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"Bremen, 1928. The Greek Islands, 1932. London, 1938. California, 1940. Four portraits, four settings, four narrators all named Christopher Isherwood. Here are the postcards home from a spiritual tourist looking for a new mode of life as well as a new place to live while Europe, and then the world, moves relentlessly toward war. Which of the guides he encounters can lead him to a better future? The businessman, the utopian, the guru, the geisha?"

Good Reads: “Christopher Isherwood originally intended Down There on a Visit to be part of The Lost, the unfinished epic novel that would also incorporate his famous Berlin Stories. Tracing many of the same themes as that earlier work, this novel is a bemused, sometimes acid portrait of people caught in private sexual hells of their own making. Its four episodes are connected by four narrators. All are called “Christopher Isherwood, ” but each is a different character inhabiting a new setting: Berlin in 1928, the Greek Isles in 1933, London in 1938, and California in 1940. Down There on a Visit is a major work that shows Isherwood at the height of his literary powers.

“Stunning. I can think of no better word.” —Dorothy Parker, Esquire

“This is probably Isherwood’s best novel. It offers the sheer pleasure of writing completely personal and yet completely controlled, radiant with observation, never wasting a word, funny and sympathetic.” —Stephen Spender, The New Republic

“This excellent novel … may be the best Christopher Isherwood has written … A deeply intelligent and quietly compelling story.” —Gerald Sykes, The New York Times

“This is the best of Mr. Isherwood’s novels.” —Cyril Connolly, The Times (London)

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Miracle Mile

"This is the city’s backyard… . An early morning walk will take a visitor past dozens of small businesses manufacturing necessities; metal benders, plastic molders, even casket makers can all be seen plying their trades. At five they set down their tools and return to the suburbs… . A few hours later, men in black leather … will step out on these same streets to fill the nearly 30 gay bars, restaurants and sex clubs in the immediate vicinity. Separate realities that seldom touch and, on the surface at least, have few qualms about each other. —Mark Thompson (1982, 28)

Gay male leather communities have been markedly territorial in major U.S. cities. In San Francisco, leather has been most closely associated with the South of Market neighborhood since 1962. Earlier, in the 1950s, leathermen had mostly patronized the waterfront bars, such as Jacks on the Waterfront, the Sea Cow, and the Castaways. The first dedicated leather bar in San Francisco was the Why Not, which opened briefly in the Tenderloin in 1962. When the Tool Box opened later that year on the corner of Fourth Street and Harrison, it was the first leather bar located in the South of Market. The Tool Box was a sensation. It was wildly popular and even attracted nationwide media notice. Herb Caen wrote about the Tool Box in his famous San Francisco Chronicle column:

"As I noted a few days ago, some of the young fellers who hang out in the Tool Box at Fourth and Harrison wear and S or an M on their shirt pockets to indicate Sadist or Masochist. Which prompted a relieved message from Harold Call. "I’m so glad you printed that," he said. "All this time I thought it meant Single, or Married!" (Caen 1964)

The most celebrated element of the Tool Box was a huge mural painted by Chuck Arnett, a local artist who worked at the bar and whose paintings and posters were also featured at such later bars as the Red Star Saloon and the Ambush. The mural was a massive black-and-white painting that depicted a variety of tough-looking, masculine men. In 1964, when Life magazine did a story on homosexuality in America, a photograph of the Tool Box was spread across the two opening pages. (Welch & Eppridge 1964)

In it we see the mural and some of the bar patrons, including Arnett and several others who would play significant roles in San Francisco’s early leather history, as the managers, bartenders, bouncers, and above all, the artists and decorators of local leather establishments. Standing next to Arnett is Bill Tellman, another artist who has contributed a great deal to the local iconography. He designed the poster for the Slot, one of the earliest leather-oriented bathhouses. He also did graphic design for the Ambush, and a made a backlit stained-glass depiction of fistfucking that eventually adorned the Catacombs.

Jack H. is also in the photo. In 1965 Jack and a partner opened the Detour at 888 McAllister Street when the popularity of the Tool Box began to subside. Later he was a co-owner of Febe’s, one of the first leather bars to open on Folsom Street. Jack also later opened the Slot, and some stories even credit him with having invented fistfucking at a party in his basement in 1962. Mike Caffee, another artist, is there, too. Caffee worked in and did graphic design for many leather businesses. In 1966, he designed the logo for Febe’s and created a statue that came to symbolize the bar.”

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