Heart of the City Archives

Lyon Street Stairs.

How to Build a Stairway to Paradise
by Hank Donat

Wide open doors and a giant International Orange heart from the Hearts in San Francisco exhibit greeted visitors who came to City Hall to honor Adah Bakalinsky on the 20th anniversary release of her book, "Stairway Walks in San Francisco." City Hall should always look so welcoming.

The City honored Bakalinsky in an emotional ceremony of proclamation readings and stories from Mayor Gavin Newsom, Brian McCarthy of Muni, Dee Dee Workman of San Francisco Beautiful, and Abby Daniels of SF City Guides. Mark Bittner, Judy Irving, Dianna Waggoner, and Gerry Crowley were among dozens of friends and neighbors who came out to celebrate Bakalinsky. Her book has helped people from all over the world discover the natural and man-made beauty of San Francisco through its 350-plus stairways.

While declaring Adah Bakalinsky Day in San Francisco, Newsom said that previous mayors have given the same day to up to five people, but May 22, 2004 belonged only to the author whose work helps make San Francisco a walking city.

The longevity of "Stairway Walks in San Francisco" comes as a surprise to Bakalinsky who says, "You never know the end at the beginning." Just like a City stairway walk!

Sean Martinfield's stair-step pound cake was a hit, presumably because the crowd intended to walk off all those calories with Bakalinsky's book as a guide.

San Francisco Beautiful announced it is accepting nominees for its 2004 Beautification Awards through June 4. My favorite nominee is the patch at La Playa and Judah Streets that was recently transformed from a filthy knoll to a splendid garden by the owners of Java Beach Cafˇ. Members of the community along with the Fire Department and Rec. and Park pitched in to make it happen. (Visit sfbeautiful.org)

So, how do you build a stairway to paradise? Build it here.

Back at City Hall, it takes just a few minutes to retrace the steps that gay couples followed from the County Clerk's office to the rotunda to the Assessor-Recorder's office when the couples were married here this year. During the height of Wedstock it took up to several hours to make those steps. Somewhere along that path we stopped being second class citizens.

As gay marriages began in Massachusetts this month, San Francisco hosted a pair of visiting icons from the culture war.

Native daughter, comedian Margaret Cho appeared at a rally for gay marriage rights at Civic Center on May 17. Hundreds marched from Powell and Market Streets to City Hall.

While the rally focused on the action on the east coast, it was a true SF affair. One activist speaker at the Powell Street end of the rally called for free healthcare and free housing for all. "Gay marriage was a dream in 1971," he reminded the crowd. No one could argue with optimism.

It is fascinating to watch our local media in action. Without a strong organization by the rally's sponsor to guide them, reporters and photographers attached themselves to Brother Richard Cardarelli and one photogenic couple, Jim Spinello and Bill Lenker. Cardarelli, a Franciscan, called gay marriage "an issue of justice."

Frank Chu was never far from the scene. Chu, famous for wacky protest signs such as "Quintronic Embezzelments," now takes advertising. Forty dollars per weeks gets you back the back of the sign.

Cho arrived in the nick of time after a delayed flight, joining the rally near the Main Library.

The comedian marched toward Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza in a green velvet dress and smart black hat with hundreds of demonstrators behind her. She resembled an Eva Peron for the 21st Century. Later, the crowd shouted, "Margaret Cho for president," as she left the stage.

Cho's own marriage to artist Al Ridenour last year is a fairly well kept secret, like the fact that Mary-Kate and Ashley, the Olsen twins, are fraternal and not identical. Cho said that civil unions are no substitute for wedded bliss.

At Civic Center, the transsexual Kitty Castro asked Cho if she were openly lesbian. Cho said, "I'm openly everything." Cho's gay marriage web site is one of the best online resources for information on the struggle for gay marriage rights nationwide. (Visit loveisloveislove.com.)

One weekend earlier, New Paltz, New York Mayor Jason West visited San Francisco for a series of fundraising events and rallies. West, a Green Party member, was hit with multiple criminal charges after marrying 25 couples in his Hudson Valley village on February 27.

As gay weddings continue in West's jurisdiction under the ministry of the Unitarian Church, two ministers, Revs. Dawn Sangrey, 62, and Kay Greenleaf, 64, also face charges of solemnizing an unlicensed marriage. West, 27, and the ministers could spend up to a year in prison on each charge if convicted.

According to West, the state of New York's marriage law says that while a person may be charged with a crime for solemnizing an unlicensed marriage, the marriage itself is nevertheless legal.

The writer Jay Blotcher and his husband, Brook Garrett were couple #4 in West's Wedstock East. The mayor declared them "husband and husband." Blotcher is the extrovert in the family, but it was Garrett who blew a kiss to the crowd in New Paltz and found himself in every newspaper in the country in Darryl Bautista's now famous photo. Blotcher later wrote, "When it comes to gay rights, going public remains the most powerful statement one can make. One day we'll attain our equal rights - not Rove- or Romney-crafted compromises - and we'll retreat into our private lives and private joys."

Parting glances: Kudos to SF Weekly for knowing when to steal from the best. In naming Leah Garchik "Best Gossip" last week they backed up the dubious distinction by quoting a local web site, which called Garchik 'San Francisco's answer to Liz Smith.' The original quote appeared on this web site, MisterSF.com. Glad to see that SF Weekly is paying attention. Now, if we could only get them to work on citing original sources.

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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