The Fairoaks Project Comes Home: A Rare Look inside a SF Gay Bathhouse in 1978


After a stint in LA, the collection of Frank Mellano’s polaroids of life at The Fairoaks Hotel (a San Francisco bath house in the 1970s) makes its way back to the city at the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) with a show running until June 30th as part of the 14th Annual National Queer Arts Festival.

Buried in a shoebox, the photos would have remained unknown had Melleno, part owner and night manager at the hotel, not shown them to photographer (and friend) Gary Freeman. As a gallery currator who also does photo restoration, Freeman developed the Fairoaks Project

“We decided to show these photos because they are visually stunning and provide a glimpse into a historically significant time—San Francisco’s era of sexual liberation before the HIV crisis; [and because]the history of sexuality and how that intersects with cultural and political issues of the times is often overlooked,” Doran Katz, curator for CSC, told 429Magazine. 

The project features three themes: costume parties, life at the bathhouse, and affection.

“The gay male culture of the 1970s is in some important respects gone—and we are far enough post-AIDS today (I don’t mean AIDS is over, I mean that there was a time that was *pre-AIDS* which these photos depict) that many people even in the LGBTQ community don’t know a great deal about it, don’t know its communitarian feel or much about its aesthetic,” said Carol Queen, CSC Director, in an interview with 429Magazine. 

“Bathhouse culture was important to that, and in SF, bathhouse culture is gone—so this is an informational show in a very significant way, showing a recent-past sexual sub-community, one that exerted a particular influence on the sex-positive world in general.”


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Writer. Photographer. World traveler. Fashion/art/music/food enthusiast. Lover of all things deviant and novel.

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