“When you’re being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like you’re leading the parade.”
The pilasters in my lobby are replicas of the Rod of Asclepius, the symbol for medicine. Which would support stories I’ve heard that there was once a pharmacy in the building. Probably in 1915 when it was first built. I’m guessing it would have been in the unit off the lobby which is now an (unoccupied) in-law apartment.
It wouldn’t have been the only drug store on the block because three doors up at the southeast corner of Pine and Jones was the Fairmont Pharmacy. By the time I moved here that building housed Betty Wong’s laundry service. But the door stoop still had “Fairmont” spelled out in chicken wire tiles. It then became a gay bar, The Gate.
Today The Gate has been torn down and replaced with nondescript condos in the Ed Lee/Willie Brown Developer Kickback style of architecture that is sweeping the City.
Half a block west on Pine Street was Sally Stanford’s old brothel where Herb Caen said “the United Nations was really born.” Prominent on her guest list were many mid-20th Century politicians. She herself would later be elected Mayor of Sausalito.
Miss Stanford’s johns would often call her from the Fairmont Pharmacy to gain entrance. It was rumored that long after it ceased being a profitable business the drug store remained open solely to preserve Sally’s entry system.
In the more modern mobile phone era, my upstairs neighbor Jim used to sit at the bar at The Gate and chat up chauffeurs waiting to be called by their clients. Most of whom were frequenting prostitutes down on Bush Street. Unlike the Stanford White designed digs of Sally’s, the Bush Street sex workers were a little more discreet. I have no idea which building(s) they were in.
It seems my block has never been lacking for drugs or licentious behavior. I’ve done my best to fit in.
I have lived in my apartment in downtown San Francisco since 1976. It was perfectly situated for the years I worked in the Financial District and, more importantly, it was centrally located for all the trouble one can get into in this town. I could walk almost anywhere in the City and, if I was too wobbly to make it home, a cab ride was only 5 or 6 dollars.
When I first lived in San Francisco I hopped around between various accommodations in the Castro, Haight and Mission. But I was always intrigued by the area downtown between Nob Hill and the Loin. It seemed so un-California. Old out here usually means mid-century Eichler but downtown there was the 1920’s type construction found in New York and Chicago. It felt big city. Joan Crawford would have lived in this neighborhood and caught the bus to work in a Union Square shop. Snapping her gum and wisecracking behind the counter, she’d bide her time until some oil tycoon swept her away, refined her and turned her into a murderess.
My desire to live downtown bucked the predominant trend of the day which was the rapid gentrifigaytion of the Castro. Gays were moving in by the hundreds, renting, apartment sharing, squatting, buying. It all happened so quickly. The fleeing Irish working class didn’t know what hit them other than the handsome profits for their, until then, undesirable properties. After taking over the housing, neighborhood jobs followed and then the ownership of the businesses themselves. Gay life was so concentrated in the Castro it was almost oppressive.
With so much young gay testosterone occupying every inch of the ghetto, sex was everywhere. You could be waiting for Muni in the morning commute, make eye contact and decide this was the day to call in sick. Run to the corner store for a quart of milk and return home carrying a load of cream. Or be dutifully doing your laundry at the local Mat, get cruised and picked up. One time I actually got placed inside the dryer and blown on the spot. Between cycles.
Despite the lure of the candy store, I wanted to live downtown. Acceptance was the issue of the day and to me you had to be seen to be believed. I wanted to live amongst the general populace not cordoned off in the ghetto with my kind. It was a time when many still didn’t know what “gay” meant, The New York Times had only recently begun printing the word after years of insisting on the more clinical “homosexual.”
On my personal quest to liberate the masses I felt that living in a diverse area would force people to wonder who I was. They would have to think about and interact with me. Once they realized I wasn’t a threat, I would be accepted. And there were enough gay people in the neighborhood to keep it interesting. If I wasn’t in the candy store per se I could still benefit from the vending machine level of activity nearby.