Art Haus

PHOTOS: A Rare Glimpse Into San Francisco’s Infamous Fairoaks Bathhouse

Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum1Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is offering New Yorkers a rare glimpse into the pre-AIDS gay sexual culture at their Prince Street Project Space with The Fairoaks Baths, a collection of photographs by Frank Melleno. The Fairoaks Hotel was a converted apartment building owned by a group of gay friends on the corner of Oak and Stiner and San Francisco. Fairoaks lent a counter-culture approach to the traditional bathhouse setting. Rather than cubicles, Fairoaks offered normal rooms with non-institutional furnishings. Artists were commissioned to paint and design the rooms and there were a number of regular programs including yoga, therapy groups, and monthly theme parties. Melleno was the night manager of the bathhouse and took these polaroids during the spring and summer of 1978.

Images by Frank Melleno

Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum3 Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum2 Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum8 Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum7 Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum6 Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum5 Fairoaks Baths Image Credit Frank Melleno for Leslie Lohman Museum4

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14 Comments

  • RIGay

    Wow! Men who look, frankly, like men and not plastic gym-bots! The only 6-pack I see involves beer. How wonderfully innocent and hot!

  • truckproductions

    oh barf… i see the same “quality” of men visited the bath houses back then as they do today..

  • blackberry finn

    @truckproductions: yes, I saw your photo spread for Men’s Fitness and funny, your head seemed really really big.

  • Merv

    Ground zero.

  • darkanser

    I fully understand why you used that first photo to open this piece. All I could think was I would have envied the guy with the towel.

  • Ogre Magi

    Why was facial hair so popular back then

  • Cobalt Blue

    This is so depressing: Awful place, awful people ( p*rvs for sure ), a hotel owned for ‘gay friends’ converted in a bathhouse…Am I right? WTF! It’s a real trip to the underworld.

  • stanhope

    Love it….normal looking guys having normal sorts of fun.

  • stanhope

    @Cobalt Blue: why don’t you go to a waxing session with your girlfriends?

  • curan

    The photos seem understated, lacking the ecstatic hedonism of the age.

    In any case, the virus was already rampant, and in a few short years that world would end.

  • Reid Condit

    I think you mean the address to be “Oak and Steiner Streets in San Francisco.” I think I was only there once. As bathhouses of the time went, it had less to offer than most and never enjoyed the popularity of places like 8th & Howard, Rich Street Baths or the Barracks on Folsom St. But come to an end? Only in San Francisco. It took until 1987 for the last SF bathhouse to close and those in Berkeley and San Jose never did. It amazes me how successful the scapegoating of bathhouses for AIDS has been in SF to this day. It’s likely as much HIV was transmitted in 1st class hotel rooms, yet they were never subjected to having the doors of their rooms removed under a court order. Bathhouses made such an easy target then and even to this day when the Health Dept., in collusion with the City Attorney, gets away with enforcing the privacy ban of a court order that expired decades ago. Shame on San Francisco!

  • dlrjwpm

    I never heard of this bathhouse, but the 8th and Howard and the one off of Polk Street were very popular!! Actually I was in the 8th & Howard Bath the last day it was open!! Also there was another bathhouse in the tenderloin and that’s where doing fleet week it would be full of navy men!! I had some good times in all of the bathhouses. How can anybody blame the bathhouse when there was Ringold Alley that one could walk and have sex in the public and there were bars on Folsom Street that had little passways where guys were openly having sex! And not the mention all the parks and the Health Dept., didn’t do anything about those. The parks in San Francisco at night time there was more sex going on than in the bathhouse! At least in the bathhouse in the it was cleaner and you could see what was going on!! Shame on SF for closing the bathhouses, but then they open up the sex clubs!!

  • jmmartin

    Great photos! Thanks for that glimse of nirvana seen through someone else’s window.

  • Tombear

    The Slot was better.

Comments are closed.