As PQ reported in March, local activists have been working towards renaming a stretch of Stark St., in the heart of what was the Portland Gayborhood. The district was once called the Pink Triangle. It was also known--affectionately, but perhaps not politically-correctly--as Vaseline Alley. Yesterday, OregonLive reported that the movement is one step closer to becoming reality.
According to the article,
Portland's Planning & Sustainability Commission unanimously approved the plan Tuesday to rename a 13-block stretch of Stark after Milk. The proposal heads to the City Council for a hearing and vote June 14.
June 14th! The late Mr. Milk would surely have approved the date. That’s the Thursday before Portland’s Pride Celebration. But, what will this mean for SW Stark? Since most of the “gay businesses” in that district have either shuttered completely, or moved. Scandal's is still there, and adult store Spartacus is right around the corner. So, what will the renaming of the street mean?
Visitors to Portland recently asked me, “Portland is so gay-accepting, everybody we've met says 'Welcome to Portland?' as if they mean it. But, where’s the gayborhood?” To them, such acceptance means there should be a gay district. My recent guests and I are from Philadelphia, a city in which the gayborhood has rainbow street signs and other queer designations. But the neighborhood gay bars decidedly share sidewalks with brunch spots catering to young, urban families, and boutiques owned by both gay and non-gay entrepreneurs.
Some lament that one of the oldest gay bars in Philly is "disguised as a gay bar" due to new ownership. Or, is it the fact straight friends are now just as likely to meet us at a gay bar as we are to meet them at a "straight bar." In terms of Portland's lacking a "Pink Triangle," I told them it’s because we as a city are so largely integrated having neighborhoods just for the LGBT+ community is becoming a thing of the past. An article which appeared last year in the Willamete Week sums it up nicely.
Among major U.S. cities, only San Francisco has a higher percentage of LGBTQ residents. But ever since the collapse of Southwest Stark Street's Pink Triangle, Portland's LGBTQ population has no cultural home.
And we'll probably never have another one: Nationally, gayborhoods are a dying breed. Partly, it's because of old-fashioned gentrification—think Ace Hotel and the West End restaurant scene. But other reasons behind the decline of so-called lavender ghettos are less obvious.
The article goes on to say people just socialize differently today. The above article names dating apps as part of the decline of gay-specific watering holes and thus gay districts. But, is that the only reason? Because due to stigma forty years ago, it was not only bars that were gay-specific “safe spaces.” It was dining venues, such as The Fish Grotto. From what lifelong Portlanders have told me, hotels, shopping, and other places where queer people could live their lives openly populated the district. If I am not mistaken a bathhouse, perhaps the ultimate symbol of gay freedom in the 1970s, once inhabited the Crystal Hotel.
Yesterday’s piece in OregonLive looks to the potential memorialization of the street in honor of Harvey Milk as a sort of historical marker. So, while the neighborhood may no longer be a gayborhood future generations can look to the district as a piece of their history which was once hidden away.
“Portland does plan to honor local gay rights leaders or former businesses in some way on the thoroughfare, but those plans have yet to be finalized.
Stacy Brewster, Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman's communications director, told the commission the city is in the early stages of finalizing how to honor locals.
"It could be murals, it could be rainbow crosswalks," he said, or it could be a broader designation to honor the district's history similar to Chicago's Boystown area.”
Will the area reattract gay businesses, with the promise of rainbows on street signs, or crosswalks? Will the former Fish Grotto be turned into another gay dining venue? Time can only tell. However, knowing we live in a city where the LGBTQ+ community is such a part of the fabric of its story that they seek to memorialize the difficult times in which we still perservered is pretty amazing.
This is a developing story, and we'll be sure to keep you updated with images & quotes. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any historical background to share, such as if you own, or once-owned a queer business on the proposed stretch of Stark St. to be renamed. Also, if you have good, clear pictures of rainbow crosswalks, street signs, etc., from around the globe, we'd like to include them in a gallery.