Members of a supervisory board in San Francisco recommend their colleagues start the process of building a gay-owned bar in the South of Market neighborhood.
At its January 25 meeting, the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the Regulators unanimously voted 3-0 for the city’s historic monument protection commission to consider whether the Eagle Bar, an important entertainment venue in the leather and LGBTQ cultural district, should be labeled a should be symbol of the city. It would be the third gay bar in San Francisco to receive such status if approved, and the first LGBTQ city landmark in SOMA to do with queer leather culture.
Architectural historian and conservationist Shayne E. Watson noted that SOMA is one of the country’s “main queer enclaves,” whose history predates the city’s Castro neighborhood and is becoming an LGBTQ neighborhood. This story deserves to be recognized and preserved, she told the board of directors
“This will bring much-needed attention to this neighborhood as a major center of queer international importance,” said Watson, a lesbian who co-wrote San Francisco’s LGBTQ Declaration on Historical Context, published six years ago.
If the entire governing body votes to begin the landmark process next month, the Commission on Heritage Preservation will have 90 days to take the matter up. After their decision, the regulatory authorities would have to vote on the designation of the historically important entertainment location at 398 12th Street.
The Eagle opened in May 1981 and closed in 2011. It reopened in March 2013 after Lex Montiel and his late business partner Mike Leon, who passed away in 2019, bought the business the previous year and revived its hugely popular Sunday beer busts on a spacious outdoor patio.
It has been closed since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is unclear when it will be allowed to reopen. The bar’s landmarking has received wide support. In the past few days, more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition asking city guides to approve the nomination.
“We went through tough times and brought the community back together. As a person and San Franciscan, I want to point out the importance of the bar and its mission,” Montiel told the board of directors on Monday.
All three members – Regulatory Authority Chairwoman Myrna Melgar and Regulators Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin – asked to become co-sponsors of the landmark request.
“This is really important and I will be voting for it and I hope that all of our colleagues do too,” said Preston.
Montiel has already begun calling on LGBTQ community leaders and organizations to send letters to the Commission on Heritage Preservation in support of the landmark motion. In a January 25 letter, Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, noted that the Eagle had been labeled a legacy company by city officials and gave the name for the new public parklet, the Eagle Plaza, which predicted that it was built on part of 12th Street.
As such, the bar is “an anchor institution” for the leather cultural district and deserves to be preserved, wrote Beswick, who offered “full support and services” to the conservation group to enhance the eagle’s “four decades of history in providing art und Kunst ”to document cultural programs and entertainment as well as countless charitable efforts for the leather and LGBTQ community. “
District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents SOMA, initiated the milestone process for the bar last month following the sale of the property on 12th Street and Harrison Street. According to real estate reports, Robert G. Scypinski bought the property in September.
Attempts to contact Scypinski have not returned, and he had not reached Haney’s office to answer the landmark request prior to Monday’s hearing. He also didn’t speak to the executive board of the leather-based cultural district, which helps make the Eagle Bar a landmark in the city.
“I think the designation of the eagle as a historic landmark codifies and truly recognizes the historical nature and central pillar that the eagle has represented our community for so many decades,” said Robert Goldfarb, a gay man who was president of the cultural district the bear
Other LGBTQ attractions
So far, San Francisco has only given four locations landmark status based solely on their importance to LGBTQ history. All are in commercial corridors.
Two are gay bars: the Twin Peaks Bar in Castro and the former Paper Doll Restaurant and Bar in North Beach. The other two LGBTQ landmarks are both in the Castro: the former AIDS Memorial Quilt home on Upper Market Street and the residence of the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk and the former Castro Camera store at 573 Castro Street.
Similar to the landmark of the Eagle Bar, city officials are also considering designating the Noe Valley home of the late pioneering lesbian couple Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. Rafael Mandelman, supervisor of Gay District 8, unanimously drafted the decision, supported by the board of directors, to initiate the groundbreaking process for the Lyon-Martin-Haus at 651 Duncan Street.
The Historic Preservation Commission is due to vote on the landmarking of the couple’s home on Feb.17. As the BAR first reported last week, the new owners Paul McKeown and his wife Meredith Jones-McKeown have informed city officials that they intend to build a single family home on the garden section of the property, which has an address of 649 Duncan.
As for the Lyon-Martin house, the architect has told city officials that it is planned to “only remodel it to the extent that further research (possibly kitchen / bathroom etc or other ineffective ideas) suggests it is appropriate”. Should the house be listed, any development proposal for the site would have to be checked and approved by the city’s monument protection commission.
The same goes for the Eagle Bar, should it become a landmark in the city. Supporters of such a designation argue that it would help protect the company from closure due to the gentrification of the neighborhood. Many gay and leather-related businesses in SOMA have closed in recent years as the former industrial area has given way to new housing developments.
“The San Francisco Eagle is one of the few leather bars in the field and is very important to the LGBTQ community,” said Honey Mahogany, an odd non-binary trans person who is Haney’s chief legal advisor at the committee hearing.
Mahogany would make it a landmark in “preventing this history from being erased due to the ongoing pressures of gentrification”.
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