The Names We Used to Know

My mom grew up in San Francisco and my parents met here, so I’ve come to San Francisco my whole life. We came for family events or to visit my grandparents or to escape the Summer heat in the foothills. Driving into San Francisco in July where the streets were wet from the thick fog felt like arriving on the moon.

I didn’t learn the layout of the City until I lived here, but my visits to San Francisco and my family’s stories have colored the City I see around me. It’s like a hologram at times: I can see the San Francisco my parents knew from one angle, and when I turn my head, I’m back in the present day version.

Royal Market is on Judah St, but I can still see the used bookstore where I’d buy Nancy Drew mysteries to read while my grandfather watched his beloved Giants on TV. A Russian Orthodox store took over the great gift shop on 9th Avenue, but it still looks like Sunnyside Up to me.

My family’s stories inform my view of the City, even outside the neighborhood where my mom grew up. I know that the McDonalds on Haight St used to be a diner because it’s where my aunt and uncle had their first date, 40 years ago. Every time my dad visits, he points out the house he lived in on 17th Street and tells me how members of Jefferson Airplane lived next door.

I now live in the Castro, which certainly has its own San Francisco history. But although my dad tells me how the Castro Theater’s ceiling used to leak when it rained, I didn’t know much about the way my current neighborhood used to be – at least not until Gus Van Sant came to town.

Gus Van Sant’s movie, “Milk”, is now filming right in the Castro. The movie is about Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s.

Thanks to the movie “Milk”, I now get to see what the Castro looked like in Harvey Milk’s time. The set designers are bringing back some of the old signage and storefronts, and walking down Castro Street these days is a chance to walk back in time.

I get to see that a boring old realty office used to be Aquarius Records with colorful records hanging in the windows. A cheesy wine shop was once wood-panelled liquor store.


A sign above one of the forgettable bars on Castro Street now calls the bar Toad Hall. (Photo of the 1970s Toad Hall sign, above, from )


2008 Toad Hall sign for the filming of “Milk”.

Anchor Oyster Bar says they’ve been around for “30 Shucking Years,” but it took “Milk” for me to realize that the restaurant’s front window used to look like the helm of a ship.

All of the Castro Street merchants have posted signs announcing that they are still open for business during the filming, but part of me that wants to turn back the clock for good. My camera needs fixing and I want to take it to Harvey Milk’s camera store while it’s still here.


One Response to “The Names We Used to Know”

  1. Sarah Says:

    what a great opportunity to see your neighborhood as it [almost] was years ago. I wish I could see that around here, although i didn’t think it would be as interesting as where you live.

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