The Paper Doll Club in the 1960s (L) and a still from the film, The Sniper, of the club in the 1950s (R).
524 Union Street, the home of Ready State, was recognized by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as having extraordinary value to LGBT+ history in the city. As of June 18, it has officially become the city’s fourth LGBT Historic Landmark and the nation’s first to focus on a restaurant.
It’s a polychromous concatentation, given that it has happened during Pride Month and right before the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall.
“As a gay founder, I’m deeply grateful for the freedoms we enjoy now,” said Ready State co-founder Steven Wong. “We wouldn’t be able to be who are today if it weren’t for the efforts of those who went in and out of these same doors before us.”
The site, according to research we’ve done, which has been verified by the historical selection committee and a researcher retained by the owner, has hosted restaurants and bars as early as the late 1840s and was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It was most famously home of one of the earliest lesbian bars, Tom Arbulich’s Paper Doll, 1944-1961, which also had a gay male clientele. It was popular for its cheap food.
In 1947, Arbulich, who the Reporter notes is “a relative of former supervisor Sean Elsbernd, the incoming chief of staff for Mayor London Breed,” sold half his interest to Mona Sargent, who was known to be straight but ran several lesbian bars. She helped to make it popular with queer patrons.
In the late 50s and early 60s the spot threw Halloween parties that overflowed up to Grant and down to Stockton and attracted drag queens from as far away as New York.
Subsequent restaurants based in the location retained some of the gay clientele but lost its identity as a specifically gay bar. From 1962-1969 Warren Hinkle published Ramparts out of an office in the building.
According to supervisors’ staff report, quoted by The Bay Reporter, “The Paper Doll is located in North Beach, which became known as San Francisco's first bar-based LGBTQ Community. North Beach had an international, working-class feel, with a thriving Bohemian scene of artists and writers taking advantage of cheap rents. It was described as an exciting, vital neighborhood that was more accepting and tolerant of LGBTQ people." The neighborhood’s "atmosphere drew more queer men and women to the neighborhood, creating the city's first queer residential enclave and establishing the roots of San Francisco's LGBTQ communities."