The death of Polk Street - Page 4

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

That is the dream of San Francisco — that you can get away from where you came from and cope, and create something dangerous and desperate and explosive."


When Kimo's changes hands at the end of September, San Francisco will lose one of the last vestiges of a hustler culture housed on Polk Street since at least the early 1960s.

On a recent night, six gray-haired men sat chatting or reading the paper, relics of Polk Street's heyday. A young man with a shaved head and black hoodie stood outside the front door and gave a suspicious look to a young blonde woman in bikini straps who breezed in with two friends, laughing, oblivious to him. A sign in front read "No Loitering In Front of These Premises."

The state's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control mandated the warning, Kimo's bartender John David told us. He said he thinks that was the result of pressure from the LPN. "Kimo's is the new whipping boy," he told us. "RendezVous is out, and now it's our fault that people are on the streets."

Case denies that his group had anything to do with the crackdown on Kimo's.

A tall man with shaggy brown hair standing on the sidewalk near Kimo's, who asked to be identified by his porn-actor name, Eric Manchester, complained that a way of life is coming to an end. Manchester said he started hustling on Polk at age 17 after leaving the "redneck, racist town" of Martinsville, Ind., in 10th grade and being stationed in San Diego by the Navy.

"It wasn't just money for me," Manchester told us. "This was a good place to come and get advice, comfort, support. There are people that need people, and they're going to take that all away. San Francisco is going down the tubes. All the heterosexual people are moving in. They like the police-state mentality."

Among the new arrivals is the owner of the $6.5 million O'Reilly's Holy Grail Restaurant that stands just a few doors down Polk Street from Kimo's. On a recent evening, a musician played soft jazz on a black grand piano, while men in starched pastel button-down shirts stood around on the hickory pecan floor.

Myles O'Reilly opened the restaurant two years ago, when he also transformed a low-rent residential hotel above the space into 14 European-style hotel suites. Neighbors point to the property as a tipping point in Polk's transformation. But O'Reilly sounded almost defeated when he talked about his "multimillion-dollar jewel in the middle of the desert."

"We are only a couple blocks from City Hall and Union Square," he told us. "But tourism doesn't come this way."

With the goal of transforming the area, he teamed up with John Malloy, the head of the recently founded Polk Corridor Business Association, who has also chaired the LPN.

One of their projects is on view outside the restaurant and along the street. Colorful banners read: "Welcome to Polk Village ... working together to build a cleaner, safer, more beautiful community." The PCBA plans to circulate a petition to officially change the name of Polk Gulch to Polk Village in a few years, but O'Reilly isn't waiting. He defiantly lists the restaurant's address as 1233 Polk Village on his building.

That "village" will house a small army if these merchants have their way. "We need foot patrols up and down Polk Street," Malloy, who lives in the neighborhood, told us. "We're going to get more police even if we have to go out there and hire them ourselves."

O'Reilly took out his cell phone and started showing me photos. "This is defecation on the sidewalk outside," he said, pointing to a smudgy image. "This is condoms on the sidewalk. You see this lovely photograph? That's a condom in the flowerbed. That's what my son had to see this morning. And nobody helps."

"There are 1,000 condos being built here," O'Reilly said.

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