Remembering San Francisco’s Bulldog Baths (1979 – 1984) – Rare Photos

The  famous (or infamous) Bulldog Baths in San Francisco, CA  opened in 1978 and soon emerged as the largest gay bathhouse in the USA.  .which opened in 1978 and was shuttered less than a decade later due to the hysteria of the AIDS crisis.

The Bulldog, which filled five stories, contained a variety of sexual arenas, including jail cells, an orgy room, a steam room, a douche room and a truck.  It was an  architectural playground for the fantasies of gay sexual desires.


The Bulldog was the only place of its kin in the world, along with  being the largest bath house n the world.  And it was no disco twink heaven, no Sir! The Bulldog is strictly mansex with men in a man’s environment.  From the truck-driver to the prison guard, from the construction hardhat to the street cop; the motif of the Bulldog brings then all to life.

Physically, its four floors were laid out to grab the senses and direct them toward the proper channel.  You entered on the second floor, confronted by the headlights of a semi-rig when you walk in the door.

Below you and reaching up to the second level, was a two story prison tier that was so incredibly real (real cells, real bars, real toilets, real day-room atmosphere) that when you saw a guard standing on the second tier looking down on you, you’re ready to kneel down and get prison fucked.

A mid-level featured the Bulldog version of a hot back room bar, complete with pool table, murals, a flashing neon sign, and a giant video screen that shows a steady stream of sports films.  Below that is the Bulldog restaurant where proper nourishment is available at all hours.  Yet another truck cab glares its headlights into the glass doors of the restaurant, which by this point, visually is more a truck stop.

There was an abundance of toilets (the private kind) with extraordinary graffiti and artwork, all created by New York artist Brooks Jones, designed to represent four decades of sexual erotica.  Jones also created the amazing murals throughout the Bulldog; each seemingly alive tableaus emanating from the shadows.  In a lot of the private rooms, Jones has created glory holes that can be easily mistaken for the real thing.

Gay bathhouses with such a reputation came to be seen as dens of iniquity became a frequent targets of police raids, leading to criminal indictments against anyone found on the premises. However, in the days of the gay liberation movement, much like other commercial institutions, the bathhouses also emerged as centers of galvanizing, disseminating and coordinating opinions and actions

Relating to San Francisco’s Gay Pride in 1980 and 1981 The Bulldog gave out  tokens (pictured above left) that were distributed to the participants at the pride parade events – they are both made of aluminum but one is clad with a copper-like finish. On the reverse, they both have a text marking ‘Gay Freedom Day’ and on the obverse, we see the advertisement for ‘Bulldog Baths’, located at 132 Turk Street.   Today they are collectables.

In 2012, the premises where the Bulldog Baths functioned were recognized in the National Register of Historic Places and awarded a commemorative plaque.

The plaque reads:

“130 Turk Street, c. 1923. Formerly housed the Bulldog Baths. This building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Uptown Tenderloin Historic District.

The Bulldog Baths, plague, and tokens stand testimony to an energetic, turbulent and assertive time in the gay movement. Events like Gay Freedom Day were instrumental in dismantling the prejudice faced by the LGBTQ+ community and re-instilling pride.

They still are to this day.

San Francisco: Bulldog Baths, 1980. Poster. 24x33 inch color poster on glossy stock advertising the ...

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*Many thanks to William McNeeley for the very rare  photos

1 thought on “Remembering San Francisco’s Bulldog Baths (1979 – 1984) – Rare Photos

  1. I live down the street from this iconic queer landmark which is right next door to the former Compton’s Cafeteria site of the 1966 queer uprising that predated Stonewall and is documented in Screaming Queens, the documentary

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