Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

SF planning body approves demolition of LGBT historic site

LGBT advocactes are fighting to preserve the properties at 950-964 Market Street that once housed several gay bars and other businesses with ties to the LGBT community. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

LGBT advocates are fighting to preserve the properties at 950-974 Market Street that once housed several gay bars and other businesses with ties to the LGBT community. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

The demolition of an LGBT historic site in San Francisco to make way for a mega-development is moving forward over the objections of the project’s critics who argue the site should be preserved.

The Planning Commission, at its meeting today (Thursday, November 17) voted 6-1 to approve the project located at 950-974 Market Street, where several gay bars once operated and was part of a well-known gay cruising area in the city’s Tenderloin district.

Group I, a San Francisco-based real estate development company, plans to demolish the existing buildings in order to construct a 12-story, 120-foot-tall building. It would include a 232-room hotel, 244 housing units, ground floor retail, and space for a local nonprofit theater company. There will also be a project off-site nearby with close to 70 below-market-rate units that the developer is helping to pay to build.

The triangular block sits where Market, Turk and Mason streets intersect and straddles both the Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods. As the B.A.R. first reported in February, the building once housed the Tenderloin’s first gay bars and helped facilitate gay and transgender prostitution and hustling in the area.

As detailed in the Citywide Historic Context Statement for LGBTQ History in San Francisco, the Old Crow Bar opened at 962 Market Street around 1935, while the Silver Rail opened at 974 Market Street about 1942. Additionally, the Flagg Brothers shoe store that had occupied 950 Market Street was documented in the report as a well-known gay cruising spot.

Shayne Watson, a lesbian and local LGBT historian who co-wrote the context statement, filed an appeal last winter against the planning department’s initial analysis of the Group I project for omitting the site’s historical ties to the LGBT community. In response, city planners issued a new preliminary mitigated negative declaration for the project in July.

But they concluded that none of the existing structures would qualify for federal or state landmark status due to the extensive alterations made to the buildings over the years. Their second report, however, was also appealed, this time by the Q Foundation, which assists people living with HIV, as well as LGBT seniors, find housing in the city.

The gay-led nonprofit had requested the city’s planning commission require a full environmental impact report be done of the project. It wants the city to take a closer look at if the existing buildings need to be preserved or incorporated in some way into the new development.

Since then the developer has hired Watson to work with an advisory committee on a proposal for memorializing the site’s LGBT history in the new development. In a letter to the planning commission, she supported allowing the project to move forward.

Meanwhile, a separate group has formed to create a special historic district in the area to highlight its LGBT history. Called the Compton’s Historic District Committee, named after a defunct eatery that drew transgender and queer patrons in the 1950s through the early 1970s and was the site of a riot in August of 1966, it is working on submitting an application to the National Register of Historic Places for a historic district that focuses on Compton’s Cafeteria and adjacent important LGBTQ sites.

A photo of what LGBT advocates claim were tunnels that still exist under the Market Street buildings and were used by patrons of former gay bars to allude police raids. Photo courtesy of Nate Allbee via Facebook.

A photo of what LGBT advocates claim were “tunnels” used by patrons of former gay bars to allude police raids that still exist under several Market Street buildings. It was posted to Facebook by Nate Allbee.

One of its members, Nate Allbee, with the San Francisco LGBTQ Legacy Business Coalition, posted to Facebook early Thursday photos showing underground spaces below the building that he claimed where used by patrons of the former gay bars “to hide from police raids, and to move from bar to bar with out being seen.”

The historic district committee had requested that this week’s vote be continued for 60 to 90 days to give it more time to research the buildings’ LGBTQ history and whether their demolition would negatively impact the creation of an historic district in the area.

But the planning commission voted 4-3 to take up the matter this afternoon. And after a lengthy hearing, the commissioners decided to approve the project with a recommendation planning work continue to work with the project architect to tweak the design, though its decision is expected to be contested when it reaches the Board of Supervisors.

The Bay Area Reporter will have more on this issue in next week’s paper.

— Matthew S. Bajko, November 17, 2016 @ 8:33 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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