ON AUGUST 19, 2018, San Francisco’s Nob Hill Theatre, one of America’s oldest venues for gay-oriented adult entertainment, shuttered its doors. This sad event marked the demise of another venue that had survived decency campaigns since the mid-20th century and urban renewal threats since the late 1970s.
Science fiction writer Samuel Delany argued in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999) that adult entertainment venues had served as institutions for sexual education and community formation for marginalized populations, including LGBT ones, for many decades. Delany was talking specifically about New York’s adult theaters, but his assertion can be generalized to West Coast venues as well, such as the Nob Hill Theater in San Francisco, which was at the forefront of gay male entertainment. Often overlooked are the innovations of Shan Sayles, the man responsible for the Nob Hill’s shift to an “all-male” film policy and who was a major figure in the emergence of American gay cinema. Sayles produced landmark queer films, including Song of the Loon (1970) and Tom DeSimone’s The Collection (1970), and he expanded his theater chain to provide new venues for gay audiences across the nation.