Bob Damrons "Address Book" - An Archive of Queer Space - Part 1
My husband once told me a story from the late 90s about a group of male, foreign tourists who showed up at his local coffee house in Silver Lake one morning. The group of three men were in their late 40s, sharply dressed, and each carried a duffel bag. I remember him telling me that the group of men spent a lot of time outside, huddled together around a small rectangular book. He said the men were visibly confused at the sight of the coffee, muffins, and book-reading patrons and methodically buried their head into the little book, whispering to one another as they pointed at something on the weathered page. After emerging from their huddle, they ventured inside, and one of the tourists cautiously approached the barista and discreetly presented the book and asked him a question. The barista shook his head as if to say "no", and crestfallen, the man returned to his group to deliver the bad news. The men quickly shuffled out of the coffee shop, gym bags in hand, forsaking the little book (or so I imagine) that lead them there in the first place.
Later, my husband would find out that the group of tourists were looking for a bathhouse and ended up in that coffee shop because of an old travel guide. The tourists were likely using an outdated copy of the Damron Guide--a gay travel-guide familiar to gay men traveling in the US during the 80s and 90s--and in the process inadvertently revealed the controversial history of the coffee shop (not entirely uncommon for the neighborhood given that at one point Silver Lake boasted more than ten exclusively gay bathhouses). In the early 2000s, I myself was familiar with the commercially published version of the book after running across it in the “Gay and Lesbian” section of Barnes & Noble, but I didn't realize then that this now glossy and gleaming travel guide started as a secret collection of addresses, passed from one man to another during the 1960s.
Secretly published in 1965 by a man named Bob Damron, the discreet book listed every gay bar, restaurant, bathhouse and eventually sex clubs and cruising spots in every major US city. Published yearly and sold by Bob Damron himself, the address book became the easiest and safest way for gay men to find welcoming spaces to meet at a time when moral decency laws made gay associated spaces prime targets for police raids, harassment, and arrests. A member of the Mattachine Society, Damron was one of a few early pioneers in publishing gay listings. A San Francisco bar owner, Damron collaborated with fellow Mattachine Society member, Hal Call, to publish what was then known simply as “The Address Book”. First published by Call's own Pan-Graphic Press, and later published and distributed by Damron's own Calafran Enterprises (a discreet mail order enterprise primarily specializing in gay erotica), the addresses and listings published in the book were gathered by Damron during several months of exploration where he wandered through US cities building relationships with patrons and bar owners (Meeker 2006). Like the infamous wanderings of the French Situationists International (SI), Damron undertook a dèrive throughout the US, losing himself in the burgeoning gay landscape of the late 1960s.