The iconic rainbow banners that dot the stretch of Market Street in the Castro district have hung for a decade and, in many cases, are ready to be replaced.
The flags are fastened to historic landmarks, however, and have ducked local laws in the past. Hanging new, permanent ones has preservationists wagging their fingers.
For 10 years, the flags — a symbol of pride for gay men and lesbians that was started in The City — have been on the posts, which were themselves designated as historic in 1991. Strict guidelines dictate that only temporary banners are permitted on the posts. The steel bands that attach the flags to the structure can rust and ruin the paint on the posts.
Even though the flags violate current rules, The City is allowing the old ones to remain, but not allowing any more to be hung.
“They can leave them there, but they can’t be replaced,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes the Castro. “The [banners] are violating the law while looking bad and tattered.”
A solution to the problem is legislation by Dufty that would enable “neighborhood banners” to permanently remain on what is known as the Path of Gold — 321 yellow-sodium vapor lamps that line Market Street from The Embarcadero to about 17th Street.
The law would require organizers to pay a $195 fee for the first 20 banners and print a contact number for people to call if they become an eyesore. In response, The City would provide more quality oversight and issue fines for violations.
The Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association, which specializes in overseeing land use in the area, recently told the Historic Preservation Commission that The City should not consider anything other than temporary signage on the historic light posts, regardless of the message. The group noted the permanent metal bands around the posts that are causing brown rust on the structures. Similar bands are removed when temporary banners are taken down.
However, area residents say it should be easy to find a compromise, especially if The City is questioning the fate of the iconic flags.
“They’re novel to the Castro,” said Emily Mariko-Sanders of San Francisco. “It’d be ridiculous if they can’t settle this.”
The Historic Preservation Commission will hear about the current state of the poles and future proposals for the Path of Gold in regards to Dufty’s legislation at its next meeting Dec. 15.
Dufty said balancing contemporary preservation laws will make it difficult, but is his mission to restore the banners.
“They were invented, founded and created in S.F. It’s an identifying neighborhood marker associated with Castro and the Eureka Valley neighborhood,” he said of the flags. “I’m simply trying to strike the best balance.”
The pride flags that hang in the Castro district are out of step with the rules for the historic lamp posts from which they hang. Current legislation seeks to allow new banners.
What: Light posts along Market Street
Where: Market Street from The Embarcadero to roughly 17th Street
Number of posts: 321
Current permit allows: 30 days to hang banners
Given landmark status in 1991 as the Path of Gold
Pay $130 for every 20 banners
Pay a $65 application fee
Pay a $130 inspection fee
Face $100 fine for first violation
Source: Board of Supervisors