November 19, 2013
Is The Identity Of The Castro Under Threat?
With thousands of units under development or already opening their doors along Market Street, and "the impossibly hip Hayes Valley, Mission, and Noe Valley encroaching on all sides," a reader wonders if the identity of the Castro as the center of the Bay Area's LGBTQ scene is "under threat."
A reader eloquently responds:
Cities are living organisms and grow and change and morph. When I came to SF in 1977 the gay hood was Polk Street. This is where the majority of gay bars were, where Halloween took place, etc. And prior to the gay neighborhood being on Polk Street, it was on Broadway near Columbus (which at one time was the Latino immigrant neighborhood, as well as the Basque neighborhood).
Castro became the gay neighborhood when it was filled with cheap run down houses and the Irish homeowners were selling and moving to the burbs, and there was a large influx of gay men with enough money to buy, and a proclivity to improve property. With the advent of AIDs, a lot of vacancies opened up in the Castro, and straight families began moving in.
And yes, young people are settling in Oakland today because that is where the real estate opportunity is. If Oakland were a borough of SF like Brooklyn is a borough of NYC, no one would think anything of it. It is just a reflection of when SF stopped annexing that Oakland is a different city. I am not threatened at all.
First Published: November 19, 2013 11:00 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
Noe Valley is not "hip" and if you want an idea of what will happen to the "Castro" I think you can already see it. Mostly straight very well off families are moving in all around it. Castro Street itself and some of Market will still have businesses that cater to gay male weekend crowds and there will be some nostalgia around the Castro being the LGBT area like Haight St. Maybe tourists will still come and buy a T-Shirt?
I seriously doubt young gay men move there now. None I know ever did.
Posted by: Zig at November 19, 2013 11:20 AM
I have always been priced out of the Castro - even for rental apartments - for the whole of the the 20 years I have lived in San Francisco. Houses / condos have always been too expensive and rentals don't turn over due to people locked in under rent control. Consequently I have lived in the Lower Haight, the Mission and now Glen Park and visited often.
I think the idea of gay men and women flocking to the Castro to live died out quite a long time ago. I wouldn't mourn too much.
Posted by: pauldem at November 19, 2013 11:36 AM
I am a sub-30 straight guy that moved to the 'stro a couple years ago. I can personally attest that the neighborhood is changing, even during the short period that I have lived there. The people who live in the neighborhood generally seem to welcome the trend, the only people who seem to have an issue with it are the b & t folks.
Posted by: Wyatt at November 19, 2013 11:36 AM
I think it goes without saying, that — for the Castro and gay community specifically — the culture has changed and matured quite a bit in that time and they don't live, work or play in the same ways as they did back whenever. It's also maybe not as necessary for gays to hunker down in one area of a city to establish itself as an important part of the community as it undoubtedly was, years ago.
Though, I wouldn't be mad if the Disney-fied bits of the Castro were to fade away...
Posted by: Rob at November 19, 2013 11:43 AM
I think the days of a "gay ghetto" are over. The need is less and frankly people, for the most part, do not chose their friends or neighbors based upon their sexuality....not in SF. Everyone for the most part feels welcome everywhere. Bars are mixed, restaurants are mixed....we have fought for acceptance and integration into the larger world. Let's embrace it. The Castro will always be welcoming and have a gay presence, but not anything like in the past. It is too expensive for most...especially young people. And the young people are the ones who have to keep the gay identity intact...and it just ain't gonna happen.
Posted by: PaulSF at November 19, 2013 11:44 AM
It will take a long time but I do expect that the Castro will eventually lose a lot of its gay identity. Even as it loses the gay density in the neighborhood, it will still draw out of town visitors. Before I moved to the city my friends and I used to come to the Castro once or twice a month, hitting the Castro first before going to a club in SOMA. Even when I moved here the Castro was unafordable and I've bounced around now between lower Haight, Western Addition, SOMA, Western Addition. In all of those places though I'd still head down to the Castro to meet friends at the bars.
When I got to SF there was still a little bit of gay life left on Polk which seems to have completely vanished at this point. SF has gone from having three distinct (Polk, Castro, SOMA leather bars) to just having the Castro.
Posted by: Rillion at November 19, 2013 11:44 AM
The gay community has changed too, as social acceptance increases there's less of a need (or desire) for a specific gay village.
Posted by: James at November 19, 2013 12:19 PM
The Castro dying signifies gay acceptance. It's actually a wonderful thing.
Posted by: Mike at November 19, 2013 12:20 PM
I hardly think "The Castro" is dying, but rather evolving and changing; as every neighborhood does.
The changes we see are simply part of the evolution of our acceptance as gay people in society. (Although certainly not the same level as in many parts of the Midwest or deep South, but that's another story.)
I'm happy to see lots of new housing being built in the Upper Market area; more density and more activity and more retail along this major corridor.
Now with all this change, I hope we can see a time when the Jane Warner plaza is no longer a magnet for the homeless with their shopping carts and junk. It's gotten worse in the past year. I hope we can help all of the homeless, young LGBTQ youth on the sidewalks and get them moving in their lives.
Posted by: Futurist at November 19, 2013 12:26 PM
I still want my gay village, but it doesn't need to be the Castro. This is not because I feel ostracized by the straight community. It's because my affinities rest with other gays. There's a shared sense of history and experiences that brings us together. My affinities also rest with San Francisco which has a large proportion of like-minded people, gay or straight, who live here. Batkid reminded me of what a wonderful city this is. Bottom line - I love the gays. I love San Francisco.
Posted by: Wilbur at November 19, 2013 12:35 PM
FWIW, nearly everyone who bought at the "Icon" (nee the hole in the ground) is gay, according to one of the new owners. Yes, the Castro is changing, yes it's nothing to be concerned about for all the reasons listed in comments above. But it IS also remaining very gay and probably will be for some time.
I lived in the Castro for years. Now I live deep in the Mission, where I see guys walking hand in hand with some regularity. Society has changed and there isn't much reason to ghettoize ourselves any longer.
Posted by: curmudgeon at November 19, 2013 12:47 PM
Wilbur and curmudgeon are both right. There's no need for a "ghetto" in the old sense, but gay people will still continue to favor it and visit on special occassions... I still like going to the 'Stro from time to time and being part of that culture - much in the same way that North Beach is no longer predominately Italian (and hasn't been for years), but it still retains that feel and is the place to go when you want that vibe.
Posted by: Sierrajeff at November 19, 2013 1:01 PM
When I first moved to San Francisco I lived in Pac Heights, which was very pretty and felt very "San Franciscan". However, on the street it felt lonely and bereft of gay folk.
While I did not want to live in the Castro, I did move to Corona Heights and now feel closer to my community.
While I agree we don't need a ghetto anymore, there is some comfort being closer to the tribe. To a degree isn't that what the Marina, the Mission, SOMA etc. are about, also?
Posted by: roswell53 at November 19, 2013 1:14 PM
I think the Castro is one of the best spots in the city. Weather pretty good. Extremely transit-friendly. Centrally located. Etc.
But I'm still saddened about the amount of druggies going through there. Every weekend when I drive through (esp in the morning) there it is in some way / shape / form. Really bad too at times.
It makes me worry that it turns into a version of the Haight street (of a few years ago): druggies, shops catering to tourists, 'stuck in the past' feel.
Posted by: DanRH at November 19, 2013 2:02 PM
Homeless, youth camping out on the street, people pushing drugs...prevalent throughout the city, not just in the Castro. It's the tolerance level of this city that keeps it from getting cleaned up. You can put up as many million dollar condos as you want, but the street trash will still be there.
Posted by: Mark at November 19, 2013 2:53 PM
Guess what, this is what equality looks like. If people want to live in a gay ghetto that stays gay because the surrounding straight population is too homophobic to go there, then there are plenty of places left in Deep South and the square states. Or try Russia. The Castro is a great, charming neighborhood and it will remain a great, charming neighborhood. If it's becoming less of a hotbed of gay counterculture, then that's because gay culture is no longer so "counter". Personally I think all the past, present and future Castro residents should be immensely proud of that, but to reactionary people all change is a "threat".
Posted by: formidable doer of the nasty at November 19, 2013 3:00 PM
Moving to SF I lived a few years at Bush & Powell, and a few more at Castro & Hill , now living in the Richmond ,
My take is that the flavor of the city has changed a great deal since I moved here but that is not really a bad thing ,
What if the RV Park across from the Cal Train Station had never been built over and the New Ball Park Built. What we have now is a vibrant nucleus that has fostered needed housing, jobs, and flavor to a part of San Francisco that before was nothing more then empty lots and warehouses.
For those upset about the changes happening to the city in the are from the Bay to the Castro, we are seeing old over priced ill kept housing, and under used retail space replaced with new construction that will help define SF for the next 50 years.
Its not a bad thing if care is taken those that need it during this transition.
Posted by: Joseph A at November 19, 2013 3:33 PM
The center of gravity is in SoMA now. That's where gays in the city go out. As for the Castro, it's almost an anachronism and the borders of Noe Valley, the Mission, and Mid-Market are pressing closer on all sides. Soon, "the Castro" will be a two-block stretch of underwear boutiques and bars.
Posted by: Zouaf at November 19, 2013 3:54 PM
The age of Gay Villages is not "over" in other cities. West Hollywood basically has done the opposite of the Castro, growing in young gay residents and adding to an impressive collection of shops , restaurants, bars, cafés and hotels. I seem the same growth in the Lakeview / Halstead area of Chicago with many clubs and restaurants catering to the gay community opening in the last ten years . The Chicago Boystown has tripled in size in last 20 years. Just because the Castro is declining does not mean the same for other cities.
I think the lack of good restaurants and shops is why the Castro feels so tired. It is a fine neighborhood if you like a Walgreens on every block however.
Posted by: Oh Really? at November 19, 2013 4:41 PM
The generalizations and stereotypes offered here about The Castro are both laughable and incorrect.
1. There is not a Walgreens on every block. The disdain for Walgreens or similar businesses is ridiculous, because they are used ALL the time.
2. Lots of good restaurants and shops: Catch,
Sliders Bar, Thai House, Café Flore, Harvey's, just to name a few. Not every restaurant in SF need be 5 star and rated by Zagat to be "good". Shops include The Levi Store, Rolo, Citizen, Cliffs Hardware (awesome), Under One Roof, to name a few. Hi tops is a fun bar, with great bar food.
For a neighborhood feeling "tired" the sidewalks sure a crowded on weekends.
And at Zouaf: Ah, when exactly did SOMA become the "center of gravity" and that's where the "gays" go out? Silly generalization and quite wrong.
Posted by: Futurist at November 19, 2013 4:54 PM
@futurist... Compare those to Miu Miu, Paul Smith, James Perse, and restaurants like Lucques, Nobu, Mozza, Ago and Comme Ca.
The Castro is down market. An affluent shopper and diner would not select the Castro as a destination . The Castro did not allow change and other gay villages have succeeded by default.
Posted by: Oh Really? at November 19, 2013 5:09 PM
Since when does affluent equate with good, down market with bad? What really matters is vitality and you get that by providing a good value to customers and that works whether up or down market.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at November 19, 2013 5:27 PM
Silly to compare at all, Oh really? Your comments smack of elitism, and probably not knowing the Castro very well.
Useless as comparing Target to Barney's. Useless as comparing a Ford Focus to a BMW.
I'm considered affluent and I shop and eat there a lot.
Like MOD said, it's about the vitality and neighborhood character, not about the bill on your Gold Amex Card.
Posted by: Futurist at November 19, 2013 5:47 PM
@Futurist: You're entirely correct, the Castro continues to get lots of foot traffic. Particularly on weekends.
Posted by: Zouaf at November 20, 2013 8:14 AM
I lived in the Castro area for years. Not gay, have a family. Never thought the restaurants on the main Castro St. strip were that great. Certainly not worth making a destination. By contrast, there are some worthwhile spots in the greater area, but east of Castro St. -- particularly on the strip of Church St. between Duboce and 15th (a.k.a. Redcarpetville) and around the intersection of 16th and Market.
We live in Cole Valley now, where the restaurant scene isn't much better. Not bad per se, but the Inner Sunset is better IMHO.
Posted by: NJ at November 20, 2013 8:56 AM
Soma is the new Castro. Castro is the new Marin.
Posted by: sf at November 20, 2013 10:09 AM
And stereotypes are the new rants.
Posted by: Futurist at November 20, 2013 11:25 AM
That was a joke, o humourless uberposter. A great many things escape you seemingly.
Posted by: Anon at November 20, 2013 11:50 AM
Ah, ok, Anon, except that you didn't post it. Are you now covering for sf?
And it's always easy to dismiss ANY comments by calling them a "joke". Isn't that what Ann Coulter does all the time?
As she slithers away.
Posted by: Futurist at November 20, 2013 12:07 PM
I guess I am objecting to your overall attitude lately. Not covering for anyone, merely finding you hostile all the time without reason. You frequently seem to blast without thinking/understanding. Ann Coulter? Bizarre. Do you need a hug?
Posted by: Anon at November 20, 2013 12:20 PM
Oh, I'm doing fine here, and enjoying the back and forth of (most) comments. Some are just irritating and full of stereotyping and thinking without typing.
I call things as I see them. My attitude is great, and very grounded. Some agree with me, some don't. What's the problem?
But in all seriousness, you didn't answer, not that you have to. Do you know for a fact that sf was joking? Why not let him speak for himself?
And, really: quite often a "joke" is really a subtle covering of what the author really intends to say.
Enjoy the banter. I do.
Posted by: Futurist at November 20, 2013 12:27 PM
We are so lucky to have you. Thank you futurist for being so very grounded. How would we do without your witty comments and always relevant insights?
Posted by: lol at November 20, 2013 12:35 PM
No, your attitude is not great. It could use adjustment. You call them like you see them a right, very quickly and with often overly harsh words. Are you cranky in real life?
Posted by: Anona at November 20, 2013 12:40 PM
Am I sitting at a bar/cafe/restaurant in the Castro? Sounds like it.
Posted by: Mike at November 20, 2013 12:49 PM
Harsh? Oh, my, we must be careful not to scare the commenters.
I do find it rather humorous that these comments (about my comments) come in waves. What? are you all roomies?
And yes, lol. we are lucky to have you.:) I can see your sarcasm and humor (sometimes) in your thoughts? Can you see them in mine?
And how do you know I'm not joking? Guess what? all of you can lighten up a bit, and let's stick to the subject at hand, as much as we can.
Although we all tend to wander a bit.
Posted by: Futurist at November 20, 2013 12:54 PM
While I am not gay myself, I do find this potential loss of a vibrant cultural identity troublesome. Perhaps the city should take a stand and prevent the tech gentrification of yet ANOTHER of our city's crown jewels, for once. Too many bulky, overscaled condos that just cater to the 1% being built. The proposed LGBT senior housing is a start, but not nearly enough. I think it would be wise for the city to mandate that developers allocate a percentage of the units to the LGBT community. Perhaps all the BMR units, or perhaps a separate quota. Tech employees continue to drain the culture and soul of this city, and I say enough!!!
Posted by: Hawkins at November 21, 2013 5:35 PM
"I think it would be wise for the city to mandate that developers allocate a percentage of the units to the LGBT community."
Well, that would be illegal. So don't count on that one.
Posted by: anon at November 21, 2013 5:41 PM
Bisou on Market is a great newish bistro spot over there.
Posted by: Anon at November 21, 2013 9:46 PM
Well if tech workers are moving into these places then a significant number of these units are being occupied by LGBT individuals. Most of my friends work in the tech industry and they are all gay.
Posted by: Rillion at November 22, 2013 10:43 AM
Hawkins remind me of the old Mission Residency Application. "Are you a Lesbian Artist of Color from a third world immigrant family? +50 points.
What kind of super-agency would he set up to define and enforce housing for the "special" classes which are to be given unique rights just because they are special. I can see it now:
"I would like to live in Ru Paul Gardens, a Two Story Working Class Garden Suburb on the heart of
Market Street somehow constructed in an environment with no funding capacity and ridiculous land prices but not socialist."
OK Sir. Wonderful, we have a four hundred page application form that demonstrates your suitability for the community!
Returns later with painfully completed application form and letters of eligibility.
OK> Good, Good. This all looks good. But....
PROVE TO ME you are Gay Enough to live in our low density Homosexual Residential Preserve!
Well, maybe there can be an oral sex requirement or something? A mandatory test at a minimum>
Posted by: Brian M at December 3, 2013 3:43 PM
I think the "Castro Community" has all moved on to Portland or Palm Springs. They no longer have to worry about parking in places like this: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663207/boom-palm-springs-plans-a-wacky-250m-retirement-community-for-gays
Posted by: RanchoMirage at December 3, 2013 4:03 PM