An extraordinary, never-before-seen glimpse into pre-AIDS gay sexual
culture will go on view June 12 at drkrm/gallery in celebration
of Gay Pride Month. The Fairoaks Project is an exhibit of Polaroid
photographs taken by Frank Melleno during the spring and summer
of 1978 at The Fairoaks Hotel, a San Francisco bathhouse.
Situated in a refurbished Victorian building near a black ghetto,
The Fairoaks was known for its laid-back and racially integrated
ambiance. Bold and unapologetic, Melleno’s images capture
an aspect of gay life rarely seen in snapshot photography: sexually
candid encounters that are playful, spontaneous and often affectionate.
The dark storm of drug abuse and pandemic disease that would soon
overtake the community is not visible in these celebratory pictures.
Melleno’s collection of Polaroids was put in a box shortly
after they were shot and have not been seen until now. Many of the
images contain nudity and frank erotic scenes, but they also capture
men dressed in festive attire and engaged in other aspects of the
counter-culture lifestyle the Fairoaks promoted. Many artists lived
at the hotel, and ongoing therapy-support groups and monthly theme
parties enhanced the Fairoaks’ reputation as a neighborhood
center for gay men as much as a bathhouse.
While The Fairoaks Hotel closed not long after these pictures were
taken, its brief but colorful legacy is well documented in this
exhibit. The Fairoaks Project not only serves as a unique
opportunity to present rare images to a wider public, but also places
them within the historical context of a bygone era.