31 4.9. The Castro District

The Castro District, commonly referenced as The Castro, is a neighborhood in Eureka Valley in San Francisco, California. The Castro is one of the United States’ first gay neighborhoods, and it is currently the largest. Having transformed from a working-class neighborhood through the 1960s and 1970s, the Castro remains one of the most prominent symbols of lesbiangaybisexual, andtransgender (LGBT) activism and events. The local news media view the intersection of Market and Castro as ground zero location for interviews when prominent news impacting the gay community occurs.[citation needed]




San Francisco’s gay village is mostly concentrated in the business district that is located on Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street. It extends down Market Street toward Church Street and on both sides of the Castro neighborhood from Church Street to Eureka Street. Although the greater gay community was, and is, concentrated in the Castro, many gay people live in the surrounding residential areas bordered by Corona Heights, the Mission DistrictNoe ValleyTwin Peaks, and Haight-Ashburyneighborhoods. Some consider it to include Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights, which both have a strong LGBT presence.

Castro Street, which originates a few blocks north at the intersection of Divisadero and Waller Streets, runs south through Noe Valley, crossing the 24th Street business district and ending as a continuous street a few blocks farther south as it moves toward the Glen Park neighborhood. It reappears in several discontinuous sections before ultimately terminating at Chenery Street, in the heart of Glen Park.


Castro Street was named for José Castro (1808–1860), a Californio leader of Mexican opposition to U.S. rule in California in the 19th century, and alcalde of Alta California from 1835 to 1836.[2] The neighborhood now known as the Castro was created in 1887 when the Market Street Railway Company built a line linking Eureka Valley to downtown.

In 1891, Alfred E. Clarke built his mansion at the corner of Douglass and Caselli Avenue at 250 Douglass which is commonly referenced as the Caselli Mansion. It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire which destroyed a large portion of San Francisco.

From 1910 to 1920, the Castro was known as “Little Scandinavia” because of the number of people of SwedishNorwegianDanish, and Finnish ancestry who lived there. A Finnish bathhouse (Finilla’s) dating from this period was located behind the Café Flore onMarket Street until 1986. The Cove on Castro used to be called The Norse Cove. The Scandinavian Seamen’s Union was near 15th Street and Market, just around the corner from the Swedish-American Hall, which remains in the district. Scandinavian-style “half-timber” construction can still be seen in some of the buildings along Market Street between Castro and Church Streets.

The Castro became a working-class Irish neighborhood in the 1930s and remained so until the mid-1960s.

There was originally a cable car line with large double-ended cable cars that ran along Castro Street from Market Street to 29th St. until the tracks were dismantled in 1941 and it was replaced by the 24 bus.

The U.S. military offloaded thousands of gay servicemen in San Francisco during World War II after they were discharged for their homosexuality. Many settled in the Castro, and thus began the influx of gays to the Castro neighborhood.[3]

The Castro came of age as a gay center following the Summer of Love in the neighboring Haight-Ashbury district in 1967. The gathering brought tens of thousands of middle-class youth from all over the United States. The neighborhood, previously known as Eureka Valley, became known as the Castro, after the landmark theatre by that name near the corner of Castro and Market Streets. Many San Francisco gays also moved there after about 1970 from what had been the formerly most prominent gay neighborhoodPolk Gulch, because large Victorian houses were available at low rents or available for purchase for low down payments when their former middle-class owners had fled to the suburbs.

A color photograph of Milk with long hair and handlebar moustache with his arm around his sister-in-law, both smiling and standing in front of a storefront window showing a portion of a campaign poster with Milk's photo and name

Harvey Milk, here with his sister-in-law in front of Castro Camera in 1973, had been changed by his experience with the counterculture of the 1960s. His store was used as his campaign headquarters and remains a tourist destination to date.

By 1973, Harvey Milk, who would become the most famous resident of the neighborhood, opened a camera store, Castro Camera, and began political involvement as a gay activist, further contributing to the notion of the Castro as a gay destination. Some of the culture of the late 1970s included what was termed the “Castro clone“, a mode of dress and personal grooming—tight denim jeans,black or desert sand colored combat boots, tight T-shirt or, often, an Izod crocodile shirt, possibly a red plaid flannel outer shirt, and usually sporting a mustache or full beard—in vogue with the gay male population at the time, and which gave rise to the nickname “Clone Canyon” for the stretch of Castro Street between 18th and Market Streets. There were numerous famous watering holes in the area contributing to the nightlife, including the Corner Grocery Bar, Toad Hall, the Pendulum, the Midnight Sun, Twin Peaks, and the Elephant Walk. A typical daytime street scene of the period is perhaps best illustrated by mentioning the male belly dancers who could be found holding forth in good weather at the corner of 18th and Castro on “Hibernia Beach,” in front of the financial institution from which it drew its name. Then at night, after the bars closed at 2 AM, the men remaining at that hour often would line up along the sidewalk of 18th Street to indicate that they were still available to go home with someone (aka The Meat Rack).

The area was hit hard by the AIDS/HIV crisis of the 1980s. Beginning in 1984, city officials began a crackdown on bathhouses and launched initiatives that aimed to prevent the spread of AIDS. Kiosks lining Market Street and Castro Street now have posters promoting safe sex and testing right alongside those advertising online dating services.


Stores on Castro near the intersection with 18th Street. Rainbow flags, which are commonly associated with gay pride, are hung as banners on streetlights along the road.[4][5][6]

The flag at the corner of Market, Castro, and 17th Street

One of the more notable features of the neighborhood is Castro Theatre, a movie palace built in 1922 and one of San Francisco’s premier movie houses.

18th and Castro is a major intersection in the Castro, where many historic events, marches, protests have taken and continue to take place.

A major cultural destination in the neighborhood is The GLBT History Museum, which opened for previews on Dec. 10, 2010, at 4127 18th St. The first full-scale, stand-alone museum of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history in the United States (and only the second in the world after the Schwules Museum in Berlin), The GLBT History Museum is a project of the GLBT Historical Society.[7]

The F Market heritage streetcar line turnaround at Market and 17th-streets at the Castro Street Station, a Muni Metro subway station, attracts many tourists which was renamed Harvey Milk Plaza in honor of its most famous resident. His Camera Store and campaign headquarters on 575 Castro has a memorial plaque and mural.

Pink Triangle Park – 17th Street at Market, a city park and monument named after the pink triangles forcibly worn by gay prisoners persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.[8]

Harvey’s, formerly the Elephant Walk that was raided by police after the White Night Riots.[9][10]

The Hot Cookie Bakery located on Castro Street[11] is a world famous destination serving some of the city’s most interesting shaped cookies. It is especially known for its coconut macaroons.[12]

Twin Peaks, the first gay bar in the city, and possibly the United States, with plate glass windows to fully visibly expose patrons to the public is located at the intersection of Market and Castro.[13]

The Hartford Street Zen Center is also located in the Castro, as well as the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 100 Diamond Street.[14]

Special events, parade and street fairs that are held in the Castro include the Castro Street Fair, the Dyke March, the famedHalloween in the Castro which was discontinued in 2007 due to street violence; Pink Saturday, and the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

[edit]Gay Tourism

San Francisco has a large thriving tourist economy due to ethnic and cultural communities such as Chinatown, San FranciscoNorth Beach, San FranciscoHaight-Ashbury and most notably, the Castro. The Castro is a site of economic success that brings in capital all year round with many events catered to the gay community along with everyday business.

The Castro is a “thriving marketplace for all things gay” meaning everything in the area is catered to people who identify with homosexuality or other associated meanings to the word gay.[15] There are gay cafes, gay theatres, gay shopping malls, and all other possible amenities with the word “gay” placed before it to make it a specialty establishment aimed at gay consumers. These establishments make the Castro an area of high spending and lead to high tourist traffic. Local residents to the area are not the only people who frequent the streets of the Castro. People travel from outside the city to visit the shops and restaurants as well as the events that take place such as the Castro Street Fair. Travellers make the trek from all over to experience this annual event and though it is advertised as LGBT, that does not stop heterosexual people from attending and partaking in the festivities. Events such as the Castro Street Fair drum up business for the community and bring in people from all over the nation who visit solely for the atmosphere the Castro provides.

People who do not necessarily feel comfortable expressing themselves in their own community have the freedom to travel to places such as the Castro to escape the alienation and feel accepted. [16] There is a sense of belonging and acceptance that is promoted throughout the district to accommodate non hetero-normative people that many gay travellers are attracted to.

The Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA) was created in 1974 to help promote not just the Castro as a place for gay tourists, but also San Francisco as a whole. The GGBA sought to gain local political power and hoped to achieve their gains through an increase in gay tourism. [17] This association then went on to form the San Francisco Gay Tourism and Visitor’s Bureau in 1983. The Bureau viewed gay tourists as spenders and realized capitalist gains could be made from them. Politically, the Bureau was Neoliberal and focused on economic interests. [18] The gay tourism industry is a successful money-making entity that drives and benefits the economy due to the constant influx of consumers.


The gay community that the Castro generates is vital in making the area prominent and cohesive. The idea of community is demonstrated by both geographical location and the shared characteristics of the people that make up the community. International research suggests that gay men gain a sense of belonging and inclusion from large friendship networks, such as ones established by communities in the Castro. Despite the positive connotations to the word “community”, there is sometimes hesitation for men to include themselves when discussing the “gay community”, as it can be somewhat exclusionary. The term ”gay community” is a broad term that is very generalized. There are many sub-categories within the LGBTQ collective and simply lumping them under a singular title does not give recognition to all of them. Because “gay community” is so generic, many of those who identify with other aspects of non hetero-normativity do not feel they should be categorized with the rest by such a vague term as not everybody has a shared commonality. [19]


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