Working at Marcello’s


Castro Street History Walk


Here we go

Click on the photo above for an interactive timeline of the Castro Street History Walk.

Residents and business owners look forward to the incoming Castro Street History Walk—a sidewalk timeline of the neighborhood’s important historical moments—and hope it will preserve the area’s status as an epicenter of progressive change.  But, as politics in San Francisco go, there is controversy and that was raised in the story of Harvey Milk’s assassination and the hated man who killed him.

“This is a fun place and some people come here for the shopping and for the restaurants, but they forget how much has happened here and how much it has impacted people,” Jack Cribbins, a longtime resident said. “The street facts will help people remember the important things that happened here.”

Historical facts chronologically set on a U-shaped timeline around the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street will soon tell the neighborhood story from pre-1776 to modern day. The first 10 factoids depict the area prior to its establishment as a gay neighborhood and the following 10 facts mark significant events associated with the queer community in the Castro.

The Castro Street History Walk was originally supposed to be a part of the city-funded Castro Street Streetscape Project. When the city dropped the history walk because of insignificant funds the Castro Upper Market Community Benefit District agreed to cover the $10,000 costs to make the walk a reality.

The factoids will be set in the sidewalk in pairs, each accompanied by a graphic inspired by the infamous Castro Theater.  Alongside other sidewalk additions, the facts will be a part of the neighborhoods new esthetic.

As a beacon for the gay community worldwide, the designated stretch of Castro Street has a history that is important to many people. The historical timeline will give locals and visitors alike an opportunity to see the Castro’s story. The CBD board’s goal: “Selected facts are meant to convey interesting pieces of information and milestones spanning the history of the neighborhood.”

“We want to be accurate, and we want to include all of the important facts,” CBD executive director Andrea Aiello said.

Each fact is limited to 230 characters to fit the design that will soon be a part of the sidewalk. This added a spatial constraint to the challenges of factual relevance, word choice, and efforts to ensure no fact would be offensive.

For purposes of continuity, the CBD board decided on criteria each fact had to meet in order to be included. “Each fact is required to either represent an impactful event in the neighborhood or it must note the history of an official city landmark,” Aiello said. “It must also have credible sources and be specific to the Castro or to Eureka Valley.”

To assure widespread approval, the CBD board held three open meetings where members of the public were invited to discuss the facts that would be included. Input was also welcomed via email.

The CBD board also relied on social media and hyper-local online publications for public commentary. “We can talk to people, we can see the public responses online on Facebook and in comments on The Biscuit,” Aiello said at a public meeting.

Squeezing a 230-year history into only 20 reference points proved to be no easy task. Disagreements arose over which events qualified for the timeline. History can be upsetting and the CBD board struggled to remain accurate yet inoffensive.

The 15th fact, which marks the “White Night Riots” spurred by the light sentence given to former San Francisco County Supervisor Dan White for the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, caused a stir among CBD board members.

The jury convicted White of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder in 1978. White served just five years and the seemingly inconsequential sentence to San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official enraged the LGBT community.

Arguments over whether or not White’s name should be included in the wording of the fact took center stage at the second and third public meetings.

Some argued that naming White was a way of holding him accountable for his wrongdoings. “Not including Dan White’s name is giving Dan White a pass on his deed rather than forever tying him to his evil deed,” EVNA board president Alan Beach-Nelson said.

Others saw the value in naming the villain as an educational opportunity. “I think not naming him makes him an abstraction,“ CBD board member and Castro resident, Gustavo Serina said. “He was a person and he represented a mindset that was commonplace in many areas of San Francisco, which was demonstrated in the verdict.”

Several members of the public expressed concern over having the name of Harvey Milk’s assassin permanently etched into their neighborhood’s sidewalk. Members of the CBD argued to keep his name off Castro Street.

Scott James, a member of the CBD board, did not want to unintentionally memorialize Milk’s assassin, fearing it would upset the public. “Because of the feelings it will invoke in people, it is okay for us to make this statement; Fuck Dan White, we don’t need his name in our street, we really don’t. It is an intentional omission.”

Concerns over possible vandalism, such as scratching White’s name out of the sidewalk, were also raised. “If putting his name [Dan White] in there is going to be the cause for vandalism, I am seriously concerned from the city’s perspective,” said Nicholas Perry, a planner and urban designer at the San Francisco Planning Department.

According to Aiello, the history walk will be completed before mid-June and will not include Dan White’s name. The completion of the walk will coincide with the sidewalk-widening project currently under way.

Several other facts called for discussions of relevance and fairness in representing the neighborhood. The inclusion of more people of color, women, and transgendered people was requested, but the limited space was too restricting to include everything. The CBD board tried to meet expectations by including Lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, as well as African American disco star Sylvester.

Less controversial facts that will make their debut in June include the Swedish American Hall opening in 1907, Harvey Milk’s election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, and one of the first AIDS-related fundraisers in 1982.

Car Theft in the Castro


Once cars, then phones, now cars again: theft in San Francisco’s Castro district seems to be shifting back to its old ways.

Often called one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, the Castro might not be such a haven for vehicles. According to SFPD CrimeMaps, the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods has been the site of at least 106 reported car break-ins in the last month alone.

While smartphone theft is dying down, vehicle break-ins are on the rise, according to Greg Carey, chief of patrol of the Castro Community On Patrol. “Car theft was always a problem, until smart phones came along,” he said, “It was much easier for criminals to steal a smartphone than to break into your car so they switched to smartphones.”

But when applications to prevent theft and locate stolen or lost devices hit the market, Carey believes thieves began to shift away from smartphones. “About a year ago Apple came out with a fix for their phones where a stolen iPhone is not resalable,” Carey explained, “Once thieves found out that iPhones are no longer resalable, they turned back to cars.”

Apple also created lost mode, which enables iPhone users to lock their lost or stolen phones with a pass code, display a message on the screen, and track its location. These device updates have served as theft deterrents for phones, but vehicles are once again under attack.

“Four years ago, in a typical month there would be 30 car break-ins in the Castro,” Carey said, “We’ve kind of returned back to the way it was four years ago.”

It takes about 30 seconds for cars to be broken into and raided, according to Carey. Because thieves can break in so fast it is easy for them to hit multiple cars in a row without being detected.

“Most people volunteer to be victims by leaving things visible in their car. Sometimes they are valuables, sometimes they are just an empty paper bags, but to the criminal, that tells them there is something to steal inside,” Carey said.

The Castro Community On Patrol aims to combat uprising vehicle theft by educating people on how to prevent and how to report break-ins. “Car break-ins are back and we will begin a safety campaign,” Carey said. “We will get some literature and flyers out to help alert people to that.”


Visual provided by SFPD CrimeMaps.

Recycling Center Closure



Numerous shopping carts overflowing with cans and bottles rattle towards the Recycling Center at the Castro Safeway everyday. George Warren steers his glass and plastic collection to the center three times a week to make the money he needs to get by.

The center is facing an eviction that will shut it down this summer, cutting off the only source of income for Warren and many others. Warren fears the looming closure and sees the eviction as a push to get rid of the poor population in the neighborhood.

“I don’t condone what rich people do. Not to be rich, but the code that they live by. They put money above everything else,” Warren said.

San Francisco Community Recyclers continues to evade the eviction that will close the recycling center located in the corner of the parking lot of Safeway at 2020 Market St. in June. The eviction has sparked outcry from local recyclers and homeless advocates. Safeway Corporation issued the eviction in August 2013 but the center has managed to hang on since.

This is the second eviction battle San Francisco Community Recyclers Executive Director Ed Dunn has faced in the past year. He also managed the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) recycling center, which was forced to close down in January 2013.

As with the HANC center, Dunn won’t let this one go down without a fight. “We’re supposed to get out now by June 30,” Dunn said, “They originally wanted to kick us out in September [2013].”

Dunn, along with homeless advocates and recycling center customers, has led the opposition against Safeway’s eviction. “We have had some direct action here on site, with the picket line with people shouting ‘cans not condos’ and we have had the ongoing petition online.” Dunn said, “I believe the petition is backed by just under 2,000 signatures.”

The center serves as a source of income for many poor and homeless San Franciscans in the area. According to Dunn, the center does between 200 and 300 customer transactions everyday.

Dunn believes Safeway’s intention to close down the center is a sign of gentrification in the Castro District. Unlike the less fortunate customers that have been using the center for the past three decades, the wealthy population moving in have little need for a buy-back recycling system.

“You know people buying million dollar condos probably aren’t going to want their nickel back,” Dunn said.

Anita Hernandez, a Market Street Safeway customer, thinks the recycling center is good for everyone in the community. “It helps the homeless but it also helps the poor, struggling people that need money sometimes. And they pick up the recycling when other people leave it around streets and the parks.”

A member of the Safeway security team who asked to remain anonymous believes closing the center will be a positive step for the area. “Homeless not only mess, but sometimes they harass people,” he said. “This is a nice neighborhood. Everybody wants it safe and clean.”

He is not alone in his support of the eviction. Supervisor Scott Wiener has publicly backed Safeway’s efforts in this issue since the beginning. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to address the eviction at a hearing on April 17.

Despite the strongly supported eviction, Dunn is nowhere near ready to give up. He plans to take action in the days to come and maintains a positive outlook on the situation. “’They’re analyzing all their options’ was her quote, the [Safeway] spokesperson, which is different than ‘we’re kicking them out’,” Dunn said.

George Warren, along with many other recycling center frequenters, doubts Safeway can be convinced to call off the eviction. “I kind of wish they wouldn’t close it down because it is convenient for me to work the mission and then you know, come on up over here,” he said. “But they don’t see that.”


Click here for Ed Dunn’s MoveOn Petition.