The Castro, San Francisco

$1,600

Cartographer(s): Graham Bruce
Date: 1985
Place: San Francisco
Dimensions: 91.5 x 61 cm (36 x 24 in)
Condition Rating: VG

In stock

A rare poster map of unknown origin depicting San Francisco’s iconic Castro District in the mid-1980s.

Details

This vivacious and exciting poster map of the Castro District in San Francisco was produced by illustrator Graham Bruce in 1985. It is a densely filled landscape of nocturnal activity that revisits the pulsating nightlife of the era. In many ways, the overall composition and concept of the image align with other commercial poster maps from this period (e.g. Zell-Breier’s Oz by the Bay). Still, the style is different, almost dreamlike, and distinctly more artistic than cartoonish, setting this particular map apart from its contemporaries.

We are treated to an oblique perspective of the neighborhood. Structuring the view is an orthogonal grid of blue lines representing the area’s main streets. In the spaces created between these streets we find an abundance of imagery depicting life – and especially nightlife – in the district. At the forefront, most of the scenes are centered on a variety of human figures. Many of them have deliberately been drawn as neutral figures, in some cases hardly more than an outline. But many also include details that anchor the scenes to San Francisco, including 49er jerseys, CA license plates, or ganja-toting hippies.

The only character illustrated in many different forms are the homosexuals that made San Francisco famous in the 1980s. Men, in particular, abound and have been shown in countless ways, and in most cases, quite explicitly gay. Examples include men dressed like the Village People, men dancing or hugging, and a truly impressive range of mustaches and cowboy hats. Interspersed between the human figures are numerous iconic buildings both from within the neighborhood (e.g. the Castro Theatre) and nearby (e.g. a series of houses on 19th Street surprisingly reminiscent of the so-called Painted Ladies).

In the background, separating the central images from the silhouetted horizon, are dozens of commercial signs or billboards naming businesses that might appeal to the viewer’s needs and desires. In most cases, the signs include a phone number. In this sense, the poster is reminiscent of other pictorial maps produced for commercial purposes in the 1980s. Behind these advertisement billboards, the evening horizon is pierced by depictions of prominent San Francisco landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge heading over to the hills of Marin, the Great Rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, and the Oakland Bay Bridge to Yerba Buena Island. Rising above it all is the imposing title: a dramatic and oversized heading kept in orange, yellow, and white that ties the composition together.

 

Conclusion

This poster map is not only a time capsule that transports viewers back to the aesthetics, the clothes, and the buzz of the Castro District in the early 1980s. It is also a celebration of LGBT+ culture at a time when such communities were still the recipients of enormous social scorn throughout the country. And it highlights San Francisco – and the Castro District in particular – as one of the few safe havens in America where one would not be judged harshly over personal lifestyle choices. But perhaps above all, this poster spells fun: The good times that were had here in the 1980s may be a thing of the past, but with this poster, an intrinsic part of those days has been eternalized on paper.

 

Census

A final note should be made on the rarity of this poster. Even though the bottom right corner identifies the artist as one Graham Bruce and dates the map to 1985, we have not been able to locate any other copies of this map, either on the open market or in institutional or private collections. We have yet to find any information on the artist or the context in which the poster was produced and printed.

Cartographer(s):

Graham Bruce

Graham Bruce was an American illustrator responsbile for a rare and vivacious poster-map of the Castro District in San Francisco.

Condition Description

Very good. Bottom-left corner crimped. Some additional wear along edge.

References