As the city mulls creating a new LGBQT Leather Cultural District in SoMa, a multi-use development company has invested in revealing the history of an alley that was once a gathering space for leather enthusiasts.
A one-block-long installation along Ringold Alley between 8th and 9th streets seeks to educate visitors about the history of the leather movement and its connection to that block, which parallels Folsom Street.
Jeffrey Miller and his firm, Miller Company Landscape Architects, were contracted for the landscape work at L7 at 1222 Harrison St. (at 8th), which offers 410 residential units and 40,000 square feet of office and retail space. The revitalization of the nearby alley was funded in large part through the public benefits fee paid by the developers of L7.
There was an opening for L7, which included an unveiling of the ‘Leather Memoir’ project on July 27, 2017, Miller told us.
Miller not only worked with the architects of L7, Kava Massih Architects, to landscape around the new development, but also created the block of artworks and landscapes along Ringold to complement the new development’s design. The art installation and landscape additions also improve pedestrian access and help streamline vehicular traffic through the alley, according to a press release about the installation.
A black granite stone marker includes etched replicas of two iconic leather artworks: “The Leather David” statue by Mike Caffee commissioned for Fe-Be’s— said to be the first leather bar on Folsom Street—and Chuck Arnett’s mural that once graced the walls of Harrison Street bar Tool Box, the first leather bar South of Market.
The granite marker also includes a narrative written by Gayle Rubin, a scholar of San Francisco LGBTQ and leather culture who teaches anthropology and women’s studies at University of Michigan.
Nearby, twenty blocks of granite recycled from San Francisco curbs stand upright to commemorate neighborhood institutions including Fe-Be’s, Taste of Leather, and the Folsom Street Fair, according to Miller’s press release.
Those stones protrude through markings representing the Leather Pride flag designed by San Francisco author Tony DeBlase in 1989. The stones and flag decorate the pavement of new bulb-out areas along Ringold Alley’s new alignment.
Finally, bronze boot prints are embedded along the alley’s curb to honor 28 individuals who helped foster San Francisco’s leather community.
Miller said he spends time watching people interact with the art, and that people familiar with the neighborhood are excited to see its hidden history revealed, while other visitors are surprised to see the elements and what they represent.
“A comment that I’ve heard as people visit the area and talk to each other is that this can only happen in San Francisco!” Miller added.
Miller’s landscape architecture firm has been hard at work across the city lately, with projects such as the new playground at the Tenderloin’s Sgt. Macaulay Park at Larkin and O’Farrell, two new affordable developments in the former Candlestick Park area, and green schoolyards at R.L. Stevenson and Lafayette elementary schools.
It was also the lead, along with neighbors and the Trust for Public Land, in the recently-completed Hilltop 'Sundial' Park in the Bayview, Miller said.
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