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Castro Street was named for José Castro (1808–1860), a leader of Mexican opposition to U.S. rule in California in the 19th century, and governor of Alta California from 1835-1836. The neighborhood now known as the Castro was born in 1887 when the Market Street Cable Railway built a line linking Eureka Valley to downtown.

The Castro came of age as a gay center following the controversial Summer of Love in the neighboring Haight-Ashbury district in 1967. The gathering brought tens of thousands of middle-class youth from all over the United States. The neighborhood, previously known as Eureka Valley, became known as the Castro, after the landmark theatre by that name near the corner of Castro and Market Streets.

According to Morgan Spurlock, who filmed "Straight Man in a Gay World", a 2005 episode of his documentary TV series 30 Days in the Castro, the U.S. military offloaded thousands of gay servicemen in San Francisco during World War II after they were discharged for being homosexuals. Many settled in the Castro, and this began the influx of homosexuals to the Castro neighborhood.

By 1975, Harvey Milk had opened a camera store there, and began political involvement as a gay activist, further contributing to the notion of the Castro as a gay destination. Some of the culture of the late 1970s included what was termed the "Castro Clone," a mode of dress and personal grooming -- tight denim pants, black combat boots, tight T-shirt, possibly a red plaid flannel outer shirt, and usually sporting a mustache or full beard -- in vogue with the gay male population at the time, and which gave rise to the nickname "Clone Canyon" for the stretch of Castro Street between 18th and Market Streets. There were numerous famous watering holes in the area, contributing to the nightlife, including the Corner Grocery Bar, the Norse Cove, the Pendulum, the Midnight Sun, Twin Peaks, and the Elephant Walk. A typical daytime street scene of the period is perhaps best illustrated by mentioning the male belly dancers who could be found holding forth in good weather at the corner of 18th and Castro, on "Hibernia Beach," in front of the financial institution from which it drew its name. Then at night, after the bars closed at 2 AM, the men remaining at that hour often would line up along the sidewalk of 18th Street to indicate that they were still available to go home with someone.

From 1910 to 1920, the Castro was known as "Little Scandinavia" on account of the number of people of Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish ancestry who lived there. A Finnish bathhouse (Finilla's) dating from this period was located behind the Cafe Flore on Market Street until 1986. The Cove on Castro diner used to be called The Norse Cove. The Scandinavian Seamen's Union was near 15th Street and Market, just around the corner from the Swedish-American Hall which remains in the district. Scandinavian-style "half-timber" construction can still be seen in some of the buildings along Market Street between Castro and Church Streets.

September 2008

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