Photo Essay by Gilbert Weingourt, West Hollywood, California
Barney’s Beanery is one of those businesses that remain identified with West Hollywood – it’s as much a part of the city’s brand as the Sunset Strip or the Pacific Design Center.
Situated at Santa Monica Boulevard where Croft and Holloway swoop onto the thoroughfare, the roadhouse had been a central gathering spot for railroad workers, residents and gay men for over eight decades.
Somewhere between 1930 and 1953, owner John Anthony put up among the old license plates and other ephemera along the wall behind the bar a sign that read “FAGOTS [sic] – STAY OUT”.
While he did acknowledge an anti-gay animus – in a 1964 Life article on “Homosexuality in America” over a caption where he exclaims “I don’t like ’em…”, – the sign was ostensibly put up as a response to pressure from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who wanted to keep business catering to gays under a watchful eye.
Once Mr. Anthony died in 1968, efforts to have the sign removed reignited with a vigor. A coalition of gay activist groups organized a “zap protest” of the restaurant on February 7, 1970, to push for its removal. The sign came down that day.
It went up and came down again repeatedly over the next 14 years, and the restaurant’s matchbooks even bore the line, such was the sign’s infamy.
The sign came down for good in in December 1984, days after the city of West Hollywood voted itself into existence. The then-mayor, Valerie Terrigno, the entire city council and gay rights activists marched into Barney’s and stripped the wall of the sign.
It was held by gay rights pioneer Morris Kight – in fact, it held a treasured space on his wall above his sofa – until his 2003. It rests now in the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.
And Barney’s Beanery? It is now one of the city’s gay rights advocates, sponsoring gay-themed events.