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Exploring Hollywood's Deep Gay Past: By Phone

by Dan Allen
Monday Sep 4, 2017

It's no secret that Hollywood's queer history is long and proud, stretching back more than a century to its very beginnings as the world's entertainment industry hub.

Now you can explore some of Hollywood's most colorful and captivating gay history highlights, with a new walking tour app for both iPhone and Android users. Called PRIDE Explorer, the app launched this summer, a joint effort of the LGBT history nonprofit The Lavender Effect and longtime Los Angeles-area gay tour company Out & About.

Covering a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Orange Drive and Argyle Avenue, the "LGBTinsel Town" tour is narrated by tour guide Jim Anzide, who's been leading Out & About's fun LGBTQ-history-themed bus tours of Hollywood and downtown L.A. since 2009.

Screenshot provided by PRIDE Explorer

The tour kicks off at the Hollywood outpost of Madame Tussauds, where you can snap a quick selfie with remarkably realistic likenesses of gay icons like RuPaul, Lady Gaga and Judy Garland. Indeed, there's a lot of Judy Garland ahead -- including Hollywood High School (where she and many other stars have gone, including Cher, Carol Burnett and Dorothy Dandridge); the Pig & Whistle, the restaurant where Garland's 16th birthday party was held while she was filming The Wizard of Oz; and her hallowed star along Hollywood's famous Walk of Fame.

But the tour covers far more than just gay-beloved celebs. The very roots of L.A.'s organized LGBT movement are explored at Morris Kight Square, named after the founder of the Gay Liberation Front; and the Christopher Street West Parade plaque, commemorating the spot where L.A.'s first gay protest march commenced in June of 1970.

Several gay marches happened across the country on that first anniversary weekend of the Stonewall riots, but L.A.'s was the only one to have city streets specifically closed for it. A lone lesbian on horseback led the march, immediately followed by a "crucified Tinkerbell" mock-nailed to a cross.

Photo: Squid Ink/Flickr

It's these sorts of fascinating details that keep PRIDE Explorer's Hollywood tour so interesting. Informative but easily digestible audio guide clips for each site last no more than three minutes apiece, and they're accompanied by cool historic imagery and easy-to-follow navigation.

Some entries even include historical audio clips, most notably at the site of the former Hotel Christie (now a Church of Scientology). Here, the early 1930s "pansy" venue, Club New Yorker, was hosted by celebrated gender-busting singer Jean Malin, and Malin's shockingly non-subtle recording of "I'd Rather be Spanish than Mannish" is included within the app.

Just steps away, a queer-popular coffee shop called The Gold Cup was at the core of a Hollywood gay cruising strip from the 1950s to the 1970s, and is often mentioned in John Rechy's famous gay hustler novel "City of Night." After making a visual love connection within The Gold Cup, gentlemen would exit and walk south on Las Palmas Avenue to meet up on the steps of the First Baptist Church of Hollywood -- where they'd be far less likely to be arrested by gay-hating cops.

As laws and mores relaxed in the 1970s, the big Hollywood Spa became L.A.'s most popular gay bathhouse and claimed to draw 100,000 visitors a year to its complex that included 100 private rooms, DJ, steam room, pool, Jacuzzi, adult video lounge, gym and a cafe. As the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, it became the first gay bathhouse to hand out free condoms and HIV/AIDS education.

And since Hollywood has never stopped being a major part of L.A.'s LGBT fabric, a few key modern gay sites are included on the tour, too, including the impressive Los Angeles LGBT Center, and Triangle Square, an affordable senior living community operated by Los Angeles nonprofit Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing (GLEH).

In all, some 40 sites are included in PRIDE Explorer's LGBTinsel Town tour, along with 20-plus navigational audio clips to help get you from place to place.

"We hope to expand the app to tell the story of a new city every three to six months," says Andy Sacher, the Lavender Effect's founder and creative director. "West Hollywood and DTLA are the next, as they are places we know well and love."

PRIDE Explorer costs $2.99, with net profits going to Lavender Effect's efforts to advance the future of LGBTQ heritage and culture. The app's iPhone version is available in iTunes' App Store, and its Android version can be found in Google Play.

Dan Allen covers travel and gay culture for numerous outlets around the world including, Yahoo Travel, Queerty, Westways, Passport, The New York Post and Private Islands.


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