

and anonymous, you're welcome. i had a great time checking out all the plaques and things.

the biggest shocker was seeing a plaque to the awful carole migden. none of my pals knew she was so honored with a plaque at milk plaza. her ego knows no bounds.

really hoping to hear from folks about any other plaques in the castro.

Wondermachine said...

This is a fantastic tour of these sites. Thank you so much for gathering them together.
I live in DC now, but a number of years ago, fresh out of the closet, I took a trip to San Francisco and was extremely upset that there was no information about Milk. This would've been 15 years ago now. I was shattered. I couldn't believe it and it left an intense bad taste in my mouth about San Francisco and the Castro -- that if our neighborhoods couldn't record and commemorate our history, who would?
I saw the Milk photo memorial a few years ago when in town for the Harry Hay memorial. So great to know about the others.
Thanks Michael.

Wondermachine said...

Thank you so much for posting this photographic tour Michael.
I'm surprised no one has done it before. I wish there were a brochure for visitors to your fair city.
Many many years ago (15?) I visited the Castro and was saddened that there was no testament to Milk -- certainly none that anyone could point me to ("That restaurant's name after him." they'd tell me). It left a very bad taste in my mouth for the Castro. I thought if our own neighborhoods couldn't record and commemorate our history what chance did we have to transmit our culture to those who came after us? I did get a chance to visit the Milk Photo essay memorial a few years back when I was in town for Harry Hay's memorial. A completely different experience to see that there.
Anyway, thanks for your work. I love you blog.

Anonymous said...

Sean Garvey grew up across the street from Eureka Valley Park, went to school at Most Holy Redeemer and Sacred Heart High School. He died suddenly at the age of 15 or 16. Sean was a great kid and a friend.

Anonymous said...

I went to a rival school in SF and knew Sean a little bit through mutual friends at SH. He was well-liked and it was tragic at the time for everyone when we heard of his passing. I hadn't thought about him for nearly 30 years. Thanks for posting the memorial plaque.

Anonymous said...

I attended a rival school in SF and knew Sean through mutual friends at SH. Sean was well-liked and we all felt horrible after learning of his tragic passing. Thanks for posting a photo of his memorial plaque. It has brought back memories of nearly 30 ago.