What was once dairy farms and dirt roads is now one of the city's most vibrant and cohesive communities, saturated with stylish shops and bars so popular that patrons spill out onto the street. Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants came to the outskirts of San Francisco in search of cheap land, which became bona fide suburbs after 1887 when the Market Street Cable Railway linked Eureka Valley, as it was then called, with the rest of the city. Thanks to these homesteaders, who built large, handsome Victorian houses for their large families, today's residents have someplace to pour their money, and the vast majority of the neighborhood's classic homes have been lovingly and artfully restored.
Eureka Valley remained a quiet, working-class neighborhood until the postwar era, when large numbers of people started fleeing the city for the "suburbs." Finally, in the 1960s and '70s, gay men began buying the charming old Victorians at relatively low prices ($20,000-$40,000), and the neighborhood was soon named for its busiest thoroughfare, Castro Street.
The activism of the '60s and '70s forged a community with sizable political and economic power, and when the historic Twin Peaks bar at Market and Castro streets was built with floor-to-ceiling windows, most took it as a sign that Castro residents were secure in their gay identity. There were, however, tense and sometimes violent clashes with the police, and the assassination in 1978 of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was a turning point in the community's history. Milk's death and the impact of AIDS brought the community together and made activists of almost everyone; the Castro became not just open but celebratory about its thriving gay and lesbian population.
Today, the Castro's queer identity is itself a tourist attraction, beckoning throngs of pilgrims and revelers from all over the world. Since the introduction of the F Market street car, shuttling unsuspecting Midwestern families down from Fisherman's Wharf, denizens have been lamenting the demise and dilution of the gayest spot on earth. Yet the unabated proliferation of shops selling, ahem, adult accessories sporting neon signs touting "Lube 4 Less" tips off even the most untrained eye to the deeply entrenched community here.
The Castro is bustling all day long, but at night it really comes alive, as the bars from the Mint to the Midnight Sun fill up and the Castro Theatre's neon marquee lights up the main drag illuminating the frolicking and merriment. Though the Castro's nightlife doesn't have as much to offer women as many lesbians would like, it remains a safe neighborhood after hours, and there are plenty of places where women, queer or not, can feel at home. In addition, the Castro has experienced in influx of dining destinations with new restaurants and cafes opening their doors. As of recent the Castro has seen an insurgance of straight families into the community. It would seem that the safety and general welcoming, clean, presence the Castro imbibes should be credited for this influx. As other neighborhoods are succumbing to more crime and even great homelessness issues the Castro is avoiding such calamities and maintaining its effervescent charm.
The 2000 census reported a population of 30,574 persons, with a population density of 22,561/mi² (8,711/km²), in the 94114 Zip Code Tabulation Area, which includes the Castro District as well as neighboring Noe Valley. In November 2000, the Noe Valley Voice reported the following statistics for city District 8, which includes Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, Glen Park, Twin Peaks, Corona Heights, Duboce/Reverse Triangle, and Castro/Dolores Heights. The paper cited a 1999 poll of registered voters by David Binder Research, a prominent local polling agency.
- White: 81%
- Age 30-49: 54%
- Male: 58%
- Gay/Lesbian: 41% (15.4% city-wide)
- Rent housing: 55%
- College graduate: 71%
- Democrat: 72%
- Republican: 12%
- Religious affiliation: 56%
- Not religious: 40%
Information cited SFGATE updated by Shawn Timberlake 04/05