Castro party was dead on arrival
Wyatt Buchanan, Heather Knight,Robert Selna, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, November 1, 2007
(11-01) 00:35 PDT San Francisco — San Francisco got the quiet Halloween night it had hoped for Wednesday as revelers stayed clear of the Castro district’s no-party zone.
“People are behaving well. We’re happy,” Neville Gittens, a police spokesman, said late Wednesday evening. “All of the city’s planning and notification is paying off.”
By midnight, city workers had taken away the metal police barricades that had lined parts of Castro and Market streets and the crowds had dwindled to about 100 people. Even the city streetsweepers had rolled through the neighborhood.
Many of the neighborhood’s bars and restaurants closed early in response to the city’s efforts to shut down this year’s Halloween bash to avoid a repeat of the rowdiness and violence that led to the shootings of nine people last year. Then an estimated 200,000 people had crowded into the area for the annual party that’s often described as “the gay Christmas.”
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the Castro district, was one of the leaders of the effort to kill the party. He walked through the area Wednesday night, his only costume a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Not everyone was happy about the changes.
Paul Ellis, 50, has lived in the Castro for 24 years. He was out on the streets dressed as Henry VIII.
“It’s my party in my neighborhood, and that’s why I’m out here,” he said, although he admitted that it was nothing like last year. “The party has definitely been curtailed … tepid and bland is a polite way of saying it.”
Brian Busta was out at Castro and Market streets, covered from head to toe in white chiffon and holding a sign labeling him “The Widow Castro Halloween.”
“I lived in the neighborhood 18 years, and I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Instead of sitting home and being bummed out, we decided to do this.”
Another group of costumed partygoers held their own protest march, carrying a cardboard coffin up Market Street from Beale Street to the Castro, all the time chanting, “Come mourn the death of Castro Halloween.”
“If you’re going to kill Castro Halloween, you have to have a funeral,” said Mark Tyne, whose all-black ensemble was crowned with a top hat.
But other residents were relieved to see the huge and often raucous party banned from their neighborhood.
Shelah Barr, who has lived in the Castro for 20 years, was fine with the demise of the party.
“People who live here have to deal with the mess the next day,” she said.
The city virtually proclaimed the Castro a no-go zone for partiers and urged the hordes of costumed Halloween revelers to find another place to get rowdy. Still, police were worried that a sizable fraction of the multitude who crammed into the area last year would find their way back.
But by 11 p.m., the costumed partygoers – who only numbered in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands – began to thin. Most had gathered around Harvey Milk Square at Market and Castro streets.
Halloween was livelier in the Mission District and along Polk Street, where the bars were crowded with people in costumes. Police reported no problems anywhere in the city.
Polk Street, for example, was busier than it’s been on past Halloweens and the bars were doing land rush business.
The Hemlock bar was so crowded that a few dozen people were lined up outside, waiting for a chance to get in.
“I don’t see why (city officials) have any right to do such a thing” as cancel the Castro celebration, said 25-year-old Nathan Ratledge, who was waiting in line dressed as the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. “There’s no way anyone can cancel Halloween.”
Signs banning parking on many neighborhood streets went up Tuesday. By early Wednesday afternoon, police cars were lined up on Market Street, officers writing tickets on the cars still parked there.
Most of the local merchants had agreed, sometimes reluctantly, to close early and discourage the crowds that made Halloween one of the most profitable nights of the year for many bars, clubs and restaurants.
Rossi’s Deli on Castro Street was closing early, and owner Sam Eughmen wasn’t concerned.
“The last three years, we haven’t sold alcohol, so to me the money wasn’t an issue,” he said.
All along Castro Street, people were putting plywood and corrugated sheet metal in front of their shop windows. At the Body clothing store, manager Dennis Collins was covering the window with metal, just in case problems broke out later in the evening.
His store lost a window during the Pink Saturday celebration before this year’s Gay Pride parade, so “it’s just an insurance factor,” he said.
Hundreds of police officers walked the neighborhood streets, making sure there was no trouble. By late in the evening, there had been only five arrests in the Castro, including three for public drunkenness, one for jaywalking and one on an existing warrant.
The Badlands Bar on 18th Street, a regular Castro hangout, was jammed in the early evening, but managers warned customers they’d be shutting down at 10 p.m.
Sitting in the bar, Dolly Trompeter shook her head over San Francisco’s efforts to shut down one of its largest events of the year.
“The city holds one of the biggest celebrations of gay pride, which could also cause drunken mayhem, but they can’t get it together for Halloween,” she said.
The city bent a bit on its no-party edict for the Castro when officials brought at least 90 portable toilets into the neighborhood in time for the Halloween party authorities hoped wouldn’t happen.
That was good news for Alix Rosenthal, who lost to Dufty in the campaign for the District Eight supervisor’s seat last year and co-founded Citizens for Halloween, a group that pushed to keep the colorful and often raucous party in the neighborhood.
“It may not prevent all of the public urination, but it is certainly better than no toilets at all,” she said in a community e-mail message. “We are thrilled that the city made the right decision, even though they could have done more to decrease our anxiety levels before now.”
Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Police Department made the decision, Dufty said, though they didn’t want word to get out because they thought it could encourage revelers to come to the nonparty. Dufty led the push to cancel the party after last year’s Castro festivities ended in violence.
Rosenthal “is welcome to declare victory,” Dufty said. “Of all the things I sweated this year, that was not one of them.”
That doesn’t mean that blame isn’t being handed out.
“Do not vote for Gavin Newsom,” a man dressed as a nun shouted over a bullhorn. “He’s the one behind this. Because of him, there’s no Halloween.”
For at least some Castro revelers, the city’s efforts to send them packing had the desired effect.
At 7 p.m., Hank Cancel, dressed as both a bride and a groom, surveyed the lack of excitement at 18th and Castro streets.
“This totally sucks,” he said. “It’s too bad that a few bad seeds have ruined this – it’s not the gays and the lesbians.”
Cancel said he was leaving the Castro district and heading to Polk Street, where the bars were open and the parties could go on into the night.
Chronicle staff writer John Wildermuth contributed to this report. E-mail the writers at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle