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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