Halloween in the Castro: Then & Now

1948 in the Castro as the Costume Parade begins.
1948 in the Castro as the Costume Parade begins.
THEN: The traditional Castro Halloween street party was first established in 1946 by Cliff's Variety Store owner, Ernie DeBaca, who decided to hold a costume contest for the local children. The kids came dressed in mostly DIY outfits and with items purchased from his all purpose store. They assembled in front of Cliff's., a stool was produced to serve as the stage, and the kids hopped up on top to show off their outfits. The one who earned the loudest applause from the crowd won. Simple democracy at its best. Afterwards kids paraded around the neighborhood trick or treating at other local businesses and homes. The children's costume contest and parade continued until 1979 when the crowds grew to the tens of thousands and were filled with drunken party-goers who turned the once quaint family affair into a Mardi Gras encrusted bar fight. Store shop windows were broken and Mr. DeBaca suspended his sponsorship of the children's contest.

By 1979 the Castro had become the epicenter of the growing SF LGBT movement and community for almost a decade. The Halloween party took on a decidedly adult air. Costumed revelers tried to outdo each other with elaborate and imaginative get ups and an air of mischief, sex, and fun that might turn into trouble was always in the air. During the 1980-1990's era the diverse and eclectic crowds expanded with numbers reaching nearly 150,000. Real problems began to surface by the early 1990's. Fights, muggings, gang violence and assorted random acts of violence were common place. Neighbors and locals alike began to avoid the party and Castro businesses who'd once welcomed the financial bump the party brought began to close early instead of staying open to reap the monetary rewards. In 2006 the massive street event came to a tragic halt when a gunman/men shot nine people in one evening. City Hall had enough and ended the 60-year-old Castro Halloween tradition once and for all.

Cindy Chew 10/31/07 Jason Smart, left, and Brian Busta, a resident of the Castro for 18 years, stand on Castro street in their constumes.
Jason Smart, left, and Brian Chickpea Busta, a resident of the Castro for 18 years, stand on Castro street in their costumes in 2007
NOW: Though the street party is part of the neighborhood folklore locals have continued to flock to the Castro, dress up and celebrate what some call 'Gay Christmas' at our local bars and clubs. Nearly every one of your favorite Castro bars is having an event tonight. The Castro Halloween street rager may be history - but - the air of festivity and Halloween spirit remains.  Here are a few of our favorite neighborhood options:

friendsliveRebel  (1760 Market St.) Join Velvet Rage productions -the team that brought you Sex In the City, Live! and Golden Girls Christmas offer up their latest endeavor - Friends, LIVE! on Halloween night. Two episodes deconstructed ala SF drag vision and staged for your pleasure starring the local talents of Leigh Crow, Nancy French, Steven LeMay, Gerri Lawlor, D’Arcy Drollinger. and Heklina Two shows, 7PM/9PM, all ages, $25. Tickets at Eventbrite.
dunordhalloweenCafe Du Nord 
(2170 Market St.) Castro's former speakeasy gin joint turned premier live performance venue is throwing a Queer friendly night of music headlined by the Brooklyn based band, The Shondes, with support from Naive Americans (consisting of members of the Ex-Boyfriends) and The Galloping Sea. Du Nord's costume contest comes with a cool twist: dress up like a zombie from the 1990's! Prizes and bragging rights for the winner. Doors 8PM, $7, 21+
ccchalloweenThe Castro Country Club (4058 18th St.): The neighborhoods clean and sober safe space since 1983 is holding a party featuring dancing, DJ's,, a costume contest and refreshments. Join in the fun. Doors 9:30PM, and, as always, all are welcome. This event is FREE!
Beaux (2344 Market St.): Join the one and only Heklina at the Castro's newest nightspot for a fun evening of music from some of SF's hottest DJ's, dancing, cruising and - of course - Heklina Halloween Beauxa  costume contest where top honors earns prizes. Should be quite a scene. Doors 9:30PM, 21+ and FREE!

Whatever you choose to do tonight keep stay safe, have fun and keep the kid love of Halloween spirit in your heart. See you out there!

 

 

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