The Castro, San Francisco.
23.5 x 32.25 in (59.69 x 81.915 cm)
A fascinating view of the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco, produced in 1985 by artist Graham Bruce. It combines elements of a conventional pictorial map of the period (advertisements for local businesses) with a more ethereal aesthetic, celebrating the nightlife of this 'mecca' of LGBTQ culture. However, the view was also produced in the most frightening period of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in San Francisco's gay community, and may have been intended as an elegy for both the people who had died and the culture of gay liberation that was imperiled by the epidemic.
A Closer LookThis view is oriented roughly towards the northwest, looking from the perspective of Mission Delores Park. Figures representing the gay culture and subcultures of the neighborhood appear throughout. Behind these are signs for local businesses, especially a row of buildings at back which face the viewer along Market Street, running diagonal through the otherwise grid-like structure of the surrounding streets. Most of these businesses are gone, but a number survive as neighborhood landmarks, including Moby Dick, Double Rainbow Ice Cream, and the iconic Castro Theater.
The view has a somewhat surreal quality, with San Francisco landmarks squeezed together in the background, including Sutro Tower, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Coit Tower alongside the more recognizable Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. The beach at bottom-left is likely meant to be Marshall's Beach, near the Golden Gate Bridge, long known as an informal 'gay beach.'
Historical ContextA portrait of Harvey Milk, 'the Mayor of Castro Street,' is included at bottom-right, along with other references to gay liberation, such as the nearby Community Pride symbol and the figure in the foreground with a 'Stonewall Lives' tee-shirt. These allusions hint at the extremely fraught context in which this map was produced. Not only had the preceding years seen the emergence of the gay rights movement, the tragic assassination of Harvey Milk, and the resulting 'White Night Riots,' but also, by the time this map was published, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was devastating San Francisco's gay community. In this period, when transmission of HIV was high and treatments nearly non-existent, it was common for otherwise healthy young people to waste away and die in a matter of weeks.
The only obvious reference to the epidemic is the figure with a 'safe sex' shirt at bottom-right, but local politics at the time were roiled by perceptions of the city establishment's indifference to the disease, damningly chronicled in Randy Shilts' celebrated work of investigative journalism And the Band Played On. In 1984, the city closed gay bathhouses in a desperate attempt to slow the spread of HIV, a move which bitterly divided the city and the gay community specifically (Shilts, who himself would die of AIDS, controversially supported the move). In tandem with this dramatic step, a widespread public health campaign was launched to encourage safe sex, particularly in the gay community. The festive mood of the view appears incongruent with the terror of the time, though perhaps it was intended as a last celebration of a disappearing era.
Publication History and CensusThis view was drawn by Graham Bruce in October 1985. No other details about the artist, aside from his self- portrait at bottom-right, nor the publication and distribution of this view are known. It has occasionally appeared on the market in recent years but is not known to be held in any institutional collections.
Very good. Bottom-left corner crimped. Some additional wear along edge.