San Francisco in San Francisco City and County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)
South of Market's Leather History
This is the city's backyard. An early morning walk will take a visitor past dozens of small businesses: metal benders, plastic molders, even casket makers. At five, they set down their tools and return to the suburbs. A few hours later men in black leather will step out on these same streets to fill the nearly thirty gay bars, restaurants and sex clubs.
- Mark Thompson, 1982
In the 1860s, the South of Market neighborhood was home to most of San Francisco's industry and working class housing. A century later, as industry and residents left for the suburbs, gay men (and some women) began opening bars, restaurants, bathouses, and retail shops in the vacant factories, lunch rooms, and tenements. Although the city's first leather bar, The Why Not, was open briefly in the Tenderloin in 1962, South of Market quickly became the epicenter of San Francisco's leather scene.
The Tool Box was the first leather bar South of Market when it opened later in 1962. In 1966, Fe-Be's and the Stud opened on Folsom near 11th street, the leading edge of a wave of leather bars nearby. The area began to acquire affectionate
Leather bars, shops, bathhouses and sex clubs continued to proliferate in the area until the early 1980s, when redevelopment pressures and the AIDS epidemic caused the number of leather oriented businesses to dwindle. But leather has remained a significant presence in the neighborhood, most evident in two annual street fairs, the Folsom Street fair, the world's largest leather festival, and the Up Your Alley fair, which began as an AIDS fundraiser here on Ringold Alley
Leather found new expressions in groups such as the bears and leather fairies and the idea of leather has expanded well beyond use among gay men. In 1989, Tony Deblase designed the Leather Pride flag to represent all people of leather. Its eight black and blue stripes, single white stripe, and red heart now adorn Ringold Alley.
San Francisco commemorates the rich leather history of this neighborhood by honoring some of the people, places, events, and organizations that made South of Market a world capital of leather.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic Entertainment • Industry & Commerce. A significant historical year for this entry is 1962.
Location. 37° 46.409′ N, 122° 24.659′ W. Marker is in San Francisco, California, in San Francisco City and County. Marker is at the intersection of Ringold Alley and Ninth Street, on the right when traveling west on Ringold Alley. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: San Francisco CA 94103, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Jackson Brewery (approx. 0.2 miles away); James Lick Baths / People's Laundry Bldg. (approx. ¼ mile away); Victoria Manalo Draves (approx. 0.4 miles away); Ashurbanipal Monument (approx. half a mile away); Pioneer Monument / California Native Americans (approx. half a mile away); Site of Woodward's Gardens (approx. 0.6 miles away); 220 Golden Gate Ave. (approx. 0.6 miles away); California Labor School (approx. 0.6 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in San Francisco.
More about this marker. The marker is one of four components comprising Leather Memoir, a site-specific art installation stretching out along Ringold Alley (between 8th and 9th) that commemorates the history of leather culture in San Francisco. In addition to the marker, the other three components are pavers colored and arranged to form the Leather Pride flag, polished brass footprints inscribed with the names of persons who were important to leather culture, and recycled curbstones etched with the names of various businesses and locales that were important to leather culture. The installation was designed by Miller Company, landscape architects.
Also see . . .
1. "Leather Memoir" at Ringold Alley (Miller Company). Miller Company, the landscape architecture firm that designed the art installation, provides a short history and context for Ringold Alley, along with artist mockups of the memorial and many photos of the design and construction. (Submitted on July 31, 2021.)
2. Folsom Street: The Miracle Mile (Found San Francisco)
...Life magazine's June 26, 1964 feature, "Homosexuality in America," opened with a two-page spread of artist Chuck Arnett's mural towering over the men of San Francisco's Tool Box bar. This moody mural, occasionally enlivened by a smiling face, depicted imposing men in black, all variations on Marlon Brando and James Dean. No doubt many men found in this monument to homomasculinity a mirror against which to measure their own leather style. The Life article was the mass culture's first exposure to gay leather sexuality. Life also called San Francisco the "Gay Capital" of the United States, and the label has certainly stuck. In the 1991 anthology, Leatherfolk, Jack Fritscher described the article as "an image-liberating historical issue that was read across the nation as an invitation to come to San Francisco and be a man's man."(Submitted on July 31, 2021.)
3. San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley (Wikipedia). Wikipedia's page for the Ringold Alley installation. (Submitted on July 31, 2021.)
4. Leather subculture (Wikipedia).
"The leather subculture denotes practices and styles of dress organized around sexual activities that involve leather(Submitted on July 31, 2021.)
Additional keywords. LGBT LGBTQ
Credits. This page was last revised on July 31, 2021. It was originally submitted on July 31, 2021, by Andrew Ruppenstein of Lamorinda, California. This page has been viewed 173 times since then and 6 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on July 31, 2021, by Andrew Ruppenstein of Lamorinda, California.