“SUBMERGED QUEER SPACES”— Our History Through an Architectural Slant

“Submerged Queer Spaces”

Our History Through an Architectural Slant

Amos Lassen

Jack Curtis Dubowsky’s documentary “Submerged Queer Spaces” is a documentary that looks at queer history through an approach of urban archeology concentrating on San Francisco. As the city grew and gentrified, communities changed, shifted, and were displaced. Places such as bars, restaurants, parks, alleys, bathhouses, and other sites where gay people came together were remodeled, rebuilt, destroyed or changed their reasons for being. The film examines what is left of these historic sites and buildings. in San Francisco. Eight people are interviewed and give firsthand experiences of these sites. Gerald Fabien experienced gay San Francisco before WWII, and tells stories about sailors, mariners, and the dangers of Union Square cruising. Guy Clark and Jae Whitaker speak about the unexpected racism they felt in a city that was supposedly liberal. We gain a historical look into those places that are gone but that were once very popular.

Through voiceover narrations by former patrons of places like The Black Cat and one-time cruisers in Union Square, we learn of places that once enjoyed had a strong gay community that has been lost because of gentrification and social displacement. This is a friendly study for everyone but especially for San Francisco natives.

Dubowsky found some of the people he interviews at a group called San Francisco Prime Timers and by word of mouth. We hear Gerald Fabien’s story about cruising a sailor who ended up being a murderer and are reminded that when being openly gay or actively sexual included risks. Doug Hilsinger speaks about The Eagle Tavern, and how its architecture affected the vibe and socialization there. The physical and social space of the Eagle Tavern played a very large role in its original creation and success.

Visiting some of these sites and finding architectural remains was like unearthing an ancient tomb. At the Blue and Gold and the Club Baths, there are still bits of tile that are decades old. There were also many mysteries but a lot of street numbers had been changed, so a documented address might no longer exist.

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