San Francisco's Castro Home / Billions of Virgins in Ecstasy / Other Strange Sites


San Francisco's Castro


1900 - mid-1980s

There were so many wonderful photos that I couldn't fit them all into the book. Here are just a few bonus pictures.


For thousands of years the land surrounding San Francisco Bay was sunny grassland inhabited by rabbits, geese, ducks, deer, wolves, mountain lions and the Ohlone Tribe. The Spanish de Anza Expedition in 1776 found sites for the Presidio military camp and Mission Dolores. What is now the corner of Castro and Market Streets was an intersection of the trails between these two locations and existing Indian trails. Castro Street is named for Joaquin Isidro de Castro, a soldier with de Anza, whose grandson Jose Castro was a resistance fighter when the U.S. took California from Mexico in 1846. The Eureka Valley, which is now called the Castro, was part of the 4,000-acre Rancho San Miguel, owned by Jose de Jesus Noe, which extended from Twin Peaks to Daly City. His home was at what now would be Eureka and 22nd Streets. The creek which ran from Twin Peaks to the Bay still flows under 18th Street today.

In 1849 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. By the end of the year the population of San Francisco had grown from 2,000 to 20,000. By 1850 it became 34,000, almost all men. In the square dances held in bars, handkerchiefs were worn in the back pocket to distinguish those who were being men from those who were being women. By the 1870s the rancho had become smaller farms, raising cattle, sheep and vegetables. Then working class European immigrants began moving into Eureka Valley and building Victorian homes to house their large families. A steam dummy rail system from the Ferry Building at the downtown end of Market Street reached Castro and Market in the early 1880s. This brought a big surge of settlers. In 1887 a cable car replaced the steam dummies, and the line was extended down Castro Street and over the hill to 26th Street in Noe Valley.

Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church was consecrated in 1902. For most residents Eureka Valley became Most Holy Redeemer Parish. The kids went to Most Holy Redeemer School, with the teaching nuns living in the convent next door. The area was a regular bluecollar neighborhood, with many bars, whose patrons were almost all male.

1900 - 1950s

The Eureka Valley (now the Castro) in 1900.

A cow grazing below Corona Heights just above Castro Street.

When cable cars ran on Castro from Market to 26th Street, but Castro above 19th Street was still unpaved.

Castro from above Market Street looking south, when Bank of America was still Bank of Italy.

The Castro Theatre under construction in 1922.

Photo Cliff's Variety
Kids smeared with ice cream on Halloween in front of the old Cliff's Variety at 515 Castro in the 1950s.

Photo Cliff's Variety
Another shot of Halloween on Castro Street in the 1950s.

A big wreck at Castro and Market in the 1950s.

1960s and 1970s

Along Came the Gays

In the 1950s the American dream became a house in the suburbs, so many of the younger residents moved out of Eureka Valley. In the early 1960s San Francisco lost a huge number of blue-collar jobs, and that greatly speeded the exodus. Property values plummeted. Many businesses closed.

Meanwhile, other changes were taking place in San Francisco and society as a whole. San Francisco had always been a bawdy port city, and it was the debarkation point for the U.S. Navy in the Spanish American War, World War II and the Korean War. When the Navy started giving homosexual sailors dishonorable discharges, they found themselves facing bleak prospects back in their hometowns, so they stayed in this relatively tolerant city. America experienced a civil rights movement and a women’s movement. The Beats took over San Francisco’s North Beach in the 1950s, and the hippies invaded the Haight Ashbury, right across the hill from Eureka Valley, in the 1960s. In 1969 the Stonewall Riots in New York City heralded the start of the gay rights movement, which quickly spread across the country.

In 1963 a gay bar called the Missouri Mule opened on Market Street between Castro and Noe, followed by the Pendulum on 18th Street a few years later. Attracted by the bars and the cheap rents, gay hippies began drifting over from the Haight. When gay people started moving in, many of the old residents sold in a panic, causing real estate prices to fall still further. However, the gay men began consulting with the people at Cliff’s Variety and fixing up their old Victorians. Prices soon started to rise again.

Society pianist Peter Mintun sent me these photos of Sylvester in the early Cockette days before he became a world famous disco diva.

Photo Robert M.
Sylvester performs on Castro Street.

This is another Cockette, John Rothermel, best friend of Todd Trexler, featured in San Francisco's Castro.

Photo provided by Peter Mintun.

This is Peter Mintun, today a top society pianist, then the Cockette accompaniest, with Cockette John Rothermel.

Photo Janis Greenberg
Spectators above the Castro Street Fair in the mid-1970s.


In 1973 Harvey Milk moved into the neighborhood. He’d been a conservative Republican on Wall Street, a closeted gay man living with a series of male lovers. Then he became involved with Tom O’Horgan, director of Hair, and turned into a hippie. Harvey moved to San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith, and they opened Castro Camera. Harvey was very gregarious and introduced himself to all the other merchants. Soon everyone from gay teens to little old ladies was coming into the camera store to talk about their problems, which Harvey loved trying to solve. Soon he was the unofficial ”Mayor of Castro Street.” When he found the Eureka Valley Merchants Association wouldn't admit gay members, Harvey joined with the nice folks at Cliff’s Variety to start the rival Castro Village Association, which held the first Castro Street Fair in 1974, attracting 5,000 visitors. All the merchants on the street had record sales. Suddenly gay people weren't quite so bad. Upset about his own problems with the city government, Harvey decided to run for the Board of Supervisor in 1973. He lost, but found he loved campaigning. He ran for Supervisor again and for State Assemblyman, losing both times, but garnering an impressive number of votes.

Photo Dennis Peron
Harvey Milk (l) hugs Dennis Peron, the Castro's local pot dealer at a Marijuana Initiative event. Dennis owned the Island Restaurant where Harvey held many political meetings and fundraisers.

Photo Daniel Nicoletta
After losing three political races, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He enjoyed his work as one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.

Photo Daniel Nicoletta
The spontaneous silent 40,000-strong candlelight march from the Castro to City Hall the night Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White.

Photo Daniel Nicoletta
Through the broken doors of City Hall we see the police waiting for instructions May 21, 1979, during the White Night Riots, when Dan White was found guilty only of manslaughter in killing Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Gays marched from the Castro to City Hall and rioted, burning a dozen police cars. Police then drove to the Castro and beat anyone they could find.


Photo Robert M.
Your author (l), best friend and former roommate Randy Warder and his cocker spaniel Montgomery at the Castro Street Dog Show, early 1980s.

Photo Robert M.
Singer Sharon McKnight entertains at the 4th annual Castro Street Dog Show.

Photo James Patrick Kennedy and Derrick Tyson-Connolly
The Gay Men's Chorus float in the Gay Pride Parade, 1980s.

Photo James Patrick Kennedy and Derrick Tyson-Connolly
The Gay Pride Parade on Castro Street, 1980s.

Photo James Patrick Kennedy and Derrick Tyson-Connolly
Gay Pride Parade turning from Castro St. onto Market St. 1980s.

Photo Nina Glaser
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a group of male nuns who do charitable work and cause havoc wherever they go.

Castro photos mid-1980s to 1999

Castro photos 2000 to 2004

Gay Pride 2008

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San Francisco's Castro Home / Billions of Virgins in Ecstasy / Other Strange Sites