SAN FRANCISCO — An at times tearful Nancy Pelosi joined with local AIDS agency leaders and Castro business owners at the debut Wednesday of a new permanent display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in San Francisco‘s LGBT district.
Panels of the quilt, which marks its 25th anniversary this spring, will be displayed in the entryway to the seafood restaurant Catch. The building at 2362 Market Street was the first home of the quilt, which was created by gay rights advocate Cleve Jones.Pelosi, who is also celebrating 25 years of representing San Francisco in the House of Representatives and is minority leader, was an early backer of the quilt. She recalled that, at first, she was dismissive of the idea considering that she could not sew.
“If I don’t sew, who is going to do this? I don’t know where you got this idea,” said Pelosi during the unveiling ceremony. “So much for my vision … before you knew it even I was sewing.”
Pelosi welled up at the sight of the quilt for a close friend, Scott Douglass, be included in the first panel to go on display. A staff assistant to President Jimmy Carter, Douglass moved to San Francisco after Carter lost his re-election campaign in 1980 and became a real estate agent. He died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 34, and among other mementos sewn into his quilt panel is a campaign button from Pelosi’s first congressional race.
“We went every day to see Scott, God bless him, until the very end,” said Pelosi, who described him as a “wonderful friend.”
She also teared up when a panel Pelosi had sewn for Susan Piracci Roggio, who was a flower girl in her wedding and died in 1986, was shown.
“I feel how other people feel because I have a personal attachment,” to the quilt, said Pelosi.
This is the first time that the quilt will be housed again at the building since the Names Project Foundation, the nonprofit that cares for the panels, closed its Castro workshop on Market Street in 1999 and relocated the next year to Atlanta.
Sanjay Gujral, the owner of Catch, approached Mike Smith, one of the co-founders of the quilt, four years ago with the idea of displaying the AIDS memorial at his restaurant.
“Unfortunately, words really can’t describe the full range of emotions I am currently feeling,” said Gujral, adding that “10 years ago we were given the opportunity to become custodians of this historic space.”
The building was also the original storefront for Under One Roof, the nonprofit Castro retailer that distributes proceeds to local AIDS agencies. The late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk also relocated his camera shop into the space after being priced out of his original store on Castro Street.
When Jones and Smith first signed the lease for the building it had formerly housed a lighting store.
“It was filled with lighting fixtures,” recalled Smith, now the executive director of the AIDS Emergency Fund. “We are about a month off, May 27, 25 years ago I signed a lease on this space.”
Jones, who once again lives nearby in the Castro, noted that by November 1985, 1,000 people within eights blocks of the quilt offices had died of AIDS.
“Every single person in the neighborhood was affected by it. Every single person in the neighborhood responded to the crisis,” said Jones, who is HIV-positive and works as an organizer with a hotel workers’ union. “I am very grateful to be alive and grateful to be home again living in this neighborhood.”