‘As far as I know, Ringold Alley is the only monument to leather history, anywhere, on a public street or sidewalk,’ Gayle Rubin, LGBTQ history scholar, University of Michigan.
As part of our continuing efforts to give you exciting fun things and places to visit in our amazing gay fetish world, we are happy to bring you a new addition. And it’s in the heart of downtown San Francisco.
The ‘City by the Bay’ is well established as the capital of our amazing gay fetish universe. So much of our history has taken place here, there should be a bus company doing tours of it. There’s the Castro, SOMA (South of Market Area), the Pride Flag, Pink Triangle Holocaust Park, Harvey Milk’s shop, the Castro Theatre, Mr S Leather (the largest gay store in the world), the former porn castle, and many other gay porn studios. And don’t forget the numerous gay bars (some now closed). The tour could finish at The Eagle for drinks – we are sure it would be packed daily. Now there’s a new landmark to be added to that great tour list, and it celebrates gay fetish.
The Leather History Alley opened three years ago on a hot July day. The Alley can be found on Ringold Street, between 8th and 9th Streets, in the SOMA. It was erected to honour leather culture, particularly in San Francisco.
Ringold Alley was a meeting place for people interested in ‘alternative’ sexual practices from the 1960s through to the 80s. Basically, it was where leathermen cruised for ass sex.
The Alley features four pieces of art, largely produced by landscape architect Jeffrey Miller. “I have a long-standing interest in creating projects that reveal varied cultural histories, social alignments, industrial and workplace activities, and political movements,” says Miller. “I was excited to engage in this opportunity to create a revelatory installation focused on the history of Ringold Alley, an important epicentre for San Francisco’s leather community.”
The works of art include a black granite stone engraved by Gayle Rubin, an image of the ‘Leather David’ statue by Mike Caffee, and a reproduction of Chuck Arnett’s 1962 mural that was in the infamous Tool Box gay leather bar. The mural was featured in a Life magazine article in the late 1980s and is a symbol of San Francisco’s gay lifestyle.
There are also 20 granite ‘Standing Stones’, all recycled from San Francisco curbs. The stones are polished and engraved to honour community institutions such as A Taste of Leather (the first leather shop in San Francisco), Fe-Be’s (the first leather bar on Folsom Street and initial home of A Taste of Leather), and the Folsom Street Fair.
The Standing Stones emerge from the Leather Pride Flag pavement which features the famous leather flag painted onto the concrete. The flag was developed in 1989 as the brainchild of Tony deBlase.
Lastly, there are a set of bronze boot prints which mimic the famous movie star handprints outside the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The fetish version honours 30 important individuals who were an important part of the local leather community. They include:
- Jim Kane (community leader and biker)
- Ron Johnson, Chuck Arnett, Sam Steward, Robert Opel, Thom Gunn, Jim Meko (a gay rights activist), and Tony deBlase
- Cynthia Slater (a founder of the Society of Janus – see Alphatribe.com for a major feature)
- Alan Selby (founder of the Mr S Leather and known as the ‘Mayor of Folsom Street’ – see Alphatribe #15)
- Writers Marcus Hernandez (Bay Area Reporter leather columnist), Geoff Mains (Urban Aboriginals), Paul Mariah (poet/author/activist), John Embry (founder of Drummer magazine), and Robert Davolt (Bound & Gagged – a magazine, not a description or Mr Davolt!)
- Association leaders of note including Mark Thompson (co-founder of Black Leather Wings), Alexis Sorel (co-founder of The 15), Bert Herman (leader of the Handball community), and the very sexy T. Michael ‘Lurch’ Sutton (biker and co-founder of the Bears of SF)
- Bar and venue owners including Terry Thompson (Eagle), Hank Diethelm (Brig), Pete Hartman (544 Natoma), Kerry Brown, Ken Ferguson and David Delay (Ambush co-owners), Philip M Turner (Daddy’s), Alexis Muir (The Stud), Jack Haines (Fe-Be’s/The Slot), Tony Tavarossi (Why Not), and Steve McEachern (owner of the Catacombs, a gay and lesbian S/M fisting club that was the most famous fisting club in the world in its day).
There are plans to add more boot prints and artworks which celebrate the fetish community in the future.
Leather History Alley is a wonderful installation and well worth checking out. Hopefully it will encourage guys to research the great trailblazers that have gone before us in our fetish world. Without them we wouldn’t have the horny, multi-fetish, ass-fucking community we enjoy today.
All our notable fetish history is still within living memory, but in a few decades that generation will be gone. Learning about these men, women, and events is important if we want to keep our history alive for future gay men. Thanks to the struggles and issues our former fetish leaders and activists faced, future generations should have an easier time.
We urge you to plan a visit to SOMA to see this wonderful and emotional installation soon. It is within walking distance of the Mr S store and several other great gay shopping emporiums. There are also five gay bars where you can unload anytime day or night, so no excuses.
And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the 44 sidewalk plaques along the Rainbow Honour Walk. They celebrate LGBTQ heroes and heroines rather than fetish ones. Writing in Harper’s magazine on landscape and memory, San Francisco writer and cultural critic Rebecca Solnit noted: “Statues stand still; the culture moves past them.”
Alphatribe would like to encourage all other gay destinations to physically recognise their own community leaders and landmarks before they disappear from memory. We promise to feature and publicise any and all historical records, monuments, ceremonies, or installations. Just contact us and we’ll get it done!
More information on the construction works: