From Polk to Campus

I had no idea one of my Eighties haunts, Campus All-Male Theatre in San Francisco, had become Power Exchange sex club.

When my husband and I visited the city a few years ago, a cab driver suggested we go there, for fun. We were dumbstruck he assumed we were looking for that type of a good time.

What I didn’t know, the club the cabbie referred to was actually where I’d spent numerous nights decades prior, while exploring the mecca’s sexual subculture during my twenties.

In a memoir trilogy work-in-progress, I include escapades (from 1982-1989) at Campus and its earlier incarnation, Savages.

Searching Google recently, I discovered an ad from 1986 which reads: “Home of the Varsity Strip Squad, and featuring the hottest and horniest performers on the West Coast. Live on stage and in the audience, all nude, all hard for you!”

Having personally witnessed this debauchery, I can attest every expectation the ad promised (and more), transpired.

Campus was in a rough neighborhood, the Tenderloin. It had a basement maze, wrestling pit with bleacher-style seating, and other areas too dark to describe.

Straight (or bi) guys, otherwise known as “trade,” could be found at the triple-x theatre.

Not surprising to see a girl drop off her boyfriend, and an hour later he’d be onstage totally nude, while dozens of men fondled the stripper’s derriere. Dates for later were also arranged.

Those of us who frequented Polk Gulch occasionally ventured into seedier and more dangerous neighborhoods, such as the Tenderloin, known for its prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers.

I had developed street-smarts years before, while hustling. My first lesson from a sixteen-year-old: boys don’t have pimps, we were independent.

Despite the homophobia typical of the era, Polk as a gayborhood during the late-1970s thru early-1980s, was mostly safe for LGBTQ people.

Runaway, discarded, and forgotten boys who hustled Polk also kept each other alert to violent “tricks” (what the johns were called), which happened more often than we were willing to admit.

But even the threat of serial killer(s), including body parts found in trash cans in the alleys along Polk, did not stop the illicit trade during the sex and drug-fueled Eighties.

Graphic created from an original 1987 photograph by Tom Gray (Jack Tillmany Collection).

To learn more about Campus, including comments from one of the theatre’s projectionists, go to Cinema Treasures.

To read another blogpost about the pioneer x-rated venue’s history, from 1936 until 2011, go to San Francisco Theatres: The Screening Room.