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Exclusive: Inside Harvey Milk's Castro Street Camera Shop Today

575castro

In 1972, when Harvey Milk moved to San Francisco, he and his partner Scott Smith (to be played by James Franco in the film), opened a camera shop, Castro Camera, at 575 Castro Street.

The address, of course, is still there today. In its place is an art and design-themed gift store owned by Nick Romero called GIVEN. But Harvey Milk has not been forgotten.

Romero commissioned a mural to be painted across the wall of the shop which would memorialize Milk. Romero is a Towleroad reader and wanted to share this us.

He writes: "I opened my store in February in this spot - which I was astounded to find had been vacant for almost a year. I signed a lease and got to work rehabing a really dilapidated space. It was kind of depressing to see the state in which Harvey's store had been left by the last tenant of 22-odd years. I had known this was his old store and thought the state of the vacant space as well as the fact that there was very little to commemorate the space was a tragedy, so I knew I wanted to really make something special."

When the store was finished in April, Romero decided to commission the mural. He writes: "I knew I wanted to do a mural of Harvey in our window, so I looked for an appropriate artist. I eventually came to find John Baden - a local painter who was introduced to me through a friend. He and I had some great ideas and ultimately collaborated on the idea for the piece. We finished it up in September and had a dedication ceremony to 'give' it to the neighborhood. Response has been overwhelmingly positive and many individuals who knew Harvey have expressed their satisfaction. It is highly visible and has become an attraction for tourists visiting the area already."

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A photo of the full mural can be seen below. However, there is one element missing from the image in these photos, which changes it from what might be a violent image to one of empowerment.

It's Milk's most famous quote: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy ever closet door." Milk knew his stance on gay issues made him a target, and tragically, his words were prescient.

According to Romero, "The words are shooting out of the gun." They've been added to the mural since these photos were taken.

In another historical twist, these photos were taken by Harvey Milk's former assistant Dan Nicoletta. Nick Romero is pictured above (in the Mickey Mouse shirt) along with the mural's painter John Baden. I'm sure he'd love it if you're in San Francisco, to come pay the store a visit. You can also visit it online.

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Finally, a bonus YouTube clip. It's the vigil held in San Francisco following Harvey Milk's assassination by Dan White, with a voiceover: Harvey Milk's last words. This is a clip that never fails to give me chills:

GIVEN [official site]

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Comments

  1. The mural is a great tribute to Harvey. I recently watched the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and was wondering if the camera shop was still there. I'm glad to know it is and that such a tribute has been placed there in honor of Harvey. He was a great figure in the gay rights movement and he shouldn't be forgotten!

    Posted by: Becky | Dec 5, 2007 8:41:51 AM


  2. The mural is awesome. It is the perfect marriage of 1970’s San Francisco kitsch art (appropriately) and respectful tribute to a gay icon and hero.

    I am stunned and saddened to hear that this historic building was forgotten and left to fall into disrepair in the VERY HEART of the gayest neighborhood in the gayest city in the world. That is disgusting and certainly doesn’t speak well for the GLBT community at large but it especially doesn’t speak well for the local gay community in San Francisco.

    I want to personally thank Mr. Romero for recognizing and appreciating the significance of this historic space. Thanks to all who brought this shrine back to life and thanks for the wonderful memorial tribute to Mr. Milk.

    Looking at that haunting and amazing clip of the vigil following Milk’s murder I can’t help but realize that the days of REAL gay activism and the days of REAL gay community are long gone. Sadly, we can’t manage to get more than fifty gay people to march for the noblest of causes in America today. Unfortunately it seems that the more our community advances the less we act like, and see ourselves as, a community.

    Sometimes I really miss the good old days of the bad old days. It’s a shame that it takes overwhelming oppression and hate or a plague of biblical proportions to make us appreciate the power of pride that comes when marching arm in arm with hundreds of thousands of our GLBT brothers and sisters fighting for a noble and common cause.

    I long for the day when masses of gay men will come together for an event that doesn’t hold the promise of sex and drugs and doesn’t include the word “Party”, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

    Posted by: Zeke | Dec 5, 2007 9:49:39 AM


  3. Wow. He's so hard up for customers that he has to resort to turning his store into a "tribute" to generate traffic? It's pathetic, sad and a cynical symbol of the commercialized culture we live in.

    Posted by: unimpressed | Dec 5, 2007 10:16:14 AM


  4. I was in the Army, stationed in Monterey, California when Supervisor Milk was shot. I was just coming out and was freaking stunned when it happened! It spoke to me, so much, of the violence and hate I was exposing myself to. Seeing the full mural, with that stenciled pistol, really brings back memories of that violence and reminds me of how much hatred we still face on a daily basis. I'm disturbed by the pistol being there, but I think it's important.

    Posted by: JT | Dec 5, 2007 11:17:17 AM


  5. Unimpressed: I'm unimpressed with the depth of your cynicism.

    Historical preservation doesn't occur in a vacuum - for this man to realize the good he could do - and a way he could fund it - is awesome.

    I'll be in SF later this month for the holidays and will definitely stop by the shop.

    Posted by: Rey | Dec 5, 2007 11:35:20 AM


  6. It’s a small but welcome homage to a man whose death influenced amazing changes in the terrain of Gay and Lesbian politics in San Francisco and California. I only wish there was a bigger and more permanent tribute on Castro Street.

    I was living in SF when Milk and Moscone were shot. I remember Diane Feinstein’s announcement on TV, “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..”. It was one of the saddest days of my life. San Franciscans were stunned and broken by the murders. I remember participating in the somber candlelight vigil as well in the less peaceful events of "White Night" which followed the Dan White verdict. It wasn’t just Gays and Lesbians in the streets after the murders, it was a huge outpouring of all San Franciscans, across all cultures, ethnicities and sexual orientation. I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen “The Times of Harvey Milk” to do so. It is a reminder not only of a terrible tragedy, but also of what it was like to be part of a tight community.

    Posted by: John | Dec 5, 2007 12:47:32 PM


  7. Dear UNIMPRESSED,

    You've missed the point entirely, and, in doing so, have shown us all that you are a bit of an idiot. Poor thing.

    xo,
    peterparker

    Posted by: peterparker | Dec 5, 2007 12:49:31 PM


  8. Huckabee: I demand equal space for a Dan White memorial. Dan was a family man first and foremost!

    Feinstein: I demand equal space for a heroic mural of me taking over city government.

    Posted by: anon (gmail.com) | Dec 5, 2007 12:52:03 PM


  9. Thank you to everyone for your well wishes. I am touched that so many of you like the mural and what it stands for. I have always felt that a certain void exists in our community between those who lived during Harvey's time and fought for our rights and those of us who are too young too remember. The blight of AIDS on our community deprived us all of an important link between the past and present and I sincerely hope small gestures such as mine can increase awareness to those in the gay community who may not know exactly why they have the freedoms they do today.

    I'd like to think that if Harvey could see the mural he would be proud that some of us who didn't know him or the activists of his days will remember the hard work and sacrifices they made.

    Posted by: Nick Romero | Dec 5, 2007 1:10:40 PM


  10. Geez, Nick. What overpriced PR hack did you pay to come up with that bit of self-congratulatory drivel? The mural is nothing but petty opportunism masquerading as social history.

    @ peterparker: Calling ME an idiot when YOU are the one who has missed the point? Poor thing. You've been begging for crumbs from the table for so long that you can't see when they're feeding you bullshit.

    Sorry, but you don't get a free pass because the advertising you put in your window is of a gay icon. If Nick were truly concerned with making some sort of contribution, he would have made the tribute separate from his retail operation. Wake up.

    Posted by: unimpressed | Dec 5, 2007 1:29:13 PM


  11. I'm very happy to see this mural reminding us of the importance of this location in gay history.

    Posted by: Steve Schalchlin | Dec 5, 2007 1:58:15 PM


  12. In May 2008 at San Francisco City Hall there will finally be a bust erected :) in honor of Harvey Milk. It would have been his 78th Birthday.

    Posted by: ShawnSF | Dec 5, 2007 2:13:07 PM


  13. To clarify some of the facts misintrepreted in this story: while the building at 575 Castro Street has been designated an historic building by The City, being privately owned it is subject to the same ebb and flow as any other commercial building. The previous tenant of several years operated a bath/beauty products business and, with all due respect, doesn't deserve being bashed by the present tenant for some kind of alleged disrespect for the space.

    The new mural is lovely but why was no mention made of the fact that there was/is already a mural in honor of Milk on the exterior of the building's second story where he and Scott Smith lived? For those who have not seen it, I've included a link below to a picture in addition to one of a picture of the historical plaque in the sidewalk in front of the storefront, as well as memorials discussed below. [Several of the photos come from the wonderful Uncle Donald’s Castro Street site http://www.thecastro.net/milk/milk+20.html

    At the same time, I do think that, relatively speaking, Milk has been short-changed by The City and neighborhood groups. The second-story mural and plaque are easy to miss. The MUNI station named for him has a totally generic look and the addition of some far-too-small-for-the-space pictures of him by Nicoletta [transferred to ceramic] look cheaply installed [through no fault of the photographer].

    However, there is one memorial that trumps all others and not just by its size. That is the 20 foot by 30-foot rainbow flag on a 70-foot tall flag pole above the station, pictures below. It was erected by The City on the anniversary of Milk's election. At the intersection of Market, 17th, and Castro Streets it stunningly marks what can fairly be called ground zero for the gay movement in the US. Mattachine started earlier in LA and Stonewall came much later in NYC, but no American thread of gay activism is simultaneously stronger and more continuous than San Francisco's. In sunshine or fog, seeing that banner wave never fails to take my breath away. And, after its initial unfurling, no moment was more "us" than the few hours in June of 2003 when it was briefly replaced by the local gay American Legion post by a giant American flag after locals learned that the US Supreme Court had finally "legalized" sodomy. The only other time that rainbow was briefly replaced with red, white, and blue , equally moving, was after 9/11.

    But we still have too few places to honor our heroes, our history, and our lives. My late friend Leonard Matlovich tried to do that with his "Gay Vietnam Veteran" tombstone in DC, later leading an effort to erect a memorial to Harvey Milk in the same cemetery. The Harvey artifacts that were to be interred in it that Mat got from Scott Smith, including some of Milk's ashes, still languish in an urn in storage at Congressional Cemetery following Mat's and Scott's deaths.

    http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/thumb/1/18/256px-ZzzDSC_0477.jpg

    http://www.thecastro.net/milk/milkhouse.jpg

    http://www.thecastro.net/milk/milk-plaque.jpg

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/8/89/Castrosanfranciscoflag.jpg/714px-Castrosanfranciscoflag.jpg

    http://www.thecastro.net/milk/milk-photos.jpg

    http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/2/2d/Harvey_milk_plaza.JPG

    http://www.thecastro.net/milk/HMP-7.jpg

    http://www.dreamworld.org/sfguide/Neighborhoods/Castro/

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Dec 5, 2007 3:00:21 PM


  14. UNIMPRESSED, I think you missed the point that this business space had special significance to Harvey Milk's memory and legacy. That is why he didn't make his tribute separate from his retail operation. It seems perfectly reasonable and appropriate to make this tribute at his retail operation since his retail operation was the site of Harvey Milk's storied camera shop.

    Your argument might have been more appropriate had Mr. Romero's business site not had the historical connection to Mr. Milk or had Mr. Romero bought the site, in good repair and dedicated solely to the memory of Milk or to educating the community about the Milk legacy, and then stripped of it's history and significance strictly for personal financial gain but then threw up the mural to cash in on the legacy that he showed no interest in and attempted dismantled prior. That clearly isn’t the case here.

    As it stands, your over the top rant just seems angry and bitter, almost as if you have a personal grudge against Mr. Romero.

    I think Mr. Romero has again shown himself to be a class act by simply not responding to your unfounded, angry and bitter attack on him.

    Posted by: Zeke | Dec 5, 2007 3:26:02 PM


  15. Sheesh! You folks have all been quaffing Nick's Kool-Aid, haven't you? Well, maybe after the buzz wears off you'll come to your senses and see this calculated marketing gimmick for what it is.

    Posted by: unimpressed | Dec 5, 2007 3:35:49 PM


  16. Thank you Nick and John for such a great work of art. I have been to the castro a few times and have not noticed any type of memorial for Milk. This large, colorful tribute should catch my eye and many others.

    Posted by: Mike | Dec 5, 2007 8:31:09 PM


  17. It seems obvious that "unimpressed" does hold some kind of a personal grudge. Who even cares if it is a "marketing gimmick". Business owners are allowed to do as they please when it comes to getting customers. At least Nick has done it in style, and with respect. Which is more than can be said for these rants by "unimpressed".

    Posted by: Ann | Dec 7, 2007 7:26:54 PM


  18. Zeke sounds like one of those homophobic right wingers who think gay men don't care about anything other than sex and drugs. Fuck you, you stupid self-hating bastard.

    Posted by: h | Jan 24, 2008 1:08:18 AM


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  20. Most of the activists in the gay community are long dead and their achievements taken as a given by the younger generations.

    Posted by: survivor42 | Apr 6, 2009 11:09:06 PM


  21. Does anyone know of a great bath beauty products supply place in San Fran? I want to visit a friendly establishment.

    Posted by: Charles McNider | Oct 1, 2010 5:07:11 PM


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