Milking the Castro's Queer History
BY Advocate.com Editors
November 12 2008 1:00 AM ET
Francisco’s Castro district is bracing for a flood of
tourists after its star turn in Gus Van Sant’s
biopic Milk. Shot on location, the movie stars
Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay
men elected to public office.
anticipated queer flick since Brokeback
Mountain, it is more than just one man’s story.
It is also a tale about the Castro’s birth as a
center of gay politics and culture.
When Milk landed
in San Francisco in 1972, the gay community had just
begun to take hold in the Castro, then a waning
Irish-American enclave situated in Eureka Valley in
the heart of the city. From his camera shop Milk led
the area’s gay transformation. Dubbed “the
Mayor of Castro Street,” he harnessed his
popularity to win a board of supervisors seat in 1977.
A year later
Milk’s dizzying rise to power was cut short when Dan
White, a former board colleague, assassinated Milk and
then-mayor George Moscone in their City Hall offices.
Van Sant’s film brings to life this chapter in
gay history and re-creates Castro Street during its 1970s
prompted by the movie to head to the gayborhood, though,
will quickly realize that the film’s
verisimilitude is merely movie magic. Here then is a
fact-versus-fiction guide to several locations depicted on
1. 575 Castro St.: Milk's Camera Shop
Currently home to Given, a high-end gift shop
with a mural of Milk, the film crew transformed it
back into Milk’s camera shop and campaign
headquarters. A timeworn drawing of Milk keeps watch from a
second-floor window. An extra in one scene whom no one
recognized is said to have been Milk’s ghost.
2. 400 Castro St.: Harvey Milk Plaza
The plaza named posthumously for Milk served as
the gathering point for several marches he led to City
Hall. During Milk’s time the multilevel transit
station was under construction; today, a photographic
memorial of Milk’s life is displayed in the
3. 440 Castro St.: Toad Hall bar
A facade of the infamous dance hall was
re-created at this site. But Toad Hall’s real
address was 482 Castro St., a space that was swallowed up by
an expansion of Walgreens. The name has since been
appropriated for a bar on 18th Street whose owner
fondly recalls patronizing Toad Hall in Milk’s
Van Sant’s Milk is scheduled for wide release
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