Lower Polk Neighbors (LPN) is a central San Francisco neighborhood association that meets monthly to talk “crime, cleanliness, beautification, and [the] strengthening of our community.” But that “community” part deserves closer examination, because for years the organization has been openly trying to erase the history of Polk Street as a sanctuary for lower-income gay and transgender people. Last month, it was at it again, censoring a queer activist group that criticized that erasure.
In January, the website of the queer direct action group Gay Shame was shut down as a result of a formal complaint by LPN Co-Chair Carolyn Abst. On the site, the group had mentioned Abst’s name, playfully but combatively, in a “wanted” poster describing Abst as “chairing the brutal gentrification squad commonly known as the ‘Lower Polk Neighbors.'”
Abst and Ron Case are the married couple who founded and have served as Lower Polk Neighbors’s Co-Chairs for years. Architects by day, neighborhood politicos by night, Abst and Case entered the scene in the pre-gentrification late ’90s, in seek of what was some pretty cheap real estate compared to Nob Hill, the posh neighborhood which borders Polk a few blocks to the east. Although the real estate was cheaper, it was still too expensive to translate to homeownership for most residents at the time. If the new residents could just push some of the old ones out, it could mean a spike in property values. Maybe they could create a Nob Hill of their very own.
Abst and Case convened their first Lower Polk Neighbors (LPN) meeting in late 2001. One of its first apparent missions: send local gay bars packing, and into the Tenderloin or out of business. (Gay Shame members regularly attended early meetings, and kept their own version of meeting minutes in a blog.) One of the first casualties was the hustler bar Club RendezVous at Polk and Bush Streets. As historian Joey Plaster wrote in the San Francisco Bay-Guardian in 2007, Club Rendezvous owner David Kapp told the Central City Extra that a “smear campaign” by LPN ended Kapp’s plans for staying in the neighborhood. Once RendezVous closed, the architecture firm owned by Abst and Case, Case+Abst Architects, received a contract to design the First Congressional Church, which now stands in its place.
Case went on to say that he didn’t want to gentrify the neighborhood, but only to “make it clean and safe.” That meant pushing queer and trans people, as well as closing a potentially life-saving needle exchange, out of the area. From the Bay-Guardian report: