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Uncle Donald's Castro Street

The Elephant Walk
1975 - 1995

Elephant Walk with grass
composite by Uncle Donald
click for large view
The Elephant Walk (after the Elizabeth Taylor Movie) was destined to play a role in local gay history. It was a mellow sit-down bar with picture windows looking out on the crossroads of the Gay World. Fred Rogers opened the bar in 1975 because, as he told me, he wanted a place with a view where he could go and sit and relax and have a good time with friends. I guess a lot of people wanted the same, because the place was always busy. Brunch was served till 3 PM Every Day! What more could anyone ask? All the employees were handsome and charming. The bar was refuge from the chilling summer fog that usually turns San Francisco's summer into winter around 4 PM. There was no better place to stop and unwind on the way home from work. A hot Irish Coffee, a seat at the window, one eye on the steady parade of passing faces, and always someone to talk to.

SYLVESTER, the Castro's very own rock star and Disco Diva, often performed at E-Walk on Sunday afternoons in the 1970's. His backup singers were TWO TONS OF FUN who went on to become THE WEATHER GIRLS. Even after closing time the bar was a popular place to hang out. Every night from 2 AM until very late, a selection of hunks could be found leaning against the flower boxes that lined the windows along 18th Street. This cruising spot, one of many in the Castro, came to be known as the Meet Rack!

On May 21, 1979, the gay community rioted due to the light sentence given Dan White for murdering our leader Harvey Milk, and our Mayor George Moscone. In what came to be known as the WHITE NIGHT RIOT, City Hall was trashed and a dozen police cars were torched.

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MAY 21, 1979 - photographer unknown
dot After the riot, Castro street was full of people relating stories, debating the issues, licking wounds. After Midnight dozens of police arrived. They had been humiliated earlier and were here to even the score. Acting without authorization, they gathered at Market and started pushing the crowd down toward 18th. We were in no mood to comply. Many of them weren't wearing badges and nametags! They came to our neighborhood to get even. They formed a line and moved us half way down the block. It became evident to all, even to those who had stayed in the Castro and away from the riot; WE WERE AT WAR WITH THE POLICE! People came from every direction to join the resistance and we moved the invading forces right back up to the corner. They appeared to be leaving but they somehow regrouped at the corner of 18th and Castro. We stood and watched as they marched into the Elephant Walk, smashing windows, doors, tables, chairs, bottles, and peoples' heads. Some victims needed to be hospitalized. These police were vicious. They were very unprofessional. They were out for blood.

The rioting police cost the City a fortune in Lawsuits and Investigations. The FBI even looked into it. We had no reason to apologize for our action (I personally just took pictures and observed). We had been pushed beyond our ability to swallow any more hatred and we did what we had to do.
But our Elephant Walk was in shambles!

BUTTON1.GIF (24k) The Elephant Walk quickly reopened and the good times continued. In June, 1985, Jack McCarty the E-Walk manager was returning with his lover, Victor Amburgy, from a vacation in Greece. They were on TWA Flight #847 which was hijacked and diverted to Beirut. Jack was instrumental in keeping the hostages spirits up by applying skills acquired as an volunteer SHANTI PROJECT AIDS counselor for terminally ill patients in San Francisco. He also taught them some meditation techniques. When they were released after 17 days detainment, and returned to the US with the other hostages , Jack and his lover bravely exited the plane with their arms around each other in front of President and Mrs. Reagan and network news cameras. When they returned to San Francisco, a reception was held for our two heroes on Castro Street. It was followed by a lively reception at the Elephant Walk where his friends carefully refrained from greeting him with "Hi Jack!"

In that same year, Fred Rogers planned to explore other adventures and he decided to sell the bar. Paul Langley, Real Estate Agent and owner of the building, wanted the bar for himself and tried to block the sale. Rogers took Langley to court, won, and sold the bar to Michael Verdone, the owner of the popular B-STREET in San Mateo.

On December 2, 1988, an early morning Four-Alarm Fire consumed the upper floor of the building. The bar suffered extensive smoke and water damage. The building was closed for several years during the reconstruction. At this time Langley again tried to gain control of the bar and a bitter court battle ensued. Verdone won in court but Langley countered by raising the rent to over $13,000 per month.

In the fall of 1995, when the lease formally expired, Langley refused to negotiate a new lease at any price. Verdone was forced to close the doors of this historic establishment. In its place, Langley opened a bar which he chose to call "HARVEY'S" in honor of Harvey Milk, our slain leader. I believe he chose the name in order attract the tourist crowd. I'm sure Harvey would have been appalled by the exploitation of his name and outraged by Langley's pursuit of personal gain with little regard for the gay community and its beloved Castro neighborhood.

The walls of "HARVEY'S" were originally covered with memorabilia including a Milk campaign poster, one of Sylvester's gold records, and a pair of Greg Louganis' Speedos, but much of this material was lost in a recent fire. The only remaining reference to the historic Elephant Walk, and only an accidental reference at that, is the small etched elephant logo that remains on some of the windows.

FRED ROGERS, owner of the Elephant Walk,
talks about the aftermath of the riots from his perspective.

This page created May 28, 1996 and modified October 27, 2006
Thanks to Michael Verdone for refreshing my memory
• Text and Graphics © 1997 - 1998 • UD Graphics • San Francisco •