The Eagle Has Been Granted Landmark Historical Status
With the Stud closing in 2020 (though currently “alive” in a sort suspended animation) South of Market’s the Eagle becomes the oldest currently operating leather bar in San Francisco. But the Eagle has taken a beating over the last ten years too; the bar announced it would close in 2011, but managed to reopen the next year with some help from then-supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener. Then the landlord put the building up for sale last September, so even when the bar reopened for Pride Weekend, the Eagle’s future was still up in the air.
It’s less up in the air now. Tuesday night, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors granted the Eagle landmark historical designation status.
“Today is a remarkable day for our city, the LGBTQ community, and the leather community, in that we will finally be approving the San Francisco Eagle as a landmark,” the measure’s sponsor, supervisor Matt Haney, said Tuesday night. “It is imperative that we acknowledge its significance, and that we endeavor to prevent this rich history and an essential part of the South of Market from being erased due to the destabilizing pressures of ongoing gentrification and development.”
You can check out the owners of the Eagle as they hear the news and celebrate.
The Eagle opened in February 1981, at the very 12th and Harrison corner where it still is now. Back then, South of Market was the “Miracle Mile” of gay and leather bars, clubs, shops, and bath houses. Then-mayor Dianne Feinstein absolutely hated all of it, meant to scrub and gentrify the leather and BDSM culture from the neighborhood through the “Urban Renewal” movement. The Eagle is one of the only remaining leather bars that survived that era.
In 2018, the city established that section of South of Market as the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District, adding additional historical designations and protections to the area. “The SF Eagle bar is a cornerstone of the LGBTQ and Leather Cultural District, an important historical asset, a cultural institution, and a community anchor that deserves all of the protections and privileges that the city can provide,” Haney said Tuesday.
The designation does not become official until the board hears the measure on a second reading (probably Tuesday, October 12). This is a rubber-stamp technicality. It is exceedingly, exceedingly rare that the board does not pass something they had approved on the previous first reading. The landmark designation is a foregone conclusion after Tuesday night’s vote.
A landmark designation does not guarantee that the Eagle will stay open forever and ever. Consider that the city’s first-ever gay club, the Paper Doll at 524 Union Street, has landmark status but the address has seen a number of other establishments come and go. Yet landmark status gives the building’s landlord all manner of generous tax breaks and regulatory easements that provide enormous financial incentives to keep that landmark business as their tenant.
Which means that the Eagle’s beer busts will likely continue for generations to come, as will other events at the Eagle.