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San Franciscans urge former LGBT eatery be designated as a landmark

Written by gaytourism

The North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco

City planners in San Francisco are recommending a property in North Beach be designated as an LGBTI landmark.

Tell me more!

The property, 524 Union Street, was once home to various LGBT restaurants. The most famous of these eateries being The Paper Doll, which opened in 1944. If successful, this building would become the first landmark in the country focusing on an early queer restaurant. In San Francisco, it would become the fourth building to be landmarked for its significance to the LGBTI community.

‘The Paper Doll is significant as one of the earliest lesbian bars associated with the development of LGBTQ communities in San Francisco,’ The Bay Area Reporter noted.

‘The Paper Doll is located in North Beach, which became known as San Francisco’s first bar-based LGBTQ Community.’

‘North Beach had an international, working-class feel, with a thriving Bohemian scene of artists and writers taking advantage of cheap rents. It was described as an exciting, vital neighborhood that was more accepting and tolerant of LGBTQ people.’


Additionally, The Bay Area Reporters’ staff adds The Paper Doll’s ‘atmosphere drew more queer men and women to the neighborhood. Creating the city’s first queer residential enclave and establishing the roots of San Francisco’s LGBTQ communities’.

‘Bars in North Beach like the Paper Doll were able to create discrete spaces where LGBTQ people felt safe to congregate in public.’

‘The Paper Doll and these other bars provided the protection needed to establish and nurture the LGBTQ community.’

‘The clientele of the Paper Doll were a mix of men and women. But it was mostly frequented by women because it was located away from the touristy Broadway Street’.

‘Bars that welcomed lesbians were few in number because most bars catered to white, gay men.’

Personal experience

In a 24 August letter in support of the site’s landmark request, Lillian Faderman wrote about her experiences at The Paper Doll. Faderman lived in the city from 1959 to 1962.

Faderman holds a Ph.D from California State University, Fresno. Additionally, she is the author of books including The Gay Revolution and Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death.

‘Already in 1959, the Paper Doll was legendary and was recommended to me as a wonderful meeting place for “gay women” (as we called ourselves then). I had several subsequent occasions to visit the Paper Doll,’ Faderman wrote in the letter.

‘[The Paper Doll] was different from the lesbian bars I had frequented in that it was much more upscale – it even served dinners! It gave those of us who were its patrons a much-welcomed feeling (rare in gay and lesbian venues of that day) that here was a decent place in which to meet people and carry on a social life such as the external society wanted to deny us.’

‘That feeling was crucial to our well-being. And it would be difficult to exaggerate how rarely it was permitted to us elsewhere’.

What’s next?

Over the years, restaurants have come and gone from the property, alternating between LGBTI and straight clientele.

San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission is expected to initiate the landmark process on Wednesday, 5 September. Next, it would go to another vote. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors will give the final approval.

According to the planning department, there is no known opposition to declaring 524 Union Street a landmark.

Anything else?

News of the push to make 524 Union Street a city landmark comes just days after the city’s last gay strip club shut its doors.

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