The Castro Social Scene

The years are 1974-1979. Gay communities are largely silent nationwide. Castro Street is coming out, blooming with activity. Pioneers sense their time has come, and the greatest gay generation begins paving the way, opening doors, and  celebrating diversity. Welcome to Castro Street.

The Castro Street Fair has become a San Francisco Institution. Harvey Milk arranged the first fair as a way to unify the local gay community in defiance of the Eureka Valley Merchants Association which refused to cooperate with gay merchants in the neighborhood. The first Fair was held on August 18, 1974, and the event has grown into a tradition as meaningful as the gay pride parade. It’s another excuse for the tribe to come together and celebrate community pride and enjoy a day in the sun with our friends and neighbors.

The Castro is relatively small. Castro Street is a major crosstown route and Market is even busier. The intersection of the two is a transfer point for many bus routes. The first few annual Fairs caused little more than a slight inconvenience to motorists since only one block of Castro was closed. These photographs show that through the 1970’s the Fair grew in importance as a social event for the Gay Community. It was a fabulous Sunday afternoon party. Everybody was there. The alcohol flowed freely. The sun (usually) blazed down on us, providing maximum comfort to the scantily clad! Nudity was rare, but there was plenty of skin to satisfy the needs of all who admire the male body as an art-form! The few booths that occupied the street were for food and drinks. This was a party, not a shopping mall.

Each year, as word of the fabulous party spread, more and more “outsiders” were drawn to the event, and naturally, merchants were drawn to the potential for sales. Today there are so many booths full of “art” and jewelry and clothing and merchandise, the fair has turned into a flea market. The photo on the left shows the 1995 Castro Street Fair (looking North on Castro). It is displayed with permission from photographer Ron Williams, the Webmaster of WEBCASTRO, for comparison with the 1976 Fair picture (looking South on Castro) above. The Fair has expanded up Castro to 19th, up and down 18th, and taken over a good bit of Market Street. Traffic is completely prevented from using these major arteries from before dawn till late in the evening. It takes hours and hours for an army of workers to create the booths and stages and install porta-potties and move the merchandise into the area. It takes just as long to tear down the site, haul away the money, and clean the streets. I’m not saying it’s no fun anymore. There are even more men to look at. But you are more likely to see families with children and out-of-towners than any of your friends. It takes close to an hour to navigate your way through one block of human gridlock. There’s precious little room to maneuver among the sea of booths crammed into our little neighborhood. Most of the residents in the area would be happy to see the event go away. They spend their day yelling at people trying to park in their driveways or pissing on their bushes.

Recent Castro Street Fairs have actually been lots of fun. The late summer weather is usually perfect for a Street Fair, about 70 degrees. The Fair covers 5 Blocks and isn’t usually overcrowded. In spite of occasional people gridlock it can be a most enjoyable gathering and a most enjoyable day!

  • Why are the images so small? Back when this website was first made, dialup internet modems could not transfer large files easily. Computer resolutions were much smaller. The images on this page were typical for the era.