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Text by Joey Plaster. Copyright (©) by C. Joey Plaster, 2009. All rights reserved.

By the boom of the late 1990s, the street’s sex work/drug economy had largely collapsed, while a citywide building boom and skyrocketing rents in the central city pushed and pulled new actors to the Polk Gulch, leading to the emergence of a new economic bloc. By 1997, the citywide “rental crisis” had attracted “young people, especially artists” to the Tenderloin/Polk Gulch area’s relatively low rents and abundant housing and store units.[1]

These young, queer artists characterized Polk Street’s unraveling queer community as “hip” and appealing – part of the street’s gritty charm and party atmosphere. “All the hustling and drugs and the trannies who are here – I like them here, and I think they are part of what makes the neighborhood cool and hip and what it is,” said drag queen personality Juanita MORE!. “Polk Street is fun,” said an artist who moved to the area because of the cheap rents and later organized a club night at one of the street’s bars. “You party with the old men and the street hustlers. Everyone knows each other at the bars.”

At the same time, the manager of the Q.T. bar, head of the business association, was working to bring above-ground commerce and increased policing to the street. He made a successful effort to bring the after-Pride Parade party back to the Civic Center, calling on “all gay business owners in the Polk area” in a 1997 letter. “This is an opportunity for us to bring the after party back to the civic center, which will greatly benefit our businesses. It will also afford us the opportunity to bring about a change in attitude’s [sic] about the Polk area, by other gay areas of the city.”[2]

Warren said he became active in the early ‘90s, when “people were afraid to walk down the street.” that violent crime was being addressed through increased policing. “My attitude was, I’d lose my business unless I did something. We had the highest crime rate in the city. We’re talking heavy-duty crimes: rape, murder, you name it. We demanded police protection. As a result, today we have bike and foot patrols. They prevent crimes just by their presence.”[3]

As a result, the 1997 article read, violent crime was down and “the neighborhood is showing signs of a renaissance. Empty storefronts are less common, new businesses have moved in, and old businesses are being refurbished.” The article declared that “virtually everyone shares the same sentiment: Polk Street is on its way back.”[4]

  1. “Polk Street Unplugged,” 1997.
  2. L. James Beales collection, GLBTHS, August 30, 1997.
  3. “Polk Street Unplugged,” 1997.
  4. “Polk Street Unplugged,” 1997.

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