Sunset Junction Street Fair

by Louis Jacinto

Sunset Junction Street Fair, 1981

I was hired to photograph the Sunset Junction Street Fair during its 2nd and 3rd years, covering the periods 1981 and 1982. This annual Los Angeles event was held at the end of August and continued for 30 years to its final date in 2010. As the years went on, the festival became larger and more commercialized, losing its neighborhood feel. Additionally, within the intervening 30 years, the original need for lessening the tensions between the Latino and Gay and Lesbian communities had ceased, especially as the entire nation moved towards the acceptance of Gay and Lesbian rights and equal protection.

The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on October 14, 1979. The first such march on Washington drew approximately 125,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.

Among those in attendance at this historic gathering were a group of community leaders who lived in the Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the city’s most diverse. These 3 Los Angeles communities, located just northwest of downtown, included every group possible – ethnically, racially, economically – living side by side. Also included was the ubiquitous gay and lesbian community.

Energized by their experience in the nation’s capital, several of these community leaders met to discuss ideas of how they could bring their enthusiasm from the March on Washington to their community.

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Robert Aguayo, Mayor Tom Bradley, Joyce Azelton, David Martinez, 1981

At the time Latino street gangs were attacking members of the gay community, usually at night after the local gay bars closed down at 2 a.m. The community leaders – including Joyce Azelton, Joc Church, Caroline Bernard, Priscilla Warren, Diane Clark, Michael McKinley, Ray Lusink and Peter Losee, among others, wanted to address this serious issue.

After several brainstorming meetings, the group agreed upon a festival where all members of this beautiful, diverse community would participate and celebrate each other’s cultures, working side by side to demonstrate how their commonalities far exceeded their differences.

Of importance was bringing together the 5 local street gangs to call a truce with each other and provide security for the festival.

Unlike most communities throughout Los Angeles who shunned street gangs at public events, the Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz communities recognized that the pride that such gangs held for their neighborhood could be used to show that pride in this celebration.

Local police quickly opposed this idea, stating that the 5 street gangs would never cooperate and honor the truce, and blood would be flowing in the streets.

But the festival planners, along with the support of the neighborhood social service organizations, businesses and schools, lobbied for the support of the event to the local city council member. Not a single incident occurred.

Thus was born, in 1980, the Sunset Junction Street Fair. Closing off Sunset Boulevard, the main thoroughfare running through Silver Lake, the community held an opening parade and welcoming ceremony by the local politicians and the other sponsors of the event.

For two weekend nights that summer, the entire community came together and welcomed the entire city to join them and learn how living in harmony with each other can be accomplished.

This, my body of work, photographically documents this culturally, politically and socially important event in Los Angeles’ history at its nascent pivotal point.

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Mama Mime, Sunset Junction Street Fair, 1981

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