If only the Mexican land barons and European homesteaders who built the Castro district could see it — and the price of its real estate — today. What was once dairy farms and dirt roads is now one of the city's most vibrant and cohesive communities, saturated with stylish shops and bars so popular that patrons spill out onto the street.
Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants came to the outskirts of San Francisco in search of cheap land, which became bona fide suburbs after 1887 when the Market Street Cable Railway linked Eureka Valley (as the Castro was then called) with the rest of the city. Thanks to these homesteaders, who built large, handsome Victorian houses for their large families, today's residents have someplace to pour their money, and the vast majority of the neighborhood's classic homes have been lovingly and artfully restored.
Eureka Valley remained a quiet, working-class neighborhood until the postwar era, when large numbers of people started fleeing the city for the "suburbs." Finally, in the 1960s and '70s, gay men began buying the charming old Victorians at relatively low prices ($20,000-$40,000), and the neighborhood was soon named for its busiest thoroughfare, Castro Street.
Milk Button The activism of the '60s and '70s forged a community with sizable political and economic power, and when the historic Twin Peaks bar at Market and Castro streets was built with floor-to-ceiling windows, most took it as a sign that Castro residents were secure in their gay identity. There were, however, tense and sometimes violent clashes with the police, and the assassination in 1978 of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was a turning point in the community's history. Milk's death and the impact of AIDS brought the community together and made activists of almost everyone; the Castro became not just open but celebratory about its thriving gay and lesbian population.
Today, the Castro's queer identity is itself a tourist attraction, beckoning throngs of pilgrims and revelers from all over the world. Since the introduction of the F Market street car, shuttling unsuspecting Midwestern families down from Fisherman's Wharf, denizens have been lamenting the demise and dilution of the gayest spot on earth. Yet the unabated proliferation of shops selling, ahem, adult accessories and sporting neon signs touting "Lube 4 Less" tips off even the most untrained eye to the deeply entrenched community here.
Courtesy of SFGate.com