The death of Polk Street - Page 2

The death of Polk Street: Gentrification is destroying the home of a vibrant, if marginalized, queer community

Many trans immigrants make a living as prostitutes, and while Miranda insists that she does not allow them to work inside the club, the close vicinity of San Francisco's tranny prostitute district has meant tension for Divas.

Miranda told us the police have been targeting the club because of complaints from new merchants. "Some of the people who have new businesses don't want the people who live here to stay. They want to close us down," she said. "They're trying to gentrify the neighborhood."

Neville Gittens, a police spokesperson, told us that the San Francisco Police Department performs "regular enforcement in that area" but said any targeted operations cannot be discussed.

Theresa Sparks, a trans woman who chairs the Police Commission, said Miranda made the same claim at the commission meeting Aug. 15. "I don't know if that's true or not," Sparks told us. "My intent is to find out what is going on."

Sparks agreed that gentrification is driving trans people out of the Polk Gulch neighborhood: "It is very, very difficult for a transgendered person to survive in this city."

Miranda pointed to a bar across the street. Until 2000, the Lush Lounge was the cruisy trans and hustler bar Polk Gulch Saloon. Now, under a new owner, white twentysomething heterosexuals sip apple pie martinis.

Sonia Khanna, a 28-year-old trans woman with long, curly brown hair and mocha skin told us she doesn't feel welcome there. "If you're a tranny, they think you're a whore," she said.

Miranda said the owner, Steve Black, ejected her when she went to welcome him to the neighborhood. Miranda, a former empress in San Francisco's Imperial Court System, reported him to the Human Rights Commission. The inquiry was closed when the owner informed the commission that he allows transgendered people into the bar. He didn't deny tossing out Miranda; he said he just disliked her personally.

The bigger problem may be the neighborhood's increased property values. Divas owner and Polk Gulch resident Steve Berkey told us that rents have pushed out other established queer businesses on Polk. The only reason Divas stays open is that he owns the building. "It used to be that so many girls lived in the neighborhood," he said. "They packed the place. But now rents have driven them off."


The reasons behind the death of the queer Polk are complex, likely including the ascendance of the Internet as a social networking tool, rising property costs, and the aging of the bars' core clientele and owners. But most of the community's rancor has focused on the most visible manifestation of change: neighborhood associations representing new, upscale businesses working with police and the city to clean up the streets.

At the center of the storm is a glass-walled architecture studio at the bottom of Polk Gulch, around the corner from Divas. Two freshly planted palm trees in front of the studio are conspicuous on a site next door to a bleak, institutional homeless shelter outfitted with security cameras and across the street from a porn shop promising "Hot Bareback Action!"

Case+Abst Architects has been the workplace and home of husband and wife Carolyn Abst and Ron Case since they were lured by the area's low cost in 1999. The trees were the first of 40 planted in a campaign they initiated last year as cofounders of Lower Polk Neighbors.

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