Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: THE FOLSOM STREET FAIR

By Josh Eliot

 

The Folsom Street South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco was the gritty contrast to the famed Castro District, especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When the Castro had its annual Street Fair, the crowd was eclectic, including men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Dancing, and sometimes flashing, drag queens, street performers, snake charmers, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and country & western groups who would suddenly break into a square dance in the middle of the street, forcing the crowd to separate. There were Dunk-A-Hunk booths, face and body painting, numerous food tents and the Gay Men’s Chorus staking claim to the plaza in front of Hibernia Bank to belt out some show tunes.

 

Castro Street Fair, 1980s

Castro Street Fair, 1980s

 

You would see large groups of partygoers hanging out the windows of their flats and overcrowding the fire escapes and overhangs on the apartment buildings above Star Pharmacy, Valley Pride Market and Market Liquors. The bars, of course, were packed to the brim with large crowds surrounding the doors. The Main Stage was on Market Street and the corner of Castro and featured performances by artists like Sylvester, comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Danny Williams as well as local and somewhat well-known bands. The whole event was just slightly over the top and refreshingly not overly political.

The Folsom Street Fair, by contrast, was a full-on South of Market “sexperience.” Some would call it sleazy, others would say it was the ultimate middle finger to society. It was a bit of both. If you’ve read Will Seagers' last two blogs, Diving Into SoMA/Folsom: Hamburger Mary's and Long Live the Stud!, you’ve already got a first hand account of some hot spots in the neighborhood. Spanning the blocks on Folsom from 8th to 13th streets and splintering off between Howard and Harrison streets, there was quite a large area for bad behavior to take place. To say that Folsom street really brought the grit is a major under-statement. I think the first rule of thumb we learned was don’t even think about showing up without putting on a cock ring, because you would definitely not be in the majority. You would always expect to see bare asses in chaps, tits galore, random whipping displays, hoods, ball gags, leather jockstraps, and chains, but a street fair wouldn’t go by without some shocking outfit or action that you never saw coming!

 

Folsom Street Fair

Folsom Street Fair

 

Whereas the Castro fairgoers would separate to let the square dancers dance, the Folsom fairgoers would crowd in and form an impenetrable circle to shield the circle jerk or blow job that spontaneously started happening in the middle of the road, keeping out anyone who was looking to stop it. I don’t know if all that happens these days but it was very commonplace in the 1980s. I remember going into one bar and seeing someone squatting on top of a cigarette machine while getting rimmed. Dore Alley sat smack dab in the middle of the street fair map and surprisingly it looked much different in the light. Dore Alley and close by Ringold Alley were notorious “last chance” cruise spots for bar patrons once they closed at 2am.

In 2014, Mike Skiff’s (videographer and director for Catalina Video under Mark Jensen) documentary Folsom Forever was released by Breaking Glass Pictures. I was so proud to see what he had accomplished after we all parted ways when Catalina Video was sold to Channel 1 Releasing in 2007. I recently viewed the movie on TUBI, the free streaming service, which documented the behind the scenes actions and adventures of the fair organizers and volunteers. The Folsom Street Fair organizers' self-proclaimed mission statement reads, in part, as follows:

“Folsom Street is committed to cultivating a safe, open and inclusive environment for kink, leather and alternative sexuality. We are dedicated to sexual liberation and the right to pleasure as a crucial part of the whole liberation movement. Folsom Street is an explicitly anti-racist organization and we are committed to decolonizing our practices.”

 

Folsom Forever poster and director, Mike Skiff

Folsom Forever poster and director, Mike Skiff

 

No Folsom Street Fair would be complete without the appearance and contributions of Mr. Markus. Marcus Hernandez, a longtime leather columnist for the Bay Area Reporter, was always front and center throughout the fair and on the Main Stage. Mr. Markus, through his column and international ventures, influenced the leather/BDSM subculture, its ethics, traditions and fundraising efforts. His smart and sarcastic column shone a light on the culture that had long been demonized and suppressed by mainstream gay and straight cultures, generating respect by showing that the leather community was among the most dedicated to their tribe. Even though he passed away in October of 2009 at the age of 77, his voice and message of pride for the LGBT and his beloved leather community reached far beyond San Francisco to like communities internationally. I remember seeing him several times at the International Mr. Leather Contest in Chicago when we shot it to release on DVD. It had been so many years since I heard his distinctive voice across the loud speaker and it brought me right back to those dirty, nasty, fabulous days that my roomies and I let our inhibitions fly at the Folsom Street Fair.

 

Mr. Markus and the Main Stage at Folsom

Mr. Markus and the Main Stage at Folsom

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment
That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun
RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship
VOYAGER of the Damned
I'M NOT A LESBIAN DIRECTOR

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Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: Hamburger Mary's

By Will Seagers
 
Original Hamburger Mary's exterior

Original Hamburger Mary's, SF

 

Where do I begin with telling the tales and memories of this iconic Folsom area locale?

First, I'll do my best to recount my presence and involvement at Hamburger Mary's. And, it is going to come from a very personal standpoint... I literally "lived there" for most of my thirteen-year relationship with my first partner Tom Beebe. He was one of the "original family" that started this restaurant back in 1972.

 

Tommy in leather jacket

Tom Beebe

 

My first and sort of vague recollection of the place was having one of their legendary hamburgers after a night out prowling around the Folsom/SoMa area and its countless bars. This, by the way, was just before meeting Tommy. So, my view of the place was detached. Nonetheless, I was fully awestruck! Upon entering, I immediately felt like I was on the set of an Andy Warhol or John Waters movie. In the well-orchestrated chaos of the place was a waitstaff of latter day hippies, drag queens and some of the most colorful people (in a very colorful town!). All offered a friendly and slightly crazed welcoming feel!

 

Patron hanging out in original Hamburger Mary's doorway

Hamburger Mary's

 

Keep in mind this was late 1976. So, Baghdad by the Bay was in full swing in terms of wild sexuality and frivolity. What I was wearing I thought was a propos for the area and the night (leather - vest and chaps)... It turned out I was too tame. I wore 501s under the chaps! LOL. Hanging out at Sissy's Saloon (the bar connected and to the right of the restaurant proper) were all sorts of barely clad men and women - the men NOT wearing the 501s that I had just mentioned! And, it did not turn a single head! It was just standard operating dress at this time.

One of the cornerstones of the place was the food... always predictably good! From the legendary hamburgers (meatless to meaty) to scores of salads and homemade soups. Remember, this was also a representation of left-over hippie macrobiotic and vegetarian fare! Speaking of soup... the young lady who first started at 18 as one one the "soup crafters," Rose, went on to become manager and owner of this enterprise. She and Tommy were very close and remained friends for years.

One of the other cornerstones was the eccentricity of the appearance of the restaurant, itself. The walls were plastered with lots of local art and photos. One photo of note was of my Tommy's butt in 501s with a waiter's order pad in a back pocket that said "Thank You!" The tables were doors from Victorian homes of late. No two chairs in the pace matched... nor did the "china." And, one of my favorite touches was the milk or half & half placed on each table in a glass baby bottle complete with a nipped off nipple for easy dispensing. Another part that I really enjoyed were all of the exotic plants around the place. The legendary "Artista" took care of them and supplied the place with her artwork, as well. There was never any one star in either the staff or the guests... it was a collective! 

How I met Tommy:
Little did I know that he was a big porn fan of mine until his arrival in December of 1976 at Trinity Place. I was offered a job there by Chuck Holmes (of Falcon fame) back on Fire Island at the end of the 1976 Summer. I accepted the job and gleefully moved to San Francisco with a troop of other folks from Fire Island.

So back to Trinity Place:
In walks Tommy with his close friend Chrysler and they prop themselves up prominently at the bar. He was the cutest guy with the most dazzling brown eyes and smile. He orders up and, upon paying for the drinks, lays out a beautiful fine gold chain (along with a whopping tip!). At the end of his stay he invited me to come see where he "worked!" Later on that day we made our way down to Hamburger Mary's!

 

Will and Tommy

Will and Tommy (L), Tommy (R)

 

I could easily write a porn script around the first night we spent together. Suffice it to say, it was hotter than hot... I remember tearing off his clothes and tossing them on a coffee table. Under the glass top of this coffee table was a recent centerfold of me. (Who says "You Can't Always Get What You Want"!?) Within a month or so we were living together in our little "Mouse Palace" apartment on 10th St. near Howard. We remained there for thirteen years in the SoMa neighborhood well before it became chic. BTW, this was the Hamburger Mary's house... employees lived in four of the twelve apartments, including the Super of the building, Gregory. He is pictured below with his legendary red ponytail. That building was a hoot!

 

Painting of original Hamburger Mary's exterior

Painting of orignal Hamburger Mary's (Gregory in doorway)

 

Also, "Mary's" was know for music. Their DJ booth was at the end of the bar just before a small game room. The two DJs were Tess, whose fare was classic rock, and Lee, whose forte was disco and new wave music. Every once in a while I would venture into the booth and play a mini-set. They both encouraged me to enter into the music world. I started my musical life soon after. My main musical attachment to Mary's was being their sound tech. Although the system sounded good with its JBL speakers and McIntosh tube amps, the playing console needed an update. With my connections in N.Y., I brought in a UREI mixer, Technics Quartz Lock turntables and Stanton cartridges. The sound system really popped and my DJ friends appreciated the new detail in the audio. While doing Mary's sound I was invited by Jimmy, the manager of The Stud (just across the street) to come and be their sound guy.

This is where I part from Mary's. Next episode will center on The Stud whose fame and history spanned not only the decades but two locations!

 

Exterior of The Stud, SF

The Stud, SF

Bio of Will Seagers:

Will Seagers (also credited as Matt Harper), within his multifaceted career and participation in numerous gay communities across the country in the '70s and '80s and beyond, worked as a print model and film performer. He made iconic appearances in releases from Falcon, Hand in Hand, Joe Gage, Target (Bullet), J. Brian, Steve Scott, and more, including in lead roles in major classics like Gage's L.A. Tool & Die (1979) and Scott's Wanted (1980). He brought strong screen presence and exceptional acting to his roles and was scene partners with many fellow legends of classic porn.

 

Will Seagers, present day image

 


You can read Will Seagers' previous blogs for Bijou here:
Welcome Matt/Will
What's For Dessert?
On and Off the Set of L.A. Tool & Die
Wanted, Weekend Lockup and Weekends in Hermosa Beach
Honeymoon in the Palms
Birds of a Feather
The Stereo Maven of Castro Street
The Pass Around Boy
The Ecstasy and the Agony
Fitness and Fantasy: The Early Gyms
Chasing the Boys and Chasing the Sun: My Story of Sun Worship and Where It Got Me
Becoming Invisible
The Reverse Story of Dorian Gray
Pin Money
One Organ Leads to Another! Part 1
The Wheels of Steel
Feast and Famine: The 1970s to the 1980s
An Alphabet Soup of Powders and Pills
Merry Christmas (and Getting Re-Organized)
Now and Then
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Badlands
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: Moby Dick Bar
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: "Just Another Stroll Down the Castro!"

 

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