I’ve always had a love/hate thing with Beaux-Arts. I’m childishly drawn to the grandeur but, as Diana Vreeland said, “the eye needs to travel” and with all that frou-frou which way does it go? Considering that almost all of its stylistic elements are from previous eras and that its success is based on new construction methods that allowed it to be produced on a large-scale, it’s not that original.
After the 1906 earthquake many doubted that a city should be rebuilt on a site prone to natural disasters. Civic leaders forged ahead anyway with a City Hall that was grander than anything previously imagined. Its dome, fifth largest in the world, stands as a defiant middle finger “fuck you” to the naysayers.
While many of us freeloaded on food stamps, Jeffrey had a job at City Hall. I would visit him on breaks in the third floor hallway. He talked about his old-school co-workers who would arrive early in the morning for an eye-opener at the bar across the street before work. Their fifteen minute morning break became a half hour so they could go knock a couple back. More knocking back occurred during their 1 1/2 hour lunch and the extended afternoon break. After work they would avoid the Muni rush hour crush by topping things off with just one more. Their evening homecoming must have been something to behold.
The Feminist Movement made it clear that women had the same job performance capabilities as men. In order to gain acceptance, however, they still had to play the feminine attire game (see Joan in Mad Men). To me that silly expectation is part of the allure of drag. We were leaning on the third floor balustrade one day when Jeffrey said “there she goes.” I looked down and saw Supervisor Dianne Feinstein in her camel skirt and navy pumps doing a determined dash up the grand staircase. He added, “she always runs up those stairs.” Such a camp.
In the late 70’s I worked in the Mayor’s Budget Office. The easiest way to get around City Hall was to use the back staircases. Mayor Feinstein knew this too and I would sometimes run into her. She was always surrounded by an entourage and in a hurry. But she’d flash her campaign smile and issue a brisk “hi. how are you” as she flew past me. She didn’t know me from Adam but she could always use my vote. Still a camp.
Jeffrey found a Feinstein for Mayor sweatshirt at a thrift store for a quarter. It was from one of her earlier failed campaigns. I held on to it for years and finally wore it the day I worked the Wilkes Bashford fashion show at the Kabuki. It was staged one week after the Milk/Moscone murders and a new mayor had not yet been selected. I realized that many might think my shirt “too soon” or insensitive. All the more reason to wear it. After the rehearsal Willie Brown was meandering backstage. As he walked by me he looked at my shirt, shook his head and muttered, “they’re at it already?” Always a camp.
Uncle Cookie’s Antique Empire
For the complete saga, From the Beginning