Hillcrest in the 80s…a magical place & time

“I Will Survive,” sang Gloria Gaynor. And did we ever! The gay and lesbian community is stronger and more powerful (and seen as more of a threat by paranoid hypocrites) today than ever before in the history of mankind. Twenty years ago, who would have thought we’d make it?

Protesters at City Hall include Albert Bell holding the “Quit Killing Us” sign, Mark Conlan and John Ciacco (in the shorts).

We were under attack by an insidious virus called HIV. Twenty years later it continues to devastate our community and much of the world. Yet we survive. We bury our dead, we mourn, we do not forget, and we go on.

I remember John Ciaccio. Such a brilliant, charming, go-get-’em guy. He was one of the founders of the San Diego Gayzette and its first advertising representative. John participated in some of the first demonstrations and civil disobedience actions held by members of the gay and lesbian community in San Diego. He was so articulate that he became a media spokesperson. His was a great face to show our fellow citizens who we were. Can John have been gone now for over two decades? So many have passed on, breaking our hearts but not our spirit.

AIDS in the 1980s killed more individuals than the number of soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. It was an unpublicized war, however, for far too many years. Although we screamed and yelled and shook our government to wake up, President Ronald Reagan never did. I doubt that Ronnie was ever fully awake in his entire life.

Kelly Dorsey, Kate Beck, Julie Warren, Lair Davis, Christina Vernonica, Casey Scott, Leslie Horn and Drew Jennings enjoying Lair’s Fifth Avenue porch during the 1989 CityFest (shown below. Photos by Ann Garwood).

Hillcrest was a wonderful place in the 1980s. I lived above La Petite Cafe, a self-described, teeny French restaurant on the corner of Fifth and University. The windows of that apartment and its tiny balcony still overlook that magic intersection. It was the center of the gay world in San Diego — the sophisticated Number One Fifth Avenue a half block south, my beloved working-class Waterloo Station one block to the north — what more could a gay man want?

CityFest, Hillcrest’s annual community street fair, occurred right under my window. In fact, my place became party central. Everyone who was anyone (and some who thankfully never were) dropped by. Many an issue of the Gayzette was put together while I gazed out that window.

Previously I lived just down the block above what is now Kemo Sabe (presently Amici’s). My neighbor at the end of the hall was a mysterious person known as Nicole Murray. There were some strange and beautiful comings and going from that place, let me tell you!

My last home in Hillcrest was across the street from The Caliph in an old building at Fifth and Spruce. I loved that tiny abode. It felt so Bohemian, and it was only 15 years ago.

Only? Can it have been that long?

Thank you, Hillcrest, for sharing some of your magic with me. You remain in my memories so cherished. “Progress” has caught up with you, alas, and you have changed so much. Please, hang on to your magic. You restore to “urbanity” its good name!

About the author: Larry “Lair” Davis (September 3, 1941-June 5, 2014) was former editor of Update, the Gayzette, GLTimes and the GLN [Gay & Lesbian Nation] — all but Update were based in Hillcrest.

First published in HillQuest Urban Guide 2007.