Castro Street transformed for Harvey Milk movie

San Francisco's Castro Street, a well-known gay mecca, is undergoing a 1970s makeover. The redecoration is for a Hollywood film about the life and death of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, a gay activist and, according to Time magazine, "the first openly gay man elected to any substantial political office in the history of the planet." Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in 1978. The movie crew has changed storefronts, stapled up fliers indicative of the era, and even redecorated the garbage bins, to approximate the historical setting. Castor Street at that time was a transformative place for many people and it's interesting to hear from folks who were there then and are again seeing the neighborhood as it once was. From the San Francisco Chronicle (photo of Castro Theater under renovation from Castro Shopper):
6A00C2251C030C604A00E398D683F00002-Pi "I have cried every single day since we started working," said Cleve Jones, 53, a longtime gay activist who is best known as creator of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Jones is working as an historical consultant on "Milk" and will be portrayed in the film by "Into the Wild" star Emile Hirsch...

"I'm happy that they're using the actual locations," said Marc Huestis, a film director ("Way Cool," "Sex Is") and producer who knew Milk well. "More than just for veracity. I think there's a spiritual element to that."
Link to SF Chronicle article, Link to more photos at the Castro Shopper blog, Link to even more photos by Flickr user david78sf (Thanks, Jason Tester!)


  1. These pics are great! Good luck to the filmmakers… very few films can accurately depict a time period.

    ZODIAC comes to mind as a movie that got the 1970’s down pat.

  2. Sounds like a great cast overall. The only time I saw the Castro in person was in 1992, and things seemed to be pretty low-key, but that could have been on account of the epidemic. Wonder what it’s like now?

  3. What a silly comment from Time. Maybe Harvey was the first “openly gay” politician to be elected to an American office in the history of our usage of such ridiculous terminology… but you can be damn sure that in the history of Greco-Roman ‘democracy’ there have been any number of people elected to public office with a publicly-known proclivity for sexual conduct with others of their gender. Heck, at times in ancient Athens, open homosexual conduct with young boys was a *requirement* for public office.

    Of course, the quote from Time is really rather perceptive, so long as we recognize that it’s a distinctly modern phenomenon to slap a character-defining signifier like “gay” or “straight” onto an individual. As Foucault argued so persuasively in ‘History of Sexuality,’ there was indeed (if any of us can imagine) a very long period of history in which one’s erotic liaisons were *not* considered in these terms. ‘Homosexuality’ as such is indeed a distinctly modern phenomenon, insofar as it’s only quite recent that society has demanded that sexuality be described and categorized according to definite terminology….

  4. I was down there last Saturday and it was really neat looking, albeit a little weird to see it a lot less colorful less the rainbow flags on the light posts. I was going to swing by Swirl and pick up some beer, but Swirl has been transformed into a 70s liquor store entirely, inside and out and it was closed.

    If you want to see a great collection of photos of everything, head over to the Castro Shopper on Vox:

  5. DOH! The Castro Shopper link was already in the story. Bad me for not checking. *smacks self around*

  6. what about the “elephant walk” bar? surely it’s in the movie somewhere, since i think it’s still around, and carries such history. i hope it will be in there. i’m so happy this movie is finally being made. it brings tears to my big gay eyes.

  7. One of the SF Chron photos has the caption “Bellbottoms and hippie garb were de rigueur in 1973, as these extras awaiting their call demonstrate on the Castro Street set of “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant.”

    Aside from the fact that the photo doesn’t really demonstrate the caption’s claims, I find that notion of 1973 garb in the Castro to be rather dubious. I happened to live in the Castro in 1973 and my memory is that the clean cut clone look – which I recall as being either preppy or blue denim jackets and jeans. Bellbottoms and hippie garb may have been lingering around Mid-America, but the Castro?

    I hope that they had a bunch of photos and footage from that era on Castro to double-check against. The clothing store photo from the Castro shopper
    struck me as particularly odd. I don’t think anyone with any notion of style was wearing giant peace sign necklaces in 1973. Maybe Unitarian ministers in Wisconsin were…

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