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A Historical Tour of LGBTQ+ Landmarks in California

A Historical Tour of LGBTQ+ Landmarks in California

Let’s take a historical tour of LGBTQ+ landmarks in the gay capital of the United States: California.

Palig Dzadourian


5 min read

June 05, 2022

With a long history of fighting for their rights, we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community’s resilience and perseverance. The movement started back in June 1969, during the Stonewall riots in New York. These turbulent efforts have paid off and have led us here today, where we now have a loving, inclusive family in the arms of the Golden State.

Now considered to be the gay capital of the United States, California’s past is very closely interwoven with LGBTQ+ history.

The Castro District

The welcoming neighborhood of Castro District is both charming and full of character.

The Castro District, otherwise known as the gay district in San Francisco, has absolutely no shortage of entertainment and fun. It is a vital part of the LGBTQ+ San Francisco community and is rich with history, having come such a long way. From being the home of German, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants in the 19th century, to transforming into the rainbow-colored paradise for the gay community of San Francisco today, it is an integral part of the city.

It was back in 1977 that the district started to make LGBTQ+ history with Harvey Milk’s election as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for which he rose to prominence as the unofficial “Mayor of Castro Street”. California history was made as he was the first openly gay elected official in California but was tragically assassinated a year later.

Harvey Milk paved the way for the boisterous and lively Castro community of today; it is now a modern-day safe haven filled with street fairs, hangout spaces, bars, and restaurants. You will never find a dull moment in this San Francisco gay districtղ

Castro Camera

Opened by Harvey Milk in 1972, the Castro Camera was more than just a camera shop. While they did sell cameras and film, the shop became a sort of center for the neighborhood’s growing gay community of the time. It also served as headquarters for Milk’s gay rights campaigns, which paved the way for the LGTBQ+ community.

After his tragic death in 1978, the shop became an official art gallery, and later on in 2011 a Human Rights Campaign Store. While Castro Camera itself does not operate anymore, the Human Rights Campaign Store is still worth checking out, as it is considered to be one of the LGTBTQ+ landmarks of California.

The Castro Theater

A rich history paints the past of this iconic LGBTQ+ landmark, the impressive Castro Theater.

Continuing within the colorful neighborhood of the Castro District, another noteworthy LGBTQ+ landmark is the Castro Theater. It was built in Spanish Baroque style back in 1920 and is looked upon today as a pivotal element in the Castro district, an icon for the LGBTQ+ community of California. This historic landmark is one of the oldest theaters in San Francisco, where you can find the most diverse film presentations and film festivals.

Spring and summer are when the Castro Theater truly proves that it is indeed worthy of being an LGBTQ+ landmark, with a plethora of gay film festivals. Some of these include the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Frameline, and the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

While the theater truly shines during the warmer months, it is still extremely lively throughout the year. You have karaoke nights, sing-a-longs, and some of the most riveting drag queen performances. The signature neon light sign of the Castro Theater is unmistakable and serves as an emblem of one of the most welcoming neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The Venice Lifeguard Tower

The lifeguard tower is now a symbol of safety for both swimmers and members of the queer community afraid to express themselves.

Inspired by the vibrant city of Venice Beach, artist Patrick Marston along with his husband Michael Brunt, decided to paint the lifeguard tower with colors representing unity and togetherness. The tower was already a symbol of safety, in 2017; the added meaningful stripes of the rainbow made it possible for the queer people in Venice Beach to feel even safer.

Each color is a representative of values that bring humanity together, of acceptance and freedom of self-expression. According to artist Patrick Martson, the color red represents life at Venice Beach, the color orange is used for healing, yellow represents sunshine, green is for nature, and purple is spirit.

This fairly new LGBTQ+ landmark has made history in a very short amount of time, and will surely continue to shine and bring people together for many years to come.

Rainbow Crosswalk

The Rainbow Crosswalk has become a must-see site for LA natives and visitors alike.

One of the most noticeable permanent changes in the city of West Hollywood, the Rainbow Crosswalk has become a part of the most photogenic side of the city. Added back in 2012 on San Vicente Boulevard, one of the many famous streets in California, the rainbow crosswalks have claimed their place among the city’s landmarks, as it is now difficult to picture the area without them. The two rainbows now mark long-standing LA pride and are part of the Pride Parade Routes. They are more than just an aesthetic add-on, but a statement of the identity of Southern California’s most progressive city. Brown and black stripes have recently been added to promote inclusivity, and blue, pink, and white stripes were incorporated for the transgender flag.

Pink Triangle Park

Located at the intersection of 17th Street and Market St. in Castro District, Pink Triangle Park is a small park that holds a great amount of significance in the LGBTQ+ history of the world. This park is less of a fun outing destination and more of a way to remember the souls that have unfortunately suffered at the hands of unaccepting people. This park was established as a memorial for all the LGBTQ+ individuals that fell under the Nazi Regime during the Holocaust. The name comes from the pink triangles these gay men and women were forced to wear as a symbol of shame.

Each triangle column was built for the lost lives of 1000 gay men and women, all positioned around a larger triangle in the middle of the park. The symbol became a huge part of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement and the park is now part of the LGBTQ+ landmarks of San Francisco, where everyone can visit to pay their respects.

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