This Month In History, 1958: A Day At the Beach

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2016

ONE, July 1958.

It’s summertime, which means it’s a good time to go to the beach:

I hadn’t gone near a gay beach for years when Marty and I drove out last summer to one of California’s most famous. It was a long pleasant drive out the Boulevard and it seemed that quite a few others were going our way — a red convertible with two sun-baked blonds; two sporty lesbians in an MG; a carload of screaming queens …

…Marty, who idealized homosexuals en masse much as intellectuals used to get dewy-eyed about the toiling masses, was awestruck at the sight, though it was familiar to him. “Look at that!” he said with a sweep of his bronzed arm. “Doesn’t the sight of that crowd thrill you? Right out in the open, hundreds of our people, peacefully enjoying themselves in public, no closed doors, no dim lights, no pretense.

“I often lie awake nights wondering how long it’ll take our group to become aware of itself — its strength and its rights. But I hardly ever appreciate just how many of us there really are except when I come here. Except for a few minutes on the Boulevard after the bars close, this is the only place where we ever ‘form a crowd,’ and there’s something exciting about seeing homosexuals as a crowd. I can’t explain how it stirs me, but I think beaches like this are a part of our liberation.”

Jim Kepner (see Feb 14), writing as “Frank Golovitz,” described the beach as one of the few public areas where gay people felt safe enough to let their guard down. Joe and Jim were there, “a look-alike, dress-alike couple… Happily married (seven years)” and “devout Mormons.” They never went to gay bars, and saw the beach as the one of the few “respectable places to meet other nice homosexuals.” Paul and Terry, two young engineers, were “busily directing the construction of the most elaborate sand castle I’d ever seen.” Jo Anne and Virginia were there with Jo Anne’s two kids they were raising together. Kepner later ran into Barry, Jo Ann’s ex-husband “of convenience,” who was “also a mine of assorted gossip.” He also met Ronnie Chase, “an angel-faced willowy young bank clerk” who defended their place in the sun when a straight couple showed up complaining about “damned queers taking over the place.”

GayBeach2“Well, go somewhere else if you don’t want to be contaminated,” he howled. “You’ve got fifty miles of beach around here and this is all we’ve got. So disappear!”

His antagonist managed one parting shot, unprintably suggesting that all homosexuals should be locked up and castrated.

Ronnie boiled all afternoon. “Did we hurt them? We don’t say anything about the way they behave on the beach. But just let one queen raise the pitch of her voice and it’s a public scandal!”

I suggested that he’d offended them — hardly good public relations.

I offended them? They offended us. Why always put the blame on this side? They started it. We weren’t doing anything to spoil their day, except existing. Let them go somewhere else. This is our beach. It’s small and crowded, but it’s ours.”

Gay BeachKepner didn’t say where the beach was located, except to say that it was “a long pleasant drive out the Boulevard.” That Boulevard was probably either Santa Monica Blvd, which ends at the Pacific Coast Highway just north of the Santa Monica Pier, or Olympic Blvd, which at the time veered northward at the pier to become the PCH. The area just north of the pier along the PCH was known in the 1950s as “Queer Alley.” In 1955, public demands that police shut down Queer Alley resulted in three council members and the mayor of Santa Monica being voted out of office, only to have their replacements discover that they can’t exactly shut down a beach. A number of gay bars and a bath house were located along that stretch of the beach. Kepner ended his story by stopping in at one of those bars — “really a sort of extension of the beach” — before “wander[ing] down for a look at biceps-bumpers that were exhibiting their rippling muscles farther down the beach” — most likely a reference to Venice’s famed Muscle Beach, just a couple of miles away.

[Sources: Frank Golovitz (Jim Kepner). “Gay Beach.” ONE 6, no. 7 (July 1958): 5-10. Kepner joined ONE magazine in 1952 and wrote under a half-dozen pseudonyms in addition to his own name in order to lend the appearance that ONE’s staff was larger than it actually was.

Dal McIntire (pseud.) “Tangents: News and Views” ONE 3, no. 9 (September 1955): 8-11, describing the Queer Alley controversy in Santa Monica’s municipal elections.]

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