search index by subject by year biographies books SF Activities shop museum contact
The Occidental Board Mission Home for Chinese Girls was located at 920 Sacramento Street before the Great Earthquake. In charge was famed missionary Donaldina Cameron (1869 – 1968) for whom the Mission Home was later named.
The seminary Cameron was attempting to reach is the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo.
by Donaldina Cameron
The strange mysterious old Chinatown of San Francisco is gone and never more will be.
But amidst surrounding ruin, on one consecrated spot stands a solid brick wall, unshattered by earthquake shock and unblackened by the breath of flame. Within that wall an unmarred archway still bears in stone letters the legend “Occidental Board of Foreign Missions.”
Busy preparations for annual meeting had gone on cheerfully and vigorously. Our girls had scoured, swept, and dusted up to the evening of April seventeenth when final touches were given, curtains hung, and a beautiful fish net (the gift of a rescued Chinese girl) draped in the chapel room. All was ready for the events of the coming day. The last good nights were said, and the family sank into quiet rest.
No premonition had crossed the mind of any one in that busy hopeful household that we were preparing our dear old home for its burial, as it were. The children’s songs echoes through the halls and chapel on that last day—April 17 —singing their parts for the programme of the Annual Meeting to begin on the day following.
Those hymns were the requiem of a period and regime in the history of the Presbyterian Mission Home, the hours of which were numbered, So much has been written and said about the events that took place on that memorable eighteenth of April and the days following that it seems unnecessary to repeat an account of those occurrences.
We only aim to leave a few words of testimony to bear witness in coming years to the kind care of a loving heavenly Father, and also to the unselfish courage displayed by our Chinese girls throughout the terrifying and distressing experiences of the days in which our city and the Home we loved were wiped out of existence.
The terrible earthquake shock that in one instant roused a sleeping city, spared not in its rude awakening the peacefully sleeping house at 920 Sacramento Street. During the never-to-be-forgotten moments the solid earth took on the motions of an angry ocean while chimneys crashed on to our roof, while plaster and ornaments strewed the floors.
There was terror and consternation among the fifty Chinese and Japanese girls and children in the Home, but not one symptom of panic, or of cowardice. Older girls forgot their own fears in anxiety to care for and soothe the little ones. Not one attempted to seek safety alone.
All stood to their duty like little soldiers— a miniature performance of the Birkenhead Drill, for everyone believed her last moment had come.
How that five-story brick building on the side of a steep sand hill stood firm while walls of brick and wood around caved and crumbled is little short of marvelous.
The first great shock over, we thanked God for having spared our lives, and looked forth to see how others had fared. Already columns of smoke were rising like signals of alarm, but so great was the relief of present deliverance no dread of another form of danger troubled us at that early hour.
To calm the frightened children and see that they were dressed, to reduce in some measure the chaos of our Home again to a semblance of order, were our first cares. Then the problem of breakfast for so large a family in a chimneyless house had to be faced. This last perplexity was promptly solved by our efficient matron, Miss [Minnie L.] Ferree, who almost before the bricks stopped falling had managed to secure from a nearby bakery a large basket of bread.
This, with some apples and a kettle of tea sent in by our neighbor, Mrs. Ng Poon Chew, was the last meal eaten in the hospitable dining-room of “920.” Our girls gathered round the little white tables, sang as usual the morning hymn, then repeated the Twenty-third Psalm with more feeling and a deeper realization of its unfailing promises than ever before.
The simple meal was not finished when another severe shock startled all from their places. We hurried to the upper floor. Opening an eastern window and looking across the city, our anxiety became a certainty of approaching danger. The small wreaths of smoke had rapidly changed into dark ominous clouds, hiding in places the bright waters of the day. As we gazed with feelings of indefinable dread over the blocks below, there passed at full gallop a company of United States Cavalry. The city was under martial law.
Turning from our post of outlook to the group of anxious questioning faces near us, we realized that the problems of the day were hourly growing more serious … .
A consultation was held with Mrs. P. D. Browne (who had passed the night in our Home, having arrived the evening before to attend the annual meeting), Mrs. [Cyrus S.] Wright, Mrs. [Enos V.] Robbins, and Mrs. [Lyman A.] Kelley, the latter of whom had walked several miles to come to us.
One plan after another was suggested. At length the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Sacramento Street was decided upon as a safe place, as it had stood the earthquake well and was far removed at that time from the burning districts.
The streets in the neighborhood of the Home were fast filling with refugees from the lower parts of town who sought safety or a better view of the fires from our high hillsides. Chinatown also had begun pouring forth its hordes and even in the midst of the general calamity the ever vigilant highbinder was on the watch for his prey.
To have our Chinese girls on the streets among these crowds after nightfall was a danger too great to risk. As hastily, therefore, as we could work amidst the confusion and excitement, we gathered some bedding, a little food, and a few garments together and the last of the girls left the Mission Home.
They tramped the long distance to Van Ness Avenue carrying what they could. On the way the children joined the party, and the entire family was at last established for the night in the Presbyterian Church … the small children and babies were carefully cared for through all the excitement. There were three babies— the tiny Ah Ping, not a month old, had to be tenderly carried by the girls; her poor little mother (a rescued slave) was too feeble and helpless to aid much. Hatsu had her wee baby, only three months old, and little Ah Chung, eighteen months, was equally helpless….
For the last time in the early hours of Thursday morning we sought again that spot best loved by us for a final farewell. Martial law had cleared the desolate streets of all living things for many blocks. But, thanks to one soldier’s sympathetic heart we passed the closely guarded lines and were permitted, with many warnings to make haste, to enter our Home.
The red glare from without lit up each familiar object in every room. The awful events occurring without were almost forgotten for the moment, while we stood in the room that used to be dear Miss [Margaret] Culbertson’s and recalled the happy hours spent there with her, and the Chinese children whom she so loved.
There was little time for sentiment. In the block below a terrific blast of dynamite was set off. The soldier on duty outside imperatively ordered us to make haste. We gathered a few more papers and valuables from our desk, then hurried through the hall strewn with many of our personal belongings treasures which the Chinese girls had tried to save, but at the last had to abandon.
We took a final look through the shadows of the large chapel room into the executive meeting rooms, sacred to memories of many an earnest and inspiring meeting. Then a last good-night to old “920.” By dawn, two hours later, the flames had wrapped it round.
At break of day the little band were hurriedly preparing for another march, the shelter of the night being no longer secure. Fire menaced from three directions. What, tragedy, what pathos, and what comedy too, were crowded into our lives these, two days?
Never shall we forget the busy preparations made that Thursday morning for the long march to the Ferry. Many things carried so far must be left behind; much must be carried.
Which to take, what to leave, and how to carry what we could not abandon, these and many more were the problems to be solved. Sheets were torn up for ropes and broom handles served for bamboo poles.
Laughing in spite of their distress, the girls tried the vegetable peddler’s scheme with their bundles, and it worked well, for two bundles could thus be carried by one person. All had a load, not even little five-year-old Hung Mooie being exempt. She tearfully consented to carry two dozen eggs in the hope of having some to eat by and by.
An older maiden, whose name I forebear to mention, added not a little to her own load by carrying in her bundle a large box containing the voluminous correspondence of a devoted suitor! Her look of genuine distress when advised to abandon the precious box was so appealing we had to save it.
Poor old Sing Ho just out of the City and County Hospital, who had recently lost the sight of one eye, staggered bravely along under a huge bundle of bedding and all her earthly possessions, which she cheerfully rolled down steep hills, and dragged up others.
Two young mothers tied their tiny babies on their backs while others helped carry their bedding. As tears would not avail (the hour for weeping had not yet come), laughter was the tonic which stimulated that weary, unwashed, and uncombed procession on the long tramp through stifling, crowded streets near where the fire raged, and through the desolate district already burned, where fires of yesterday still smoldered.
But to all things there is an end, and so the long walk to the Ferry at the foot of Market Street ended. A boat was about to cross the bay to Sausalito. Our desired haven was the Seminary at San Anselmo. We lost no time going on board. It was a thankful though a completely exhausted company that sank down… and bundles and babies on the lower deck of the steamer, too weary to walk to the salon. But tired and homeless, knowing not where that night we were to lay our heads, our only feeling was one of gratitude for deliverance as we looked over the group of more than sixty young faces and realized how God had cared for His children.
Safely arrived at San Anselmo, the only available place of shelter for us there was an empty barn and of this we gladly took possession. Life in an empty barn with very scanty bedding, insufficient food, one tin dipper and a dozen teaspoons and plates for a family of sixty is not comfortable, yet all made the best of the situation and shared unselfishly the few necessities available
To mention the names of all the good and generous friends who have helped by sympathy, by gifts, and with money, would require the writing of another story. But in due time and place each one of these good people will be “honorably mentioned.”
Our tale would not be complete without the usual touch of romance that should go with every true story.
Long before the eighteenth of April the cards were out for a wedding at the Home. Yuen Kum, a clear, bright girl who had been with us several years, was to be the bride of Mr. Henry Lai of Cleveland, Ohio. The date set for the wedding was April twenty-first. And to prove the truth of the old adage “Love will find a way” let me tell you that the wedding did take place on that very date!
The ceremony was performed by Dr. [Warren H.] Landon in the beautiful, ivy-covered chapel at San Anselmo, and notwithstanding all the difficulties the young man had gone through in finding his fiancee, on his arrival from the East the day of the earthquake, and all the trying experiences though which Yuen Kum had passed, they were a happy couple as they received the congratulations of those present.
Just after the wedding, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lai started for their home in Cleveland amidst showers of California roses and the best wishes of their many friends. So romance with its magic touch helped us for a time to forget our great losses.
In 1939, 33 years after the earthquake, The San Francisco News reported that the Presbyterian home was to move from its rebuilt headquarters.
CHINESE HOME MOVES
Presbyterian Mission Pageant Reviews Fight Against Vice
New headquarters were being established at 142 Wetmore-st today by the Chinese Presbyterian Mission Home, which has been at 920 Sacramento-st since the 1860s.
Yesterday nearly 300 women members of the Presbyterian Society of San Francisco met at the ivy-covered mansion and in a pageant reviewed the society’s fight against Chinatown vice. In attendance was Miss Donaldina Cameron, “white angel” to hundreds of Chinese slave girls.
The Sacramento-st building will become the Chinese Christian Union School after the society is settled in its new quarters.
The San Francisco News
May 4, 1939
Return to the earthquake eyewitness accounts.
Return to top of page
The “SF Mission Yuppie Eradication Project”
Hidden Gems Of San Francisco
Our most ancient continuously used structure, Mission Dolores is always worth a visit, for its deep sense of history and tranquil gardens. The Mission basilica also holds a secret, a true buried treasure: murals painted in 1791 by enslaved Ohlone artists, on a wall which was subsequently covered by an altarpiece and hidden from view for the next 200-plus years…but that’s another story.
Within a few blocks of Mission Dolores, it’s possible to see two surprisingly excellent examples of what happened when Mission Style met the Jazz Age: Mission High School, which opened in 1927 (3750 18^th Street), and Everett Middle School, from 1928 (450 Church Street).
You know all about the 1920s, right? Speakeasies, Model A Fords, the Charleston, silent movies…and the golden age of public school building in San Francisco. After all, the adorable children of the post WWI baby boom (the smaller precursor to our current Boomer generation) needed classroom space, as well as new schools to embody new ideas about education. To cope with this demand, San Francisco was lucky to have the talents of John Reid, Jr., who served as City Architect from 1919 to 1927, and was the designer of twenty schools, including Parkside School, Commodore Sloat, Galileo High and Horace Mann. Reid’s approach was to be “solely concerned with making schools supremely fit for children.” He was also particularly known for his understanding of how to design buildings to resist earthquakes; it’s notable that none of the buildings he designed have been destroyed or significantly damaged by subsequent quakes.
Another of John Reid’s signature qualities was his ability to produce buildings appropriate to their cultural and historical context. Each of his schools is different, designed with its environment in mind. Naturally, Mission Dolores would color Reid’s approach to these nearby projects; in addition, the Spanish Colonial Revival style was sensationally popular in California, and eventually far beyond, from 1915 on through the ‘30s. So, when they opened in the late 1920s, these two schools were carefully planned, lovingly crafted, appropriate to their location and also extremely trendy. Doubtless there were at least a few bob-haired “baby flappers” among the student body.
Whether you see any ghosts or not, Mission High and Everett are well worth a walk-by. You’ll need some distance to see Mission High’s Spanish Baroque tower with its mini-dome covered in glazed tile, but you’ll want to come closer too, to see the details of the cast terra cotta ornament emphasizing the entry and highlighting the upper windows, in an ornate style known as Churrigueresque.
Everett offers a more intimate experience, with a design influenced by the romantic Moorish element of Spanish architecture. Viewed from across the street, the building’s massing and zigzag cornice suggest its Art Deco-era provenance. Its close-up details offer a series of colorful, exotic delights: leafy column capitals, lantern-like filigreed light fixtures, painted rafters and most spectacularly, a tiled entry that resembles a series of matching, exquisite Persian carpets.
Explore The Mission District
Alice Jurow is an Architect and is considered an expert of the Art Deco Period,
she currently leads the Secrets of Art Deco San Francisco 1920′s and 1930′s
From Found SF
Before the Castro:
North Beach, a Gay Mecca
by Dick Boyd Author of Broadway North Beach: The Golden Years
Originally published in The Semaphore #189, Winter 2010
Front of Mona’s, 1945.
This story has been a blast from the past for me. From 1948 through the 50’s I was a habitué of North Beach. I hit many of the watering holes in this story. In 1955, I was a Grey Line Tour Guide for their Night Club tours that made stops at Finocchio’s, the Gay Nineties and La Casa Dora, all on Broadway. In 1960 I became a partner in Pierre’s Bar at 546 Broadway.
During these years I was an observer of the homophobic behavior of the time. In the 40’s and 50’s and into the early 60’s, gay guys were called either “fairies,” “homos,” “fags,” or “queers.” Lesbians were called “butches” or “bull dykes.” Homophobia reigned. A post WWII “macho” culture prevailed. It was that way in high school and college in both athletics and fraternity life. In fact, the fraternity that a group of my friends and I started in 1948 at San Francisco State, “black balled” (no pun intended), some years after our departure, Johnny Mathis, not because of his race, but because of his sexual orientation. The irony here is that at our founding we had applied for a national charter but declined it after we learned of the national’s racial and religious stipulations. We called ourselves Alpha Zeta Sigma and to us that meant we welcomed everyone from A to Z. But by the mid-fifties that founding principle had been forgotten.
I was going to all kinds of places in North Beach in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I don’t recall being asked for an ID. My favorite two places were Vesuvio and 12 Adler. In the late 40’s, I was usually with the boys and the focus was on drinking and stories. In the early 50’s I began hitting Broadway for the girls. I did notice that 12 Adler was laden with Butches as well as some foxy ladies. I was running on pure testosterone, so I only focused on the foxes. I don’t recall whether on not I made a convert, but I do remember trying. I never counted how many times I struck out. I just kept stepping up to the plate.
Later at Pierre’s we had a few surprising gay experiences. Our Schlitz beer salesman said he belonged to the Mattachine Society (a gay political organization formed in the 1930’s lobbying for gay rights). My partner and I never had a clue what it was, and the guy was anything but swishy. Dave Kopay was one of the 49ers that came in on Sundays after 49er games then played at Kezar Stadium. His nickname in training camp was “Animal.” He was the first professional football player to “come out” publicly, a very courageous act at the time. Bill Paul, who was our bouncer for two years (1962 to 1964) and left to train for the US Judo team, becoming captain of the 1964 Olympic team in Tokyo, came out a few years later. He became president of the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club. He died in 1988 from a brain tumor associated with the HIV virus.
Going back to the Gold Rush days the Barbary Coast extended from the Waterfront to Columbus along Pacific and lower Broadway. In this part of the City morality didn’t seem to be a big issue. Locals, mostly immigrants and many who worked in these joints, had the attitude back then of, “it is what it is.” You make a buck however you can. Even the local churches only paid lip service to the vices in the area.
Many artists came to the city to be involved in the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. Some stayed. During the depression there was the WPA Art Project. A huge influx of artists came from around the world to work on murals, freezes, and sculptures. There was theRincon Annex, Coit Tower, the San Francisco Art Institute (not to be confused with the Academy of Arts) and Aquatic Park all in the vicinity of North Beach. The 1939/40 World’s Fair also drew more “arty” types to the city. Artists fell into the category of“Bohemians” which really became a code word for sexually unconventional. Most lived in North Beach where rents were cheap. It was only natural that gay and lesbian bars would flourish in North Beach and its environs. I should mention here that the preponderance of bars were lesbian. Why? Fewer doors were open through normal channels (work, clubs, organizations) for women to meet other women of a like mind.
During WWII, San Francisco being their last chance before shipping out, many non-swishy gay soldiers declared their homosexuality rather than face a less than honorable discharge if exposed later. Many lesbians joined the Woman’s Army Corps (WACS), which encouraged the development of “intense comradeship” in their recruitment brochures. Both services were stationed in the Presidio and they took their leaves in a friendly city. After the war many simply stayed here where they could find support for their sexuality. North Beach became their community.
I have focused on six clubs that best exemplify a cross section of gay/lesbian establishments.
Tommy’s Joint, 299 Broadway, 1948 to 1952, Tommy’s Place, 529 Broadway, 1952 to 1954 (Now the Garden of Eden)
Tommy Vasu was the first known lesbian to legally own a bar in San Francisco. When out on the town she dressed like a man in double-breasted suits, wide tie and a fedora hat. She used the men’s room, had a beautiful blond girlfriend and loved to gamble. In short, she was a risk taker. She often came into Pierre’s for high stakes prearranged liar’s dice games with artist/entrepreneur Walter Keane.
The 299 Broadway site was where businessmen from the nearby financial district could find a willing hooker out of sight of prying eyes at places like Paoli’s. Stevedores from the docks close by also partook of the hookers on paydays. The hookers were the girlfriends of the butches who hung out there.
Adjoining Tommy’s Place was 12 Adler (now Specs) accessible by a back staircase. It was a lesbian pick-up rendezvous. Upstairs was entertainment pretty much by whoever cared to perform. During a purge of gay bars in the early 50’s, 12 Adler lost its liquor license in what appeared to outsiders as a set-up. Drugs were found taped to the drain under the sink in the ladies room.
Tommy ran the Broadway Parking concession and was around Broadway until the mid 60’s. Tommy’s high maintenance blond was a heroin addict and Tommy became a dealer to supply her needs. She got busted and sent to Tehachapi where she was murdered shortly after her release.
Jeannie Sullivan & Tommy Vasu (far right) taken at Mona’s.
The Paper Doll, 1949 to 1961
Located on Cadell Place just off Union was a gay bar/restaurant. It was owned by New Pisa restaurant owner and North Beach baseball legend Dante Benedetti. I lived around the corner on Grant and ate there frequently. The food was excellent. You could get a steak with all the trimmings for $1.65. I could even afford to tip at those prices. In the late 1950’s and early 60’s the Paper Doll held Halloween parties overflowing down Union and up to Grant. There was a contest held for the best costume and drag queens came from as far away as New York to compete for the crown. Dante got busted in the same purge of gay bars as Tommy Vasu. He pursued appeals but finally lost the battle in 1961. Later the place became the Manhattan Towers, owned by Katherine James, and leaned more towards a lesbian pick-up place.
Peter De Lucca (now at Francis Ford Coppola’s Café Zoetrope) tended bar for her and relates this classic story from her 50th birthday celebration:
“The staff had a big party for her and she got ‘legless drunk’ and passed out. She lived right upstairs and Peter carried her home. Keep in mind Katherine was a full on ‘butch’ lesbian. He completely undressed her and put her in bed. He then arranged her clothes from the entry door right up to her bedside starting with her dress down to the undies, put his watch and cigarette lighter on the nightstand and left. When she came to work the next day she returned his watch and lighter, gave Peter the ‘look’ but never said a word. To her dying day Peter never told her and she never asked what if anything happened that night.”
The Black Cat, 710 Montgomery, 1933 to 1963 (Now Bocadillo’s)
A Bohemian hangout located right across from “The Monkey (read Montgomery Street) Block Building,” home of Bohemian legends William Saroyan, Benny Bufano and Enrico Banducci. They, along with socialites, gays and “butches” cruising for new talent, bikers, the curious and college kids like myself looking for a cheap meal, could be seen there. On a Sunday morning you could cure a hangover with a great breakfast and a couple of Bloody Marys for under $3 bucks.
In 1949, straight Black Cat owner Sol Stouman took the issues of identifying and serving homosexuals to court (Stouman vs Reilly) and won. George Reilly was the head of the Board of Equalization (BOE), which at the time was in charge of enforcement and taxation. This was before the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and enforcement at bars and clubs was hazy at best. The SFPD was saying that the Black Cat was attracting undesirables and Stouman was being harassed and threatened with closure by the SFPD, the BOE and later the ABC. For help, Stouman formed the San Francisco Tavern Guild, which became the first gay bar association and still functions to this day. However, the reformers (SFPD and the State Legislature) were relentless in their legal efforts and eventually, after new legislation, the courts overturned the earlier ruling which forced the Black Cat to close October 30th, 1963, after a 14-year legal struggle.
James MacGuiness, pianist, Black Cat, 1965
The Beige Room, 831 Broadway, 1949 to 1958 (Now the Woo Yee Children’s Services)
Strictly gay, it featured female impersonators who were mostly gay. Unlike Finocchio’s it was not a tourist trap and gay men felt more comfortable hanging out there. Also unlike Finocchio’s, where owner Joe Finocchio forbade such socialization for fear of losing his liquor license, the openly gay performers often socialized with the customers. This often led to wild after hour parties. Many of San Francisco’s high society were to be seen there on special occasions, one of which was the Tavern Guild’s Beaux Arts Ball, which like the Halloween event at the Paper Doll, was all about the costumes featured by the drag queens. The establishment even had its own columnist Henry Diekow who called himself Baroness Von Dieckoff and called his column “Bag-a-Drag-by the Bay” mimicking Herb Caen’s column “Baghdad-by-the-Bay”.
Mona’s, 440 Broadway, 1939 to 1948
Lesbian Pick-up and Male Impersonators. Women dressed like men and entertained customers. Mona Sargent and then husband Jimmie started the biz right after the repeal of Prohibition at 451 Union Street (1933 to 1935), on the corner of Varennes, between Grant and Kearny (now the Diamond Nail Waxing). In 1936 they moved to 140 Columbus (now the Purple Onion). In 1939 they moved to 440 Broadway. It was actually opened by Charlie Murray as the “440” but he soon brought in Mona as a partner and it became “Mona’s 440.” Often men had to front for lesbians in bars and clubs in order to get the approval of the Board of Equalization for their liquor license. Mona’s flourished during WWII and the Korean War. It was a favorite with lesbians but even with servicemen as it was not “off-limits.” Tourist loved it for its entertainment but also knew they might be able to connect with someone of the same sex which could not happen back home.
Male Impersonators at Mona’s in North Beach, circa 1945. Standing (l to r): “Butch,” Jan Jansen, Kay Scott, Jimmy Renard. Seated: (l to r): “Mike,” Beverly Shaw, unidentified, “Mickey”.
Photo: Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California
It became Ann’s 440 Club in the mid fifties run by Ann Dee. Johnny Mathis sang there under the tutelage of Ann who helped him with his stage presence. Lenny Bruce appeared there when his act was more New York Jewish humor than the anger he later fell into in his performances. Ann gave a lot of aspiring performers a chance to get on stage and worked with and helped train them.
The crowd at the Tin Angel, late 1950s.
Photo: Jerry Stoll
The Tin Angel, 981 Embarcadero, Restaurant/Night Club (Lesbian),1953 to c. 1962.
Originally opened and owned by artist/poet/raconteur/entrepreneur Peggy Tolk-Watkins, the Tin Angel was located about where Greenwich hits the Embarcadero opposite Pier 23. The Angel was situated in a hand-decorated converted warehouse that resembled a museum of Tolk-Watkins’ worldwide collectibles. For entertainment it featured Jazz. Entertainers such as folk singer Odetta and the “Creole Songbird” Lizzie Miles appeared there along with local favorites such as Turk Murphy and Bob Scobey and his Frisco Jazz Band. When Peggy bailed from the Angel it was taken over by Jazz legend Kid Ory who cleaned out Peggy’s furniture, painted its walls with an antiseptic white and destroyed its campy atmosphere in the process. Savvy bar/club owners have a saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” (Later Guy Ferri at the Washington Square Bar & Grill learned this the hard way) It never recovered its original ambiance and in 1962 succumbed to the Embarcadero Freeway.
Peggy Tolk-Watkins, 1950s.
Photo: Jerry Stoll
In 1954 Tolk-Watkins, in partnership with Sally Stanford (who held the lease), opened the Fallen Angel at 1144 Pine Street, an apt name for the business place of former Madam Sally Stanford. The talented (she was good enough to have an exhibition at De Young Museum) and versatile Tolk-Watkins hit the Bay Area like a comet but flamed out in 1973 at the age of 51 after living life full speed. With a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other she loved to discuss (read debate) issues with customers and friends. She left an indelible mark with anyone who met her.
Looking back from a perspective of close to 50 years, it’s easy to see how the mix of artsy bohemianism, tolerance and low rents made for an environment that allowed the gay lifestyle to prosper. All these ingredients are still in place in our neighborhood—except for maybe the low rents.
Other Gay and Lesbian Establishments
Artists Club—345 Pacific Ave, 1946–1949: Now a parking lot. Lesbian pick-up place.
The Anxious Asp—528 Green Street—Bohemian/Lesbian, 1958–1967: Opened and owned by Arlene Arbuckle
Blanco’s Tavern—905 Kearny St., (Manilatown) Female impersonators, mostly gay Filipino men, and pick-up place, 1943 to mid 1950’s: Run by Kay Blanco (half Filipino and Caucasian and a lesbian)—owned by her father. It is now the “Grassland Cocktail Lounge.”
The Chi Chi—467 Broadway, Night Club, 1949–1956: Gay & Lesbian friendly, owned by Andy and Ted Marefos. Eventually became the Pink Elephant and then by 1966 became the Club Fuji.
The Capri aka The Kiwi—1326 Grant Avenue, Lesbian bar, pick-up place, 1964–1972. Now the Royale North Beach Bar.
Cargo West—1105 Battery, Restaurant/Night Club, 1968–1976: Ironically now “Retail West,” a commercial real estate business. They had never heard of the Cargo West.
The Colony Club—711 Pacific, 1965–1976: Lesbian, now the Ping Yuen Tenants Association, a San Francisco Housing Authority project for Chinese.
Copper Lantern—1335 Grant Ave, 1955–1965: Lesbian, opened by Lisa and Mike, two former Paper Doll waitresses. It somehow survived the anti-gay purge of the Christopher regime and in the 60’s they tried Go Go dancers for a while. In 1966 it became the “Crown Room” for an undetermined period. This location is now “Chong’s Barber and Beauty Shop.”
Jackson’s—2237 Powell Street (Next to Caesars Restaurant), Male Bar/Restaurant, 1961–1976: A neighbor told me when they moved out he counted 28 mattresses being tossed out of the second floor window.
Katie’s Opera Bar—1441 Grant Ave., Bar, 1965–1976: Now the Blue Sparrow Pilates.
La Vie Parisian—574 Pacific, bar/nightclub, Female Impersonators, 1947–1950.
Mary’s Tower—1500 Grant corner of Union—Lesbian bar/restaurant—1953 to 1967. Now the Mea Cines Ancient and Modern Artifacts.
Miss Smith’s Tea Room—1353 Grant Ave., 1954–1960, Lesbian pick-up place: Now “Maggie McGarry’s,” the owner was Connie Smith, a former Artists Club waitress.
Mona’s Candle Light Room—473 Broadway, 1948–1957, Lesbian: owned by Mona Sargent (formerly of Mona’s) with partner Wilma Swarts. Later it became the Club Gala owned by Pete Marino, local Galileo HS boy. Later this location housed the Jazz Workshop, Burp Hollow and the Dixie Land Jazz. These Clubs all “morphed” between 473 and 477 where the Bamboo Hut is located today.
Inside the Tin Angel, late 1950s.
Photo: Jerry Stoll