Activists hope to preserve gay hub in midtown

By Ryan Lillis

rlillis@sacbee.com

December 14, 2014 06:50 PM

Faces, the sprawling, iconic and over 25-year-old nightclub at 20th and K Street in downtown Sacramento. Michael Allen Jones mjones@sacbee.com
Faces, the sprawling, iconic and over 25-year-old nightclub at 20th and K Street in downtown Sacramento. Michael Allen Jones mjones@sacbee.com

The area around 20th and K streets in midtown is the unmistakable center of gay pride in this city.

There are rainbow-colored flags hanging in front of several bars. Faces, the booming nightclub with a wading pool, sits on the corner and is probably the city’s best-known gay night spot. The Sacramento LGBT Community Center is down the street, situated in a beautiful old home with a rainbow flag out front.

But in a city where marketing experts place labels on every made-up business district they can carve out, this busy little neighborhood is known only unofficially as Lavender Heights.

And so a group of gay activists is raising money and launching a campaign to place a historical designation on the district. That could include special street signs and a large rainbow flag, like the one that dominates the sky in San Francisco’s Castro district. There’s also talk of painting the stripes in the crosswalks at 20th and K into the colors of the rainbow, the symbol of pride for the gay community.

The Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and Councilman Steve Hansen are leading the effort. Hansen is the city’s first openly gay council member, so Lavender Heights has special significance to him.

“Lavender Heights is sort of the home of the gay-rights movement in Sacramento,” he said. “It’s been a safe place, and that meant a lot to the generations that came before us.”

Donald Bentz was sitting in a second-floor conference room of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center on Friday. He’s that organization’s executive director and is arguing for the Lavender Heights recognition, too.

“Having that geographic epicenter, that focal point, is very important,” he said. “It builds that sense of identity, that you do belong and there is a place for you.”

Now is the time to do it, Bentz said, because there are some big changes coming to the neighborhood.

He’s talking about the new Whole Foods that’s proposed for L Street, on the block next to the LGBT Center. A developer also plans to build 140 apartments on top of the store, a huge influx of housing into the neighborhood.

Bentz and many others support the Whole Foods. But there’s a balancing act, too. Faces was here first, and some people are wondering how residents of the Whole Foods apartments will react to loud noise coming from a nightclub just a few feet outside their windows.

The Castro – the epicenter of gay culture and activism on the West Coast – also has a new Whole Foods, but the neighborhood has tried to limit other chains. Gay activists around the country have long worried about their cultural hubs losing their identity. Bentz said that fear makes placing a label on Lavender Heights an urgent and worthy cause.

“We need to designate now,” he said. “We don’t want to wait until later, after the neighborhood has already changed.”

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.