Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Castro Street sidewalks history facts proposal released

Photo courtesy of the Castro CBD.

Photo courtesy of the Castro CBD.

A Castro group has released a list of proposed history facts to be etched into the newly expanded sidewalks in the heart of the city’s gay neighborhood.

They trace the area’s start as a settlement for Native Americans in the late 1770s through the arrival of Mexican and European settlers in the 1800s and 1900s. The timeline extends into the 1970s when gay men began arriving in droves to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ends with the marriage equality fight of the last decade.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported in February, the Castro Upper Market Community Benefit District is paying $10,000 to etch 20 historical facts about the neighborhood into the sidewalk at 10 different sites along Castro Street near where new trees will be planted and new street lights will be installed. There will be two facts at each site.

The draft Castro Street history facts are based on historical research led by Nicholas Perry, a planner and urban designer at the San Francisco Planning Department who worked on the sidewalk-widening project for Castro Street between Market and 19th Streets that is now under construction.

A Castro resident, Perry authored two books on the history of his nearby hometown. Sources for factual information were obtained from the San Francisco Public Library’s History Center, the San Francisco Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Library, and digital archives such as the Library of Congress’s Historic Newspapers database.

According to the CBD, the selection of draft facts has been reviewed and edited by neighborhood historians, including individuals from the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, the GLBT Historical Society, the Castro Merchants Association, and the Rainbow Honor Walk.

The CBD released the 20 proposed factoids this morning (Friday, April 4) and is asking the public to attend its April 10 board meeting to hear an informational hearing about the list and to provide feedback.

A vote will not be taken next week, as the CBD board is asking the public to submit comments on the ones proposed as well as suggest different ones by email up until April 18. Submissions can be sent to

“This is meant to be a history walk of the Castro/Eureka Valley. Accuracy is paramount and source documentation is critical,” wrote CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello in the email announcing the facts and meeting. “Each text submitted must have acceptable source documentation/citations submitted with the text. It is very important that all text which are ultimately etched on the sidewalk are historically accurate and have supporting references.”

Earlier this year Aiello had told the B.A.R. that the CBD would seek public input about the facts likely through an online survey, such as it did to garner feedback on the type of painted crosswalks it is paying to install at the 18th and Castro Street intersection.

But when an agenda for a CBD subcommittee that meets during the day was sent out last month that included the history facts, a number of community members complained that the process appeared to be happening without much public input. Addressing the complaints, Aiello sent out an email Sunday, March 30 to announce that the CBD’s streetscape committee would no longer be hearing the matter.

“To allow for ample opportunity for public comment on the history etchings to be incorporated into the Castro St. Design Project,” wrote Aiello, the agenda item was moved to the April 10th Board of Directors meeting.

In her email today, Aiello noted that the history walk working group will “seriously review all comments on existing text and all new suggestions.” The deliberation process is expected to take between one to two months.

The meetings of the group are open to the public and public comment will be taken at the meetings. Aiello promised that “the date, time and location of the working group’s meetings will be posted” as soon as the meetings are scheduled.

“Every effort is being made to find dates and a meeting location that is open and accessible to the public,” stated Aiello.

The CBD board’s April 10 meeting begins at 6 p.m. at 501 Castro Street in the 2nd floor meeting room.

Here is the list in chronological order of the 20 history facts already under consideration:

1 Pre‐1776. Eureka Valley is a verdant grassland and chaparral. The native Yelamu people live nearby in the seasonal village of Chutchui.

2 1776. Spanish expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza establishes Mission San Francisco de Asís near a creek they name Arroyo de los Dolores, running along today’s 18th Street. The Mission comes to be known as “Mission Dolores.”

3. 1846. Mexico grants Rancho San Miguel to José de Jesús Noé, the last Mexican Alcalde (Mayor) of Yerba Buena (San Francisco). The 4,444 acre ranch encompasses the area later known as Eureka Valley.

4. 1854. American settler John Horner purchases portion of Rancho San Miguel. Castro Street, named after a prominent Mexican‐era Californio family, marks the western border of the nascent neighborhood known as “Horner’s Addition.”

5. 1895. Five room cottages on Castro St. rent for about $15 a month. Transit improvements, including the Castro St. cable car, spur settlement by working class Irish, German, and Scandinavian families in the late 19th century.

6. 1900. Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church is established. Instead of Eureka Valley, for many decades residents refer to the neighborhood as “Most Holy Redeemer Parish.”

7. 1907. The Swedish American Hall opens at 2174 Market Street. The hall, along with local businesses such as Finnila’s Finnish Baths and the Norse Cove restaurant anchor Eureka Valley’s “Little Scandinavia” community.

8. 1918. Twin Peaks tunnel opens, connecting Eureka Valley with West Portal via electric streetcar. Mayor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph serves as the motorman on the first streetcar through the tunnel.

9. 1922. The Nasser brothers open the Castro Theatre, the first movie palace designed by prominent local architect Timothy Pflueger. The theatre is declared San Francisco’s 100th City Landmark in 1977.

10. 1943. Castro Street becomes nationally known as the setting of Mama’s Bank Account, a novel by local Norwegian‐American author Kathryn Forbes. It inspires popular adaptations including the 1948 film, I Remember Mama.

11. 1953. Lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon move into their first home together in San Francisco on Castro Street. They help establish the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization.

12. 1963. The Missouri Mule, the first gay bar in Eureka Valley, opens at 2348 Market Street. By the 1970s, an influx of gay residents and businesses revitalize the neighborhood, which comes to be known as the Castro.

13. 1972. Twin Peaks Tavern, established in 1935, reopens as the first known gay bar in U.S. to feature full‐length plate glass windows. The clear windows become a symbol of the gay community’s increased openness and visibility.

14. 1977. Castro resident, merchant, and activist Harvey Milk, known as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” is elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and becomes one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country.

15. 1978. Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated. As news of their death spreads, tens of thousands of mourners spontaneously gather on Castro Street and form a candlelight march to City Hall.

16. 1979. The assassin of Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone is cleared of murder charges. Outrage among the gay community spurs “White Night” riots at City Hall and a retaliatory police raid of the Elephant Walk Bar at 500 Castro Street.

17.  1981. Openly gay nurse Bobbi Campbell posts notice about “gay cancer” on the window of Star Pharmacy at 498 Castro Street. The disease, identified as AIDS in 1982, becomes a global pandemic that devastates the Castro.

18. 1987. Cleve Jones organizes the AIDS Memorial Quilt at 2362 Market Street. Throughout the 1980s, numerous organizations take root in the Castro to fight for awareness, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

19. 1998. After losing nearly 16,000 San Franciscans, including many Castro residents, to AIDS‐related deaths, the “No Obits!” headline of the weekly Bay Area Reporter marks a milestone in the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS.

20. 2013. A jubilant crowd fills Castro Street to celebrate the Supreme Court decision allowing same‐sex marriages in California. The event highlights Castro Street’s historic role as a place of communal celebration.

Once vetted and approved by the CBD board, the 20 selected facts will be installed on both sides of Castro Street, from Market Street to 19th Street. They will be placed chronologically in a U-shape, starting with the earliest fact near Harvey Milk Plaza and ending with the latest fact near the Castro Theatre.

Facts have been limited to approximately 230 characters (including spaces) to meet contractor letter-sizing specifications and ensure a well-laid out and easily readable design, according to the CBD.

— Matthew S. Bajko, April 4, 2014 @ 12:46 pm PST
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