“Polk Street: Lives in Transition” examines Polk Street’s history through the lens of neighborhood change in the mid-2000s. Polk Street was San Francisco’s premiere gay male center in the 1960s and 1970s. The residential enclave and business district provided fertile ground for the development of gay economic and political power.
Its bloc of middle-income gay businesses evaporated in the late 1970s, leaving a “blighted” area known for its underground sex work and drug economy. During these decades, Polk Street served as a home, refuge, and family for queer runaway and homeless youth, often fleeing abusive or unwelcome homes; immigrants, primarily from Asia and Latin America; and, increasingly in the 1990s, lower-income transgendered women and seniors.
Since the early 2000s, a citywide building boom, skyrocketing rents in the central city, and increases in permanent housing for the formerly homeless have pushed and pulled new actors to the area. Tension, bitterness, and misunderstandings now accompany the changes, with the vestiges of a once thriving queer community competing with new businesses and residents for prized territory in the urban landscape.
In an effort to better understand the actions and attitudes of Polk Street denizens, we present personal histories from stake-holders who are living through and shaping these changes.