Castro fair marks 40 years
by Matthew S. Bajko
It began four decades ago as a way to promote San Francisco's new gay neighborhood in the Castro. Over the years it has maintained its community celebration roots but also evolved into a major fundraiser for local nonprofits.
The Castro Street Fair is marking its 40th anniversary Sunday, October 6 with a look back at its past as it celebrates its future. And in honor of its ruby birthday, the event's organizers are asking attendees to wear red.
Harvey Milk, a gay man who owned a camera shop on Castro Street, organized the first fair to drum up some excitement in the business district catering to the city's Eureka Valley area. To honor Milk, who later went on to become the first out person elected to public office in San Francisco only to be murdered a year later, the fair is promoting found footage of him filmed during the 1976 street fair on its website.
"We have posted a short clip of Milk discussing the fair and we are excited it came together," said Fred Lopez, the current president of the fair's board of directors.
It is the first time the video of Milk has been shown online free for public viewing. A different clip of past fairs from the Daniel A. Smith/Queer Blue Light Collection in the archives of the GLBT Historical Society will be played throughout the day at the archival group's museum space on 18th Street.
"We have previously posted excerpts of the Queer Blue Light video from the 1976 Castro Street Fair on YouTube but not the interview with Milk," society spokesman Gerard Koskovich told the Bay Area Reporter .
Due to the fiscal sponsorship of Bank of the West, which recently opened a branch in a new building at 16th, Market and Noe streets, admission to the GLBT History Museum will be free Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
Another nod to Milk, who 40 years ago this week debuted his political column in the pages of the B.A.R., can be found at this year's incarnation of Barnaby's World of Wonderment, the midway of bizarro sights and bawdy carnival games promoted as eliciting smiles out of the "most bitter queen amongst us."
There fairgoers will find a water dunk tank modeled after the one that Milk set up outside his camera shop during the 1977 fair to raise money for the ballot box fight against a referendum, known as Proposition 6 or the Briggs initiative, that would have banned gay people from being public school teachers. A photo of Milk in the tank can also be seen at the fair's website.
The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club is overseeing this year's version, which will feature local politicians and other community leaders throughout the day. Among them will be District 11 Supervisor John Avalos; gay former District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty; and gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos.
This week Campos called on the city's controller and economist to conduct an economic impact study on the city's various LGBT street festivals, from the Castro and Folsom Street fairs to the smaller Up Your Alley fetish event and the various marches and celebrations held over Pride weekend. While it has long been presumed that the LGBT outdoor gatherings financially benefit San Francisco, the city has never officially studied them to determine just how much of a fiscal jolt they provide.
Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro and has attracted his fair share of detractors, will not be one of the dunk tank participants. In his annual letter for the guide to the fair, Wiener highlighted the upcoming sidewalk-widening project along Castro Street set to start construction in January.
The planned streetscape changes, wrote Wiener, "will make Castro Street not only safer, but an even more attractive street and vibrant gathering place than it is today."
This year's fair will raise money from gate donations, suggested at $5 to $10, and beer booth purchases to be shared by 20 local nonprofits. The lead sponsors are the B.A.R., Miller Lite, and Whole Foods Market, which plans to open its new store at the corner of Market and Dolores streets in November.
"The reality of the situation is we couldn't do it without the support of sponsors both large and small," said Lopez.
The headliner of the fair's main stage this year is Canadian gender-bending musician Peaches and her Peachettes. The performance will include a never-before-seen tribute to disco legend Sylvester, who performed at the second annual Castro Street Fair in 1975.
Other highlights include a special "Legends Stage" at 18th and Collingwood streets that will feature famed local DJs Stefanie Phillips, Rolo, Blackstone, Jim Hopkins, David Harness, Page Hodel, and Pete Avila.
"Folks have been following these DJs since the beginning of their careers so we are lucky that they will be gracing us with their presence this year," said Lopez. "It is a nod to the past and future as well."
Favorites such as the Dance Alley in the parking lot off 18th Street next to gay men's health center Magnet and the country western dance stage presented by Sundance Saloon in the parking lot behind the Castro Theatre will both return this year.
Fair organizers are praying for a hot, sunny day as attendance and donations usually increase under such weather conditions. At press time the forecast called for cloudless skies and temperatures in the 70s on Sunday.
"When it is cloudy and foggy, we don't bring in as much money. When it is hot, more people come out and are more generous," noted Steve Adams, a longtime Castro business leader and banker who has volunteered the last 13 years to oversee the fair's treasury.
The fair is a smoke-free event and runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. A limited edition of 100 fair posters and T-shirts with this year's logo will be for sale at the fair's information booth near the intersection of Market and Castro streets.
For more information about the fair, visit http://www.castrostreetfair.org/index.php.