DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

By Josh Eliot

 

“Deep Inside” is a series in four parts that Will Seagers and myself are writing. The first in the series focuses on San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, where Will and I both spent a lot of time during the 1980’s. Although Will Seagers and I have never met formally, I am convinced that he sold me my first VCR at Eber Electronics in 1984. I can’t say for sure, but that photo of him at Eber’s from his blog “The Stereo Maven of Castro Street” convinced me, because he looked very familiar. After purchasing the VCR on a payment plan I remember running across Market Street to Captain Video to rent a couple of VHS tapes, most likely a horror movie and a porn.

In 1984 my friends and I were incredibly lucky when we found and rented our flat at 629 Castro Street. It had three bedrooms, was located just above the corner of 19th and we paid $750 per month. Our landlord Marlene got sole ownership of the three level building and a nearby house in her divorce settlement. Our unit was located on the middle floor with an artist (painter) and his roommate above, and a leather couple below. The neighborhood had so much to offer with bars and restaurants on every block. 18th and Castro was the main intersection; to the right was your coin-operated laundry and Cala Foods Supermarket, to the left was The Midnight Sun video bar and Moby Dick (where Will Seagers was known to DJ).

 

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

 

Near the Corner of Castro and Market Street was The Castro Theatre, which is my focus for this blog as it was truly the heart and soul of the neighborhood. This landmark represented a place where the gay community could come together and show appreciation for their favorite films and icons. They hosted premieres like Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, and more recently The Matrix Resurrections, complete with cast and crew appearances. There was a constant array of new releases as well as classics that were shown, providing quite a wide variety of constant entertainment for the neighborhood. Inside this majestic palace the architecture was astounding and much was coated in gold leaf. There was a balcony, of course, and the main level consisted of three sections, the right side being the “smoking area.”

 

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

 

Suddenly Last Summer was the first movie I saw there. I was surprised and delighted when, prior to the beginning of the movie, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ rose from the floor on a platform. The sound quality was amazing and when the player finished his performance with the song “San Francisco” (open your golden gate) the crowd sang along from the top of their lungs. What was this place? This experience was already so much more than just going to a movie house. Suddenly Last Summer was my first “real” introduction to Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn, but it was Elizabeth Taylor with her 22” waist and pointy bra that stole the movie for me. I’d only ever seen her in films like Night Watch where she was, what?, late forties? Well in Suddenly she looked stunning from the moment she graced the screen in her insane asylum uniform. Even though the gay undertones in the movie were “way over my head,” just being in the packed house with a mostly gay audience was a thrill. The place exploded in applause when the real nut, Katharine Hepburn, rode up the private elevator in her gothic mansion at the movie's end. I’m sure they could hear the cheers and applause down the block!

 

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

 

There was always something going on at the Castro Theatre. We saw the premiere of Lust in the Dust with Divine and Lanie Kazan, and though the audience was every excited, the movie was a bit disappointing as we really expected a John Waters classic, but he didn’t direct it, Paul Bartel did. Joan Collins came there in person for An Evening with Joan Collins, a live on stage interactive event. I’m not sure if she was pushing a book or just riding the Dynasty wave, but it was incredible and we all thought that her head looked too big for her body. When her car drove off after the event, the street was so packed with queens screaming her name and banging on her car it could barely move down the road.

I even sat through four consecutive nights of Berlin Alexanderplatz (A 15 ½ hour , 14-part West German crime television miniseries, set in 1920s Berlin and adapted and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Fritz, my boyfriend at the time (though he never admitted it). I thought he would see how invested I was in our relationship by showing my commitment to his viewing choices, since none of his other friends would sit through 15 hours with him. It didn’t really work, as you might have read in my recent blog, “Everybody’s Free To Feel Good.” I actually was blown away by Fassbinder’s work and became a fan, seeing a lot of his movies.

The best time ever was seeing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it would play there a few times a year and we would always go again and again and again. All those classic lines, which of course the audience all knew and yelled out! And that face, those Bette Davis eyes surrounded by all that white make-up on that giant screen! Nothing could beat that movie with a live audience!

 

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

 

Today I just so happened to go to the Castro Theatre’s website to see if they are still going strong and I am happy to report that they are! It looks like APE (Another Planet Entertainment) was chosen to partner with the owners of the Castro Theatre to implement significant improvements to the sound, lighting, customer and artist experience. They acknowledge the Castro Theatre is an icon of the LGBTQ+ community and a treasured space for film, music and live performance. It looks like they’ve got An Evening with Elliott Gould, a screening of A Mighty Wind (got to love Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey!) and a performance by Shangela, made famous from RuPaul's Drag Race. The diverse schedule of events is in full swing. It’s great to see some things never change, they only get better!

 

 

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

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Merry Christmas (and Getting Re- Organized)

By Will Seagers
 
Will plaing the organ in festive birthday attire

Don we now our gay apparel

 

Well, Season's Greetings to one and all! This will be my first sequel blog. Back in November, I wrote about my love and fascination with the "musical" organ as well as the biologically attached one that got me into Bijou in the first place! Lol.

Because music has been such a large part of my life, whether it be DJing, selling Hi-Fi or playing and selling organs and pianos, my first blog on the organ left a lot out of a rather large story.

I remember leaving off the first blog at my arrival in Santa Fe. Until the purchase of the Lowery spinet, I had been without an organ for 5+ years... which seemed like a lifetime! I wound up purchasing a couple more organs in Santa Fe, which got me back to another Conn 651! It was not in the best of shape, electronically speaking. It seemed like my organ tech was always coming over to jump start this one.

 

Open organ with maintenance man at work

Say 'Aaaah' – my trusty organ doctor at work

 

With all of the abovementioned technical issues, I started pondering another brand... Allen. It was a wise move - musically and technically. My first was an ADC-3600, a beautiful two manual theater model. That didn't last long. Once you have had three manuals, two is a little limiting! That led to the ADC-3600's big brother, the ADC-4600 - the three manual and very well equipped version for its time.

 

Allen Organs Headquarters sign

 

It was at this time that I started to take organ lessons again. This was at the suggestion of my Allen technician. Little did I know that the man he was referring was a legend in the theater organ world who lived right here in my home town. I have decided as a courtesy to keep the anonymity of my teacher and tech. My "lessons" were really coaching sessions as my "coach" thought pretty highly of my playing and overall knowledge. I let him know that I was gay right from the start. He "let the cat out of the bag" during our first lesson, as well. He was my senior by 20 years. Besides the wonderful music, we had hilarious times with him recalling his various gay escapades during the '50s and '60s. Belly-laughing was always part of our curriculum!

Through him, I was introduced to his house-mate and his partner and we became a very large family that got together on all of the major holidays. All of this was wonderful except that in only a year and a half of knowing my teacher, his health failed and he passed in 2012. I was not only saddened but lost. I thought I had finally gotten a musical liaison back in my life! Oh well. I am quite thankful for that period of time that I had with him and the rekindling of musical energy that he gave me.

 

Open close-up with framed picture of organ teacher sitting on it

I didn't say his name, but here's his picture (framed, sitting on the organ)

 

A year and a half later my step-father passed. He left me a nice sum that I used to get the organ that I own today... an Allen MDS TH 17. I still have to pinch myself when I look at it! It is massive and gorgeous! Oh, how I could have used my teacher to learn all of this organ's features. Playing music and playing an organ like this are two different things. Learning to maneuver through a song and change registrations with the thumb pistons and toe pistons was something that I was never taught. And, now in my 70s, it is something that I am determined to learn on my own.

All of these instruments have one thing in common - they have brought great pleasure. From the very first time I heard a theater organ as a child, I knew I wanted to play one. I have been moved to tears on many occasions. It has proven to be the gateway to my soul.

 

Will's current theater organ

 

 

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

 

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One Organ Leads to Another! Part 1

By Will Seagers

 

Will playing the organ

Me playing my sister's wedding

 

Besides the love of men and their physical attributes, I have also loved another organ... the Theater Organ! It is also quite a coincidence that both loves started around the same time... at age 13.

Naturally, right as I started my teens my hormones were in overdrive. I remember having a hard-on for most of the day... starting with the "Morning Wood!" Most of the time in school I walked through the hallways with my books in front of me to hide the raging truth! Lol. So, I guess this was a good thing for later on in life as that became an asset!

Meanwhile, at age 13, I awoke one Sunday morning to the sight of a large truck parked in front of our house in West Deal, N.J. On the sides of it was proudly painted "Hammond Organ of Asbury Park." At this age I would have been taking piano lessons on and off for the past six years. Immediately, something told me that my mother and father had purchased an organ. My father was prone to impulse buys... but, this took it to a whole other level!

So, after the rap on the front door I let in the two delivery gentlemen who started to prepare their route through the front and into the living room. In one corner of the living room already sat a beautiful Mason & Hamlin Baby Grand that my father and I both played. Directly across from it in the other corner was to sit a beautiful Hammond A-102... the French Provincial self-contained version of the famous Hammond B-3! (The cabinet choice gave evidence that my mother was involved in the selection. Everything in the house was French Provincial. Hey, it was the 60s!)

As the deliverymen were finishing up, my parents arrived on the scene to find me picking away at both keyboards (manuals) and the pedalboard! I took to it like a duck to water. I never looked back at the piano seriously again. My parents seemed pleased at my "adjustment!"

The 60s and 70s were strong decades for the home organ industry. By the 80s it was a thing of the past and so were many of the manufacturers. I remained determined and connected to the instrument. Unfortunately, my family did not enjoy the prosperity that they had in the early 60s and the organ was sold. :( !

Fast forward to the late 70s and my move to San Francisco. Although my first partner and I lived in a very modest one-bedroom apartment in the South of Market neighborhood, I managed to shoehorn a sizable Conn 651 3 manual theater model into the tiny living room right across from my DJ mixing console that I built and shoehorned into that same living room. (I rehearsed all of this by living in a small apartment in The Village in NYC!) The abovementioned Conn organ had always been on my wish list. I purchased it with some "Pin Money" from a porn movie that I had made.

 

Friends in San Francisco apartment with organ The My Conn 651 “shoehorned” into our 10th St. Apt. in SOMA

 

Conn 651 in apartment

The Conn 651 in my first solo apt. in the Castro (1990)

 

So, I kept that organ until I left S.F. in 1991. I sold it back to the priest from whom I bought it originally! I was sad to see it go. It was really the first of my dreams to come true. I moved to the East Coast from S.F. and a smaller version of that Conn was to follow shortly... a Conn Theaterette.

Most astonishingly and unexpectedly, I got a job in a music store selling pianos and organs shortly after I arrived on the East Coast. Knowing the basic elements of music allowed me to teach beginners on these keyboard products. I stayed with the company for four years until I got the itch to live in South Beach, Florida! The Theaterette was sold to a dear friend that still has it!

Customer Bill with his organ One of the organs I sold and its proud owner! Bill and I became long time friends.
 
Will playing Bill's organ

Here I am at Bill's organ giving an after dinner concert!

 

Fast forward again. This time it is 2000. After meeting my current Husband in NYC and living together in his apartment until 1999, I bought a Lowrey Spinet for our first house in Santa Fe. A second (but 3 manual) Conn Theaterette became available and I scooped it up! The two sat side by side in a larger living room. It wasn't too long after that I found another full-sized console Conn 651 - this time with a Leslie speaker!

 

Two organs

Two Conn Theater organs, one in the living room and “mini me” in the den!

To be continued...


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

 

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