by Jim Provenzano
Years before the first Gay Games (1982), San Francisco’s gay community already had a lot going on in organized sports. Several gay softball teams had been organized before the historic Gays vs. Cops games in 1973 and 1974. Bowling had a few informal leagues, as noted in the historic lesbian periodical The Ladder, as far back as the mid-1950s. Competitive billiards and pool also took place in gay bars, and the growing softball league enjoyed great support from sponsoring bars.
In a way, San Francisco’s gay sports movement owes its birth to gay bars, of which there were more than 100 in 1973. And one event, while not exactly an official sport, took a fun competition to the streets, with contestants enjoying drinks while competing, of a sort.
The first annual Memorial Day Charity Costume Tricycle Race, held May 29, 1972, was sponsored by the historic bar The Mint. Established in 1942, The Mint, at its same location as today, 1942 Market Street, was one of several points along a wacky drag-filled tricycle race composed of various teams organized by bars of the day; Kelly’s Saloon, Fickle Fox, The Bachelors Club, The Pendulum, Twilight and The Naked Grape.
Contestants wobbled up and down the Upper Market and burgeoning Castro bar district, becoming wobblier with each courtesy drink at the various pit stops. Prizes ranged from dinners and coupons to $50 cash.
That same year, a similar event, the Roller Derby and Skate-Along, was sponsored by Jackson’s Bar (2237 Powell St.) and celebrated its fourth annual event. Started in 1968, the wacky race preceded the Tricycle Race with similar themes of wild costumes, cocktail pit stops and prizes. Donations to compete were a mere $2.00, and proceeds went to the Health Center “for sharper needles.”
But the Great Tricycle Race eclipsed its predecessor even by its second run. More than a thousand spectators and participants photographed at City Hall Park in May 1972 made the front page of the Bay Area Reporter. That year, the event raised funds for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
As the BAR story regales, a few local policemen were “bewildered” by the event, in a day when event permits were less than obligatory. By the time reinforcement cops arrived, the race had spiraled off to sidewalks up and down Polk and Market streets, leaving City Hall Park abandoned.
Costumed participants were gaudily dragged up, and scantily undressed. 1973’s First Place Costume winners, “Diki and Sonny,” showed off svelte pulchritude in leopard print loincloths and feather-trimmed sneakers.
The first prize for Best Bike was won by a goggle-sporting male duo and their Red Baron plane/tricycle. The first prize for taking the lead were a groovy pair of guys from The Gangway (a gay bar that remains to this day at 841 Larkin St.).
Enthusiastic crowds cheered on a sometimes gasping bevy of contestants, “some of whom were riding, some crawling and some who came in on two pedals and a lot of guts, the rest of the bike demolished somewhere along the way.”
“Conviviality reigned throughout,” wrote the un-bylined reporter, who did note in an amusingly catty remark that “Someone should tell Bette Bonko she is just too heavy for a mini-trike.”
As the event grew in popularity, celebrities even joined in. In 1975, Chip Carter, son of then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, competed in the fifth annual race as part of his father’s California campaign.
The tricycle races were held annually for 21 years, the last one in 1993. In 2000, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence revived the event, timed with their annual Easter festivities, and since 2006 their Tour de Castro, a variation on the original race, has somewhat-annually raised funds for the AIDS Life/Cycle. In May 2010, a version of the race was included as part of Harvey Milk Day festivities.
For more photos, visit Uncle Donald’s Castro at www.thecastro.net
Enjoy a short silent 8mm film of the 1972 Tricycle Race, courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society:
- BARchive: Eating Out
- BARchive: Drawn Out
- Tour de Castro
- BARchive: Holiday Haunts
Bars, Baths and Beyond