LGBTQ+ Castro District Walking Tour
Take a walk through the diverse LGBTQ+ history of San Francisco's Castro District
Built in 1913, this former movie theatre was where the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, created by gay community activist Cleve Jones in honor of his friend Marvin Feldman, was displayed in June of 1987. The building then became the headquarters of the resulting NAMES Project, which allowed friends and family of those who had died of AIDS to commemorate their loved ones with personalized quilt patches. The AIDS Memorial Quilt quickly grew to encompass 48,000 individual panels honoring the lives of over 100,000 people. The Quilt was famously shown in its entirety on the Mall of Washington D.C. in 1996. It is still the largest community arts project in the world.
Located in the heart of the Castro District, Pink Triangle Park contains fifteen granite pillars that memorialize the fifteen thousand LGBT men and women who were killed by soldiers following Adolf Hitler's orders during the Holocaust. Nazi soldiers required gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons to wear pink triangles as a symbol of their alleged inhumanity during the Second World War and many were executed in concentration camps throughout Europe. A triangle columnn was built for every 1,000 gay men and women who lost their lives.
Grown from a neighborhood nickelodeon by three immigrant brothers, the grand Castro Theatre first opened its doors on June, 22, 1922. Designed by famed San Franciscan architect Timothy L. Pfleuger, the theatre became an integral part of the development and history of the Castro Neighborhood throughout the 20th century. In 1985, the Castro Theatre hosted the world premiere of "Buddies", the first major motion picture about the AIDS crisis. The Castro Theatre was designated as San Francisco City Landmark #100 in 1976. Today, it is one of a handful of historic 1920's movie theaters in the United States still in operation.
Twin Peaks Tavern first opened in 1935 but was purchased by Mary Ellen Cunha and Peggy Forster in 1971. It is believed to be the first gay bar in the nation to feature full-length, open plate glass windows that let its patrons look out, and more importantly, the public look in. The lesbian friends, known to most regulars as "the girls," opened the bar to the world at a time when many gays still feared losing their jobs or being socially ostracized if their sexual orientation was revealed. It has now survived for 40 years as one of the Castro district's most memorable and welcoming establishments.
This plaza honors the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay elected official in Californian history. Harvey Milk was an influential gay rights activist and became one of the first openly gay officials in the United States in 1977 after he was elected to be on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 2002, Harvey Milk was cited as the most significant LGBT elected official in the United States. Tragically, one of the reasons that many remember Milk is related to the nature of his death. Former City Supervisor Dan White snuck through a basement window in City Hall and killed Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone on November 27, 1978.
Founded in 1989 by Issan Dorsey, a former drag queen and drug addict, Hartford Street Zen Center is a Soto-Zen practice and temple. During the 1990's, the Hartford Street Zen Center operated an eight-bed hospice for those dying of AIDS that eventually became as the Maitri Clinic. Both Maitri and the Zen Center are still in operation today.
San Francisco's GLBT History Museum opened in 2011, becoming the first full-scale, stand-alone museum dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and sharing the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States. Recognizing the need to serve patrons beyond the San Francisco area, the museum offers a variety of online displays. For those who live or are visiting the area, the museum also offers a number of permanent and rotating exhibits. The current list of exhibitions appears below, as well as links to the museum's virtual exhibits and related books.
The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church parish was established in 1900 by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. For decades, it served as a community hub for the Castro District's largely Irish-Catholic, immigrant, working-class population. As the Castro saw a diverse influx of gay men in the 1950's, Most Holy Redeemer maintained its standing as a conservative parish. After the church received a new pastor in 1982, however, Most Holy Redeemer began doing outreach events for the neighborhood's LGBTQ members who had felt previously felt alienated by the church. The events were successful and Most Holy Redeemer became known as the community's "gay" Catholic church. During the AIDS crisis which devastated the Castro, the church and many of its elderly women parishioners were heavily involved in operating programs to help those living with the virus. Today, photographs of gay parishioners who died during the epidemic line the church's walls and a 40-hour candlelight vigil is held every year to honor them.
Castro Camera was a retail shop in the Castro District, operated by Harvey Milk for six years, from 1972 until his assassination in 1978. The store became a hub for the growing local gay community and was used as a headquarters for the Harvey Milk campaign. It is now a location for the Human Rights Campaign and is San Francisco Landmark #227.