Gay Pride | Harvey Milk | Photography | San Francisco

Vintage Gay Castro Images and Harvey Milk

Pritikin1 Pritikin2

Uncle Donald's site, which i've mentioned here before, is an archive of fascinating images from the Castro in the 70's. Donald recently posted a gallery of images by freelance photographer Jerry Pritikin which are well worth a look.

It includes these shots, one of a pair of "would-be fag bashers" hanging out on Castro Street and another from the 1978 Castro Street Fair. He has also posted a gallery of images of slain SF Supervisor Harvey Milk, a hero whose good work and hateful murder should never be forgotten.

It was recently announced that Superman Returns director Bryan Singer will direct the long-in-development biopic of Harvey Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street. Singer: "It's a project that has fascinated me ever since I saw a documentary about it. (Milk's) an extraordinary character, as a person in history. We're developing a story based on him that will probably center around the latter period of his life, leading up to his assassination. He is one of the great role models of our contemporary society that, unfortunately, a lot of people don't know about."


Bravo to Singer for putting this project into high gear. I can't wait to see what he does with it.

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Thank God for Harvey Milk [tr]

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  1. That is so great Andy! Great photos. Thanks Uncle Donald.

    Posted by: david | Jun 21, 2006 1:16:06 PM

  2. Casting suggestion, Sir Ian as Harvey Milk. Never met either man, but Sir Ian can project that slightly subversive yet folksy attitude that Milk's reputed to have had.

    Posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) | Jun 21, 2006 3:19:57 PM

  3. I wonder where most of those men are now...if they're still around :(

    Posted by: Jason | Jun 21, 2006 3:32:55 PM

  4. Some of Pritikin's photos do capture a magical time, pre-AIDS [symptoms] and pre-Bush. He has the date wrong, however, on his caption to a photo from one of the most important lost-to-history events. The White Night Riot was May 21st not June, the day Dan White got barely a slap on the wrist, his shameless lawyer using the now legendary and infamous Twinkie Defense and the jurors' homophobia to get a ludicrous verdict of manslaughter even though White crawled through a City Hall window to avoid the metal detectors that would have detected his police service revolver and extra bullets, and confessed to then pumping them repeatedly into Mayor Moscone and Milk, and, in both cases, leaning over to fire fatal "coup de gras" shots into their heads after the initial shots knocked them down.

    The riot that evolved at City Hall should have dwarfed Stonewall in history because of its greater numbers of participants and their rage [a dozen parked police cars were torched] and significance greater, with all due respect, to a smaller group of people, many of whom stoned out of their senses, simply pissed off by yet another routine police raid on a seedy Mafia-owned bar spoiling their fun, with no thought, in the moment, at all to fighting in the name of anyone or anything other than themselves. White Night was a reaction to a right wing former cop [and those he represented] having gotten away with a double murder. Given credit for time served, he was a free man four years later.

    At City Hall, the police became enraged themselves, after having been held back most of the night at by their chief who feared a bloodbath [he was soon fired]. After they were set loose, I was one of those clubbed in the back. Some of them later zoomed in their police cars into the, at the moment, quiet as a church Castro, looking for vengeance. Not wanting to get clubbed again, my roommate and I watched from the roof of our building at the corner of 18th and Castro as a surreal spectacle unwound below us. Some police pointlessly marching in formation down the middle of Castro Street. Rogue others attacking random bystanders with their clubs, whether or not they were among those yelling "Police out of the Castro! Others giving first aid to their fellow officers' victims. And the grand climax when some burst through the doors of Elephant Walk bar on the corner clubbing queens to its floor mid-cocktail. One acted out his own rage by furiously smashing the glass of its double front doors.

    If it could ever be said that Camp collided with near fatal violence, it happened the moment some, standing in front of what was then Star Pharmacy, realized it was after midnight and, therefore, technically, Harvey Milk's birthday, a celebration of which had been promoted in the previous week's gay papers. Hopefully Singer will dramatize that priceless instant when they suddenly began to sing, "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Harvey. Happy birthday, to you!" while shaking their fists at the police, blood running down their faces....

    As we approach the annual and fitting celebration of Stonewall, too few have ever heard of that other riot [and the police riot that followed] because local softies and pacifists wet their pants at the shocking idea of gays LITERALLY fighting back against violence against us quickly smothered any sustained talk of it. Holly Near took the mid-street stage at the Milk Birthday celebration the next night and sang, "We are a GENTLE loving people..." as if she and we were living in a literal fairyland where only flower petals and never police batons fell on our little heads.

    Historians and politicians will never forget "Watts," and it is one of the main reasons things changed for Blacks as quickly as it did [if not yet enough] after decades of little progress. Yet "Stonewall" is mostly just a parade of pansies to them and "White Night" never happened at all, and we're still begging Dems and Repugs to toss us scraps of equality from their tables.

    Posted by: Leland | Jun 21, 2006 4:30:24 PM

  5. Thanks Leland for the eye witness account of White Night. I am truly humbled reading the history and seeing the photos of those who came before me. Thanks Andy for the pictures and the link to Uncle Donald's site.

    Posted by: Tropico | Jun 21, 2006 7:18:40 PM

  6. I'll second that: thanks, Leland. Feeling the urge to brush up on my gay history, I recently watched "Gay Sex in the 70s" and, coincidentally, "The Times of Harvey Milk" for the first time just last week. it brought tears to my eyes--and I was amazed that I had known so little about such an incredible person, and that I had never heard of White Night Riot before. And I'm originally from Northern California (born in '75 in case you're curious about what generation I'm from). The riot that dare not speak its name?

    Posted by: John T | Jun 21, 2006 9:54:59 PM

  7. wow - thanks as well from this vantage point, Leland. It brings a different perspective on some of your other postings - more empathetic now about your life experience. I was a 19 yo gay teen growing up in Atlanta when I heard of the White Night riots - and so curiously looking to see how my parents reacted when they heard the news. You're so right - that was a time when gay people were really willing to fight for what they not only wanted but deserved. Now we seem to content to whine for an apology. No wonder we're in the state we're in these days....but I do smell a righteous justice on the winds of revenge in the air.

    Posted by: resurrect | Jun 21, 2006 10:02:38 PM

  8. Thanks Andy for mentioning Uncle Donald's Castro Street. And thanks to Jerry pritikin for allowing me to feature some of his images on my website. I added a counter so he could tell how many visits he was getting and tonight I noticed that it had gone wild. With some effort I found that Towleroad is responsible for the surge. Thanks. Sorry for the typo about the White Night Riot. Jerry and I were both there that night and we both know it was May 21, 1979.
    And thanks to Leland for your moving discription of the riot. With your permission I'd like to add your comments to my website.

    Posted by: Uncle Donald | Jun 22, 2006 3:46:06 AM

  9. Thanks to everyone for your kind remarks. Thank you, too, Donald, and as I wrote you directly, I'd be honored to be included on your wonderful, vital site. Haven't seen the '70s doc yet, but the one on Harvey Milk, as Andy has previously written, is a MUST see. Along with its moving history, it contains one of the most incredible "caught live on film" scenes ever recorded. A huge crowd of devastated, still in shock, straight/gay/male/female/young/old/black/white/brown/Asian mourners had gathered at San Francisco City Hall the night Milk & Moscone were assasinated. The camera, probably from a TV station, could not have been more perfectly placed when the thousands suddenly lift their candles up in the air at the same time and your heart skips a beat. Add to that the interviews with people who knew Milk, who still tear up years later, not just about him but the promise the times themselves held, and the shaky news footage of Dianne Feinstein, who had discovered Milk's body and tried to revived him, literally being physically supported from behind by her gay aide, Milk's blood still on her skirt, saying, "As president of the board of supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed." [bloodcurdling screams and shouts from the crowd] "The suspect is Supervisor Dan White." [further sounds of disbelief and horror], and its Oscar could not be more well-deserved.

    Posted by: Leland | Jun 22, 2006 2:37:42 PM

  10. Leland's remembrance and perspective are appropriate and fitting.

    I'll never forget the Castro on the night of Harvey's death. Defeaning silence mingled with tears and disbelief in an otherwise bustling neighborhood. For the only known time, everything closed, even the bars, and the marquee of the Castro theater bore our grief simply: Harvey.

    The White Riots, truly justified for an incredulous injustice, is also my "Stonewall," and for the same reasons. Leland's memory and mine diverge when it comes to the violence at City Hall, though. The rage was clearly palpable and warranted. But I recall most of the violence being instigated largely by "punks" of unknown sexual orientation.

    That is, until the police came into the Castro district looking for conflict. The cops terrorizing innocent bystanders in a local pub was my first, but hardly my last, insight into "cop mentality." And despite much progress in gay-police relations over the years, I still encounter misfits that remain on S.F.'s force. Even in Oz, not all of Dorothy's dreams come true.

    Posted by: The Gay Species | Jun 22, 2006 5:21:59 PM

  11. Thanks, Gay Species. I had not moved to SF yet when the assasinations happened, and the best I can imagine what it was like, particularly I believe barely two weeks after Jonestown, effectively another SF horror, includes your own word "deafening." Probably much like what your disoriented senses experience when one dives or falls into a body of water and remains submerged. And our memories don't so much diverge as much as my simply having left out several qualifiers and side notes. [I get flamed enough for my long-winded posts. :-) ] One was the absence of clear, coordinated intent to be violent that night, of any plan really beyond appearing. Local organizers such as Cleve Jones had been promoting a march to City Hall whenever a verdict was announced, and whatever it was, though few imagined it would be what it would be. One who did, apparently, was Feinstein. Speaking, a few nights before, at a typical gay fundraiser [her handsome husband slow danced with a drag queen as nonchalantly as if he'd been doing it all his life], she was very somber, and seemed to sense some kind of bad verdict but was afraid to say so explicitly [she had been one of the prosecution witnesses]. ... It was still daylight when, after news of the mindboggling verdict had begun to explode across the city, someone walked through the Castro with a bullhorn, "Out of the bars and into the streets! Out of the bars and into the streets!" And they came. From the bars and the restaurants and the stores. From side streets and off city buses. A stream of people gathering on Castro and flowing down Market Street toward City Hall, turned into a steady river. Someone was playing a marshaling beat on a snare drum the entire way. Because of gay bashings, it was common then for many SF gays to carry silver police whistles, which, as victim or witness, they'd use to someone help from anyone in earshot. As so much that was spontaneous that night, as they moved under an overpass, they suddenly blew those whistles for all they were worth, as if they were trumpets, shofars, their tongues tied. Just hearing one can generate a brief, visceral sense of panic, but now hundreds of whistles were simultaneously shrieking and wailing—Disbelief. Grief. Rage. And the sound was magnified and echoed by the overpass concrete, momentarily drowning out the drum's cadence.

    The crowd was so huge by the time we were in front of City Hall that attempts to use that bullhorn to convey anything was useless. With no sound system and no plan or even a single human focal point, the crowd struggled with the right way, SOME way, to effectively express the conflicting, raw emotions they were feeling. The glass of the doors on the Polk Street side of City Hall were quickly shattered; their decorative metal bars twisted or broken off entirely. Trash bins on wheels were set on fire and pushed toward the building like burning chariots. At least one parking meter was ripped from the sidewalk and was tranformed into a battering ram. Struggles broke out between some who wanted to burn the building itself and those who didn't. Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, a close friend of Milk, was hit in the mouth by a brick thrown at the balcony from which she tried to calm the crowd. My roommate was punched in the face when he wrenched a large burning paper sign from the hands of the guy who was trying to throw it into the magnificent building. [Constructed of various kinds of stone, neither stopped to think that such a puny flame would have done little more than leave a temporary mark on the marble floor.] I could see a group of cops in riot helmets hovering in the shadows inside, ready to stop anyone who might pass through the broken glass. None, as far as I know, did.

    After the steps were finally cleared [that was when I got clubbed, ducking in time to receive only a "glancing blow"], I wanted to hang around and see what else would happen but far enough away from the cops who would eventually use tear gas as well as their clubs. I kinda remember crossing the plaza which previously had been filled with hundreds and hundreds of protestors, but at about McAllister and Larkin I suddenly saw a white kid, maybe 15, striding almost casually along the row of police cars parked on McCallister [only some of which had thus far been set on fire] and using his skateboard like a sledge hammer to smash their windshields. Was he a gay kid who worshipped Harvey Milk? Was he straight but knew a day of historic injustice when he saw it? Or was he simply one of the "punks" you observed.

    Individual memories of May 21st, 1979, will vary as much as those who were in or outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969 [some swear neither a drag queen nor even simply a nelly queen but a butch dyke ignited the Village crowd's resistance, others don't remember her at all]. But it is probably safe to say that none of us who were at City Hall that night and/or the Castro afterward will ever forget it. And had it not been for the pacifists then and the rising devastation of AIDS two years later, many others would remember, too, and maybe, just maybe, Matthew Shepard would still be alive and Kevin Aviance would not be attending this year's Pride parade with his mouth wired shut.

    Posted by: Leland | Jun 22, 2006 10:14:47 PM

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