A kiss goodbye: Lexington Club, CELLSpace closures

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Iñaki Fdez. de Retana's picture
San Francisco's Lexington Club at night
Funerals in April. This week San Franciscans will celebrate the Lexington Club, see one last hurrah at CELLSpace, and ask each other what's next in a quickly changing city. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Iñaki Fdez. de Retana

Two iconic Mission District spaces will shut doors for good this month after years of agonizing ailment in yet another installment of a fading barrio known as The Mission.

Alternative art space Inner Mission, formerly known as CELLSpace, and lesbian bar Lexington Club, ‘The Lex,’ both fall prey to a hot real estate market fueled by rivers of tech-industry money flowing into San Francisco.

They both share a story of community values born out of a neighborhood where they once thrived but that are now being driven by money and greed due to a drastic change in economics and demographics.

The Lexington Club, located on 19th Street between Mission and Valencia streets, opened its doors in 1997. Their slogan: ‘Always A Party, Never A Cover. Your friendly neighborhood dyke bar’.

“There had not been a lesbian bar in San Francisco for years,” said owner Lila Thirkield. “So many gay male bars in the Castro, but not a single lesbian bar.”

For more than 15 years, the Lex fulfilled its mission of having a safe space to celebrate lesbian and queer life. But in the last few years, sales declined as the rent went up. “People who frequented the establishment are not in the neighborhood any more,” said Thirkield. Thirkield found it harder and harder to keep up with the bills.

The new tenant will be the the massive restaurant/hotel/winery corporation Plumpjack Group, founded, among others, by former SF mayor Gavin Newsom.

CELLSpace, located at 18th & Bryant streets, started in 1996 as a collectively run art and performance space where decisions were made by consensus. A caretaker system allowed members to trade work in exchange for a reduced rent of the art studios that the huge space held.

For more than 15 years, it hosted breakdance competitions, rave parties, art receptions, hula hoop and metal smithing classes, Day of the Dead vigils; it provided theater companies, youth drummers, filmmakers, musicians, artists with a place to get together, share and create.

“We were the only community space for a while that would touch youth programming, and youth hip hop shows,” co-founder Jonathan Youtt said.

After trying out the non-profit model for a few years and having problems to pay the rent, CELLSpace closed doors in 2012.

The space reopened with new tenants as Inner Mission who focused on a theater troupe, while still hosting occasional CELLSpace style community event. But when a new lease was up, developer Nick Podell decided that the building and everything else on the block will be demolished to construct 276 apartments in a new LEDS certified building.

Both CELLSpace and the Lex were staples in a colorful jungle that attracted newcomers into a lively neighborhood that gleamed with alternative lifestyles, full of the unexpected. Whether the sprites of those places find a new home in the changing landscape of San Francisco remains to be seen, but for those of San Francisco's colorful counter-culture who have managed to hang on in the city, it will be a weekend of asking, “where do we go from here?”

The Lexington Club’s last night will be April 30. ‘We Belong: Lex forever!’ final parties are planned for Friday & Saturday, April 24 and 25. More info:http://www.theoutsidernews.com/events/2015/04/24/we-belong-lex-forever-final-parties

What's Our Mission?-A Cultural Preservation Action’ will honor the final closing of Inner Mission/CELLspace Friday April 17 & Saturday 18. More info : http://www.theoutsidernews.com/events/2015/04/17/whats-our-mission-cultural-preservation-action

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