The Castro: A Break Down of the Neighborhood

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The Castro District welcomes every race, gender and sexual orientation. Hundreds flock to this tight-knit neighborhood for acceptance and a sense of belonging.

“The Castro is a unique neighborhood,” said Ken Khoury, a small business owner in the area. “It’s a community of so many different kinds of people. Gay, straight, black, white; It’s open-minded in more ways than one. I’ve been here for thirty years and the open-mindedness has always stayed the same.”

“The Castro is best known for its LGBTQ pride. In the late ‘60s the Castro became a safe haven for homosexuals. It was one of the only places in the United States that welcomed and accepted gay people for who they are.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician, was elected on to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. He is best known for his efforts during the gay civil rights movement. To this day, Milk remains a hero for the people in the Castro.

The Castro continues its success through its thriving businesses and bar scene. It is the home of the Castro Theater, many gay clubs, and plenty of gyms. A large rainbow flag blows at the corner of Castro and Market Street.

The district survives off the locals and thousands of tourists who visit. Hot Cookie, a bakery located on Castro Street, is a famous hot spot for tourists. The bakery is known for its inappropriate cookies. Tourists flock to this bakery in hopes of purchasing a famous macaroon.

When speaking to the locals of the Castro, each person had similar answers to what they loved about the district. Everyone agreed on the fact that it is a community full of acceptance and love.

“Let’s start with saying that I love everything about this district,” said local Denis Chicola. “It is so easy going and welcoming to anyone and everyone. Someone can come into this district and have completely different views than everyone else and still be welcomed with open arms. I think the Castro is like this because gay people have been marginalized for so long, they know what it’s like to be excluded.”

One of the only issues locals face within the district is the amount of homelessness that exists. Many homeless people flock to the Castro in hopes of receiving money from tourists.

“It’s sad to see. I get to work at 5:30 every morning and I see so many people sleeping in doorways,” said Kanani Lowe, an employee at Soul Cycle.

Aside from the homeless, the Castro seems to keep most people happy. The small-town community feel keeps people from moving out of the district into new parts of the city. Many of the people interviewed had either worked or lived in the district for many years and had no intentions of leaving.

The rainbow brick road leads to a district of acceptation, kindness and love. The willingness to accept everyone is what makes the Castro, the Castro. This is what makes people fall in love with this district.

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The Castro Memorial Site

Nuzzled away in the Castro District in San Francisco, on the corner of 18th and Castro Street, a makeshift memorial site has been created time and time again, for members of the Castro community who have passed away. Castro locals have created this memorial site as a way to remember and grieve over the losses of their loved ones.

The memorial site located outside of the Bank of America, has been a part of the Castro community for over twenty years. Castro residents aren’t sure who first started using the area or how the idea of community memorial began. However, locals do recall first noticing the memorial site during the AIDS epidemic. Fred Baumer, a volunteer for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender museum located down the street from the site, reminisced over his first memories of the memorial.

“When the AIDS years came, that’s when I really started to notice that people were memorializing their friends who had died,” said Baumer. “They put up photographs and personal things and flowers.”

Since then, the memorial site has become a Castro landmark. There is rarely a day when the space is vacant of photos, candles or cards. If someone has passed away who lives or has lived in the Castro, a memorial site will more than likely be set up within days of the passing. The memorial site has provided locals with comfort over the years. The space allows the community to come together to pay respect and grieve over a fellow community member or members.

Baumer, the museum volunteer, discussed a recent memorial that hit close to home.

“Personally, now, I’m affected by it [memorial site],” said Baumer. “There was a fellow named Ryan Nunez who used to sing with me in the San Francisco’s Gay Mans Chorus. During our concert about a month and a half ago, during intermission, we were taking our places on the risers when Ryan collapsed. Within an hour and a half Ryan was pronounced dead. Ryan is a good example of somebody who was significant or well-known in the community who has been memorialized there. I guess the memorial site is a way to make a lovely thing out of something that is sad.”

On rare occasions, the memorial space is used to remember the lives of people outside of the Castro. This occurred last June when a mass shooting took place at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The Castro district, a district known for its gay pride, decided to create a massive memorial in honor of the forty-nine gay men and women whose lives were taken inside the Pulse nightclub. Candles, flowers, posters and photos hung outside the Bank of America for days. People traveled from across the city and the Bay Area to the Castro, just to see the memorial. It wasn’t until some of the posters caught fire, from a burning candle, that the site was taken down.

“I’ve seen a lot powerful and moving memorials over there,” said Terra Thomas, a local florist in the Castro. “I’d say that the most recent one that was really big was probably after the Orlando shooting… It was giant.”

“The Castro is a very close and tight-knit community. I think people like to grieve together and it’s good to have a public space to do that. All in all, I think its great. Sometimes it [memorial site] gets a little messy… But it think it’s worth the mess,” Thomas said.

Although the memorial site is loved and appreciated by so many, there are times when the site becomes an eye sore. Many memorials go weeks without being cared for. Photos begin to

rip, posters are defamed and candles are stolen. Without care or upkeep from the community, the memorial site that was once special now becomes unrecognizable.

Employees at Bank of America were the first to discuss the negative outcomes of the memorial site located in front of their business.

“When pictures and flowers and candles are up for too long, it becomes a disservice,” said one Bank of America employee who refused to be identified. “When the Florida shooting happened, the memorial site was really something. I do think it’s good that the community comes together to remember those who have passed. My only thing is, the people setting up the memorial sites have to figure out how to take it down.”

The Bank of America employee went on to explain how pigeons have become an issue at the site as well. Pigeons flock to the memorial site in hopes of finding food. What’s left is trails of pigeon poop on the photos and posters.

Overall, the memorial site is well received by the community. It brings the community together during times of hardship and loss. It is rare to find a spot in San Francisco that is known for being a community memorial site. The Castro is the only district in San Francisco to have a specific area dedicated to community members that have lost their lives.

The Castro is a district that prides itself on how close its community members are to one another. Having a commonly known community memorial site shows exactly how special and unique the Castro is. The memorial site acknowledges the lives of those who have passed, while also providing comfort and sympathy to those who have not. The memorial site symbolizes strength during a time when community members need it most.IMG_7484

Cafe Flore

Cafe Flore, the iconic, quaint restaurant located in the heart of Castro, was recently sold to new LGBTQ owners at the beginning of this January. The owners plan to keep the legacy of the restaurant while incorporating a new spin on the 44 year-old business. Cannabis.

While the two new owners focus on creating the first cannabis cafe in San Francisco, they are also in the works of dropping the ‘cafe’ part of Cafe Flore.

“First thing we’re doing, is becoming customer service extraordinaires Second is refinement on the food and making it perfect. Those are the two most important things were working on right now. We’re then doing physical improvements to the Flore to make it more functional and dry, (laughs) because it rains inside.”

“We want your experience to be the best possible and for you to go ‘God that was good food. I want to come back.’ It’s a really cool, funky, real San Francisco place,” said Alan, one of the new owners of Cafe Flore.

While the improvements on the food and interior are important, the buzz is all about the cannabis. Alan, a cannabis activist and chairman of San Francisco’s Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, hopes to amend Proposition 64, allowing him and his business partner to sell cannabis infused food and drinks.

When asked why the two decided to take on the huge commitment of becoming the first cannabis cafe in San Francisco, Alan responded the following:

“Cafe Flore’s business model in the pressure of todays economy does not work. There’s just not enough money to made to command the rental of this space. We have to have a business model that has something other than a very small space with great food and service. We looked at the cannabis future. Cannabis pairings with wine, beer, and food is really the long range future of where our society is going to go and San Francisco should lead the way. Why not do it here at Flore?” said Alan.

Alan and Silverman bought the business before a local chain restaurant owner had the chance. The two spoke highly (no pun intended) about the history and legacy Cafe Flore has brought to the community. Alan and Silverman swooped in as a saving grace for the quintessential restaurant and for those who live in the Castro.

“Some folks think of it that way because had we not stepped in and acquired the business and  maintained the integrity of it, it would have been turned into a chain restaurant. So the entire appeal and everything about it, would have been lost. All the history, all the lineage, would have been lost,” said Silverman.

With a long road ahead, the two plan for the future of their cannabis restaurant. There is no way of knowing exactly when cannabis will be on the menu at Flore. The two are implementing ideas that don’t exist in the city yet. The laws have to be amended or changed in order for this cannabis cafe to exist.

Alan and Silverman hope to have cannabis on their menu in two years or less.

The Presidio Picnic

The Presidio Picnic returned in full force this passed Sunday, March 19th with hundreds of people in attendance. Attendees from across the city laid out their picnic blankets and stood in line for their favorite San Francisco food truck bites.

This is the Presidio’s 5th season hosting the popular picnic. The picnic includes a large variety of food and drinks, live music, free yoga classes, lawn games, and plenty of entertainment for kids.

“It’s just a cool event that brings people together from all over the city,” said Lauren Wimsatt, a student living in San Francisco. “There are so many different types of people in one location, it’s a cool thing to see,” said Lauren.

A crowd favorite at the event is (of course) the food. Some of the most popular food trucks that attend the picnic include Señor Sisig, Sam’s Chowder, Grilled Cheez Guys, Hookt Mini Donuts, and Nopalito. The lines for food are usually pretty long, but well worth the wait. Picnic goers can’t go wrong when buying food at the event.

“You can’t come to the Presidio Picnic without grabbing a burrito from Señor Sisig. I don’t care that I just stood in a twenty minute line… I have my burrito. That’s all that matters!” said Scott Henningsen, a visitor attending the picnic from San Jose, California.

If picnicking isn’t a favorite go-to activity, there is plenty to do in the surrounding area. The Presidio is surrounded by tons hiking trails and museums. If interested in other activities besides the ones provided at the picnic, The Presidio Visitor Center has all the information needed for a fun day in the Presidio. You can even grab a burrito to go!

“I’ve gone hiking at a few of the trails around here. It’s a super pretty area to walk around,” said Amber Hulse while standing with a group of friends. “Look, the bridge is right there!”

Expect to bring a blanket and warm clothes when attending the event. You never quite know when Karl the Fog will hit. Bathrooms/porter potties are provided at the event for attendees convince. When it comes to parking, expect to do a few laps around the premise. Parking is limited so try get there early.

The Presidio Picnic is set to continue through the next months, into October. The event is located at the Main Parade Ground lawn from 11am-4pm on Sundays. For more information, visit the picnics website!

Castro’s Ken Khoury

The smell of freshly roasted coffee beans engulfs the noses of coffee goers right as they enter the small and quaint coffee shop located on Castro Street. Ken Khoury, the owner of the small coffee shop immediately greets his costumers and begins chatting about recent events.

Small tables outside of the coffee shop are filled with regulars who have been long time supporters of Khoury. They sit with their dogs and their coffee and read the newspaper as Khoury steams milk and prepares drink orders inside.

Khoury has been a small business owner in the Castro District for thirty years. He previously owned the Castro Cheesery, a small gourmet food store. But after many years of owning the Cheesey, he decided to convert the store into a coffee shop.

“Originally it was a grommet shop. The main focus was cheese and gourmet items like pasta, olive oil, jams, caviar, chocolate truffles, smoked salmon, and cheese. Lots of cheese. Coffee was a small part of the business. But consumer trends tend to change, and if you want to survive you have to change with that. So, ten years ago, eleven years ago, we totally switched to coffee. The cheese business and cheese industry as a whole did not promote itself. So cheese took a dive and I said ‘out and away with it’,” said Khoury while looking around at the coffee business he’s created.

The business is ran by Khoury and his wife. Over the years his family has helped too.

“This is my wife, my soulmate,” as he pauses while grinning, looking at her.

“We have four daughters and one one son. They have all helped us out,” said Khoury smiling.

Khoury had no experience when it came to the coffee industry. He and his wife simply opened up a gourmet food store and thought little about the minimal amount of coffee they sold in the store. Years later, they’d be owning one of the most popular coffee shops in the Castro District.

“I’m a self taught. Tasting it, knowing how each is different from each other, distinguishing between good coffee and mediocre coffee… I learned all this stuff on my own,” explained Khoury. “When somebody walks in and says I want this coffee, I like this type of coffee… My knowledge would help that person chose something.”

Khoury and his wife sell coffee that is imported from all corners of the globe. Including South America, Africa, Indonesia, and Hawaii. They provide certain types of beans that locals can’t find anywhere else.

“The coffee is different than any other coffee I’ve had. It’s unique. I’d much rather head across the street and grab a cup of coffee from Ken than from a barista who spells my name wrong on a cup,” said Sean Baranik who works across the street from Castro Coffee.

Over the past couple of years the Castro District has welcomed big coffee corporations like Starbucks, Peetes, and Phliz. For any small coffee business, you’d think that’d scare them away… Not Ken Khoury.

“Sometimes I see people walk in with a cup of coffee from Philz or Starbucks. But they’re buying my beans, not Starbucks’s,” said Khoury. “We stand our ground. We provide better service. We provide better coffees.”

The service Castro Coffee provides is a huge part of Khoury’s business. He forms lasting relationships with his customers which keep them coming back. He focuses a great deal of his time on the coffee but also the people that are buying that coffee.

“Ken has been a part of this community for so long. I can’t imagine what it would be like without him. I love being able to walk in and chat about what’s been going on in my life and in his. It’s a nice feeling knowing someone who pours you coffee cares,” said Brittney Guillory, a local to the Castro.

People from all over have enjoyed Ken’s company and his coffee. Customers who have moved away from San Francisco still purchase Khoury’s coffee beans online. Khoury and his wife are able to ship their coffee across the country.

“I have my old customers who have moved away to different states; Southern California, East Coast, Florida, still buying my coffee online. So that in itself shows I’m not bothered by any of the other companies. I know they’re there. They’re all around us. Within the past couple of years, think about 11 coffee shops have opened around us. That doesn’t determine if I’m doing business or not. It doesn’t scare me. I’m still here,” said Khoury.

Khoury has been a part of the community for decades and has seen it all. He has witnessed riots, marches, and intense activism throughout the years. Khoury even remembers Harvey Milk and the Gay Rights movement that occurred back in the late 70’s. When asked about the Castro and its history with activism he responded the following:

“This is a human rights issue not just a gay issue. Everybody has to be mindful that if you don’t have your rights, then I don’t have mine. We should all be in cahoots. I have seen so much over the years and there’s some progress being made in California. San Francisco and the Bay Area in general is a bright spot in this nation.”

Ken Khoury might only pour coffee but has impacted the lives of many. Whether it be a customer from Florida ordering beans online or a new customer walking in for the first time, Khoury makes everyone feel special. Like he said about San Fransisco and The Bay Area being a bright spot in our nation, Ken Khoury is a bright spot in the Castro.

A City Like No Other

By: Nicole Green

“The city is timeless,” said Sam Gershwin, a cinema student attending San Francisco State University. “Any type of movie can be filmed here [San Francisco]. It’s truly a place like no other.”

Throughout the years San Francisco has made many cameos here and there. The city appeared in films like Dawn of the Planet of Apes, The Internship, and The Pursuit of Happyness. With the tech industry booming, San Francisco is seeing a huge jump in steady film production. Filmmakers and television show producers are flocking to ‘the city by the bay’ to solely shoot within its barriers.

According to Susannah Robbins, an executive director in San Francisco, the city of San Francisco has seen an increase in production just within this short year. Networks like Fox and HBO have hit the streets of San Francisco to film their television shows. Along with Fox and HBO, streaming services like Hulu or Netflix have entered the city in full force. In August Netflix shot their original series GirlBoss. The series is based on the life of Sophia Amoruso, a fashion entrepreneur that made her start here in San Francisco.

“The number of productions being shot in the Bay Area has greatly increased, just since the beginning of 2016. Fox 21/Hulu’s Chance has based their first season in San Francisco, hiring a mostly local crew, and filming a majority of the scenes in San Francisco, with a few days here and there in the East Bay or on the Peninsula,” said Susannah Robbins.

“This is great for San Francisco, as last fall was the final production season of HBO’s Looking, which had been based here for three years straight. We were fortunate to have the Hulu show start in April, as productions like this provide longer-term employment for the local crews, as well as providing a lot of jobs for background extras and principal actors. We also had Season 2 of Netflix’s Sense 8 shoot for 21 days in April, Netflix’s new series, GirlBoss shot for about 20 days in August, and Amazon’s pilot Budding Prospects shot for 10 days in late October,” said Robbins.

The uniqueness of San Francisco sucks Hollywood’s biggest producers and directors in. The city provides unique and rare scenery for films. Whether it’s the streets of Haight and Ashbury or all-embracing nature The Castro provides, filmmakers can’t find it anywhere else. Because San Francisco is so timeless, any era can be filmed within the city. Filmmakers can come San Francisco to shoot a 1940’s film on the Golden Gate Bridge or a modern day film downtown. San Francisco is one of few cities that can provide that.

“One of the things that makes San Francisco so successful when it comes to film is that people have a fond, almost romantic notion about San Francisco, with its amazing views and architecture. Plus, we are surrounded by water on three sides with the Bay and the Ocean bordering the City,” said Robbins.

When interviewing renowned executive director, Susannah Robbins, she quoted Danny Boyle, an Academy Award winner for Best Director and the director of the film Steve Jobs, whom she had worked with in 2015.

“Danny Boyle said this after shooting Steve Jobs here [San Francisco]: ‘What’s not to like about San Francisco? It’s one of the most cinematic cities in the world – the hills, the bay, the bridges, the mist that comes in and hides the city and then reveals the city – it’s so cinematic. It’s a delicious place to live and breathe and make a film. And the crews are great. To be able to make a film here is a privilege & and gift. I’d do it again in a flash,’” said Robbins.

Though many San Franciscans enjoy the lights, cameras, and action, there are always a few that don’t. On rare occasions, the residents of San Francisco complain to the film commission about filming production. Understandably, they do so because many streets are blocked off, equipment trucks block driveways and take up streets, and major production lights shine throughout the night. It’s not likely that everyone living in San Francisco or in any city for that matter, will agree with big motion picture production.

“I don’t know how anyone could think filming here is a bad thing. Not only is it awesome for the people that live in the city who get to see the productions, but it’s also a huge benefit for the city. It brings in huge directors and stars, which then bring in tourists. Once the movies are shown, more people will want to come visit. All around, it benefits the city more than harms it,” said Becca Scott, an intern at KFOG Radio.

Some major films that have brought in big time directors and actors are Blue Jasmine, Bullitt, The Conversation, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Maltese Falcon, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Milk. These films have starred actors like Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, and Will Smith. Many of these films have been nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Milk was nominated for an Academy Award eight times.

Within the next few months’ series like Hulu’s Chance, HBO’S Looking, and Netflix’s Sense 8 and Girlboss series will hit the screens of thousands of viewers. San Francisco is set to start filming a new mini series When We Rise, a series based on the gay rights movement in the United States, come 2017.

“I love living in San Francisco. Being out and about in it every day and seeing it on the screen makes me happy. I know there’s a lot of the people in our industry here [SF Film Org] that feel that way too,” said Debbie Brubaker, a San Francisco producer who worked on Blue Jasmine and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

San Francisco has helped handfuls of filmmakers, producers, and directors create incredible motion pictures. From films like The Pursuit of Happyness to Star Trek, San Francisco has and will always remain a city dedicated to uniqueness… a city like no other.

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Photo Credit: Nicole Green

Courtroom Experience

Last Monday, November 7th, I entered the San Francisco Superior Court at around 8:45 a.m. As I walked through the large clear doors, I was greeted by security. Never attending a court hearing before, I didn’t know everyone went through a security system similar to one you’d see at an airport. I placed my metal items down and walked through the metal detector. I was in the clear!

I made my way up to the second floor to attend a hearing in room seventeen. As I walked up the stairs, I passed the children center. This is where children are dropped off as parents attend hearings or trials. I couldn’t help but feel sad for those children. When I reached the second floor, the scents of cologne, cigarette smoke, and the aroma of some who haven’t showered in days engulfed my nose. I entered the courtroom and took a seat in the back. I sat down, pulled out my laptop, and began to take notes.

The room was full of every type of person. Business people, lawyers, young adults, parents and friends supporting those who had hearings, and students like myself. I’ve never seen so much diversity in such a small room. As everyone waited for the judge, public defenders approached the pews of people and began to ask if everyone with hearings, if they had a public defender. One public defender made an announcement to everyone in the room. “Does everyone here have a public defender? I’m asking because this judge plays no games… She’ll send you out,” said the woman.

At 9:47 a.m., forty-seven minutes after the hearings were supposed to start, Judge Donna Little entered the courtroom. After discovering whom the judge was, I quickly looked her up on my laptop. What I found was that she had been a judge of San Francisco for 21 years and retired on her birthday back in 2012. She occasionally comes back to do case hearings and trials.

The minute she entered the courtroom, the audience silenced. Her presence was intimidating. She called the court to order and immediately began the hearings. The first hearing was for James Rivers. Judge Little told rivers that he is to stay 150 yards away from a woman whose name I didn’t get. Judge Little also scheduled his pre-trial for January 19th and 9 a.m. Multiple people were called to the stand with their public defenders to reschedule their hearings.

One public defender pleaded with Jude Little to reschedule the hearing due to the fact that her client, Kevin Lavender, was not there. The public defender then proceeded to tell the Judge Little that the reason behind this was due to the fact that Lavender was in the hospital. Lavender had recently been hit by a car and was in critical condition. Judge Little agreed to reschedule the hearing but set a $50,000 bail on the case.

After the reschedule of Mr. Lavenders hearing I exited the courtroom. As I began to walk down the stairs I thought about everything I had just witnessed. It was an eye opening experience. I was able to see first hand what occurs in a courtroom and how court hearings proceed. When I exited the building and got back into my car, I thought to myself, “I should come to court hearings more often.”

All in all, it was an educational and entertaining experience for a Monday morning. I am looking forward to my return.