Bil Browning

Photos: San Francisco's Fairoaks Hotel

Filed By Bil Browning | June 07, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: bathhouse, Fairoaks Hotel, gay bathhouse, gay history, gay men, San Fran history, San Francisco

Oh, how I wish I lived in Los Angeles now that I see drkrm/gallery is hosting a collection of Frank Melleno's candid Polaroid snapshots taken at San Francisco's Fairoaks Hotel during the spring and summer of 1978. fairoaks_index.jpgThe bathhouse closed shortly after these pictures were taken.

Situated in a refurbished Victorian building near a black ghetto, The Fairoaks was known for its laid-back and racially integrated ambiance. Bold and unapologetic, Melleno's images capture an aspect of gay life rarely seen in snapshot photography: sexually candid encounters that are playful, spontaneous and often affectionate. The dark storm of drug abuse and pandemic disease that would soon overtake the community is not visible in these celebratory pictures.

Melleno's collection of Polaroids was put in a box shortly after they were shot and have not been seen until now. Many of the images contain nudity and frank erotic scenes, but they also capture men dressed in festive attire and engaged in other aspects of the counter-culture lifestyle the Fairoaks promoted. Many artists lived at the hotel, and ongoing therapy-support groups and monthly theme parties enhanced the Fairoaks' reputation as a neighborhood center for gay men as much as a bathhouse.

Melleno, who died earlier this year, has given those of us too young to remember those days a fascinating glimpse into the pre-AIDS sexual liberation culture of the day. I wish I could go. Information on how to see the photos after the jump along with a few other pictures from the exhibit.

Frank Melleno: The Fairoaks Project

Polaroids from a San Francisco bathhouse 1978

June 12th - 27th, 2010
Opening Reception June 12th, 2010

2121 San Fernando Road Suite 3
Los Angeles, CA

If anyone can attend, please send us a report.


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What an interesting slice of life, and of gay history.

Anyone interested in more photos of the heydays in San Francisco,
see , with its great collection of many aspects of gay life , including some great pictures and film bits of Harvey Milk. I especially like the cockettes , who are also viewable at, or in wikipedia.

Ha! The site says it's been up and going since 1996 and since it still plays an "Over the Rainbow" midi song, I believe it! :)

I love these old photos. Thanks for sharing more sources for them.

Rick Sours | June 8, 2010 8:12 AM

The Fairoak Hotel is part of a chapter to Gay history, appreciated reading your article on this era.