PHOTOS: The Fairoaks Project

Photographer Frank Melleno must have intuited the once-in-a-lifetime magic of the moment when he took these candid Polaroid pictures at the Fairoaks Hotel.

BY Mark Thompson

July 24 2010 3:00 AM ET

1 PIXEL GIF | ADVOCATE.COM

FAIROAKS PROJECT 02 (MELLENO) | ADVOCATE.COM

San Francisco was filled with establishments like this—ranging from the outright seedy to gaily grandiose—but there was no place quite like the Fairoaks Hotel. It literally stood alone, at the intersection of Oak and Steiner streets, perched on a hill overlooking the lower Haight/Fillmore district; an urban patch not yet gentrified by the city’s swelling tide of gay Boomers and some distance from the neighborhoods they typically occupied.

The Fairoaks’ existence was short-lived—1977 to 1979—but fondly recalled by its patrons for a number of things. For one, it was a racially inclusive place for gay men to have sex, unlike some of the city’s hot spots that were less welcoming of people of color. And then, well, it was cheap—meaning it was relatively inexpensive compared to other such places in town. Full-sized rooms were just five to seven dollars for the night; lockers, one to three dollars. The cost of a yearly membership was only four bucks.

Once checked in, you could store your valuables in a safe at the entry. The next room was a relaxed lounge with overstuffed ‘40s furniture adjacent to a snack bar and an open DJ booth. One could hangout on the aptly named “Joan Crawford sofa” or play a round of pool with buddies clad in nothing but towels. A big wooden staircase, decorated with Art Deco designs of horses and trees, led up to the second through fourth floors. Some of the rooms were fully furnished and decorated with pieces of erotic art by the men who lived there on a semi-permanent basis. Weekly rates were low, too. So more than just a funky place to fuck, the Fairoaks Hotel was a lifestyle for many.

Tags: Art

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