Gary Freeman and Frank Melleno

Pinch
Archival print
20 x 20”
1978/2010
Work in Exhibition:

Pinch
Archival print
20 x 20”
1978/2010
(Close-up and gallery view, left)

Smoking
Archival print
20 x 20”
1978/2010
(Close-up and gallery view, middle)

Prelude
Archival print
20 x 20”
1978/2010
(Close-up and gallery view, right)

Star Mask
Archival print
20 x 20”
1978/2010
(Shown at S.F. LGBT Center. Not pictured above)

10
Archival print
20 x 20”
1978/2010
(Shown at S.F. LGBT Center. Not pictured above)

The Fairoaks Project is a bold and unapologetic celebration of gay male sexual culture featuring photographs taken at a single bathhouse, The Fairoaks Hotel in San Francisco in the late 1970's.

In San Francisco during the late 1970's, the gay community was thriving, vibrant and sensual. There were numerous venues for gay men to congregate, such as bars, social clubs, political action groups and perhaps a half dozen bathhouses. Unique amongst these bathhouses was the Fairoaks Hotel, which was located at the corner of Oak and Steiner in the Hayes Valley district away from the identified “gay” areas of town such as Castro St., Folsom St., and Polk St. The hotel was a converted Victorian apartment building owned and operated from 1977 to 1979 by a group of men who had formerly lived together in a commune. These men infused the Fairoaks with a different atmosphere than was evident at other bathhouses at the time. For example, all the rooms were normal scale (no cubicles), there were non-institutional furnishings, artists had been commissioned or allowed to decorate and paint the rooms, and it was generally lighter than a normal bathhouse. Most significantly, the Fairoaks was racially inclusive, and was promoted as a party location. This party atmosphere fostered a lenient climate for informal photography.

Fortunately, many of these Polaroids have survived through the years. These photographs were casual snapshots of the men at the bathhouse taken with subject's permission and displayed in the lobby on a bulletin board for viewing the next week. These photographs capture an aspect of the gay community rarely seen in snapshot photography: sexually frank, playful, spontaneous, and often-affectionate encounters. The storm clouds of drug abuse and disease that will soon overtake the community are not at all evident in these images.

The Fairoaks Project is a remarkable collection of historically significant Polaroid images made by Frank Melleno in the spring and summer of 1978. These snapshots depict the celebratory life that defined the Fairoaks, a vibrant sexual culture that soon would disappear with the onset of AIDS. This exhibition serves as a unique opportunity to share these rare images with wider public and place them in the historical context of the gay community and the era itself.

-- Gary Freeman and Frank Melleno

Fairoaks Project website: http://www.fairoaks-project.com/