On a recent Friday night, a few dozen people gathered at Marston Point, a parking lot and lookout perched at the southwestern end of Balboa Park.
It was a particularly cold night, so some folks huddled around a portable fire pit gripping hot cider, others jumped in and out of about 15 parked cars spread across the lot. Inside each car, audio stories played on repeat. Each was a memory of Balboa Park's gay cruising culture.
Things have calmed down considerably in recent years, but Marston Point and the road leading to it were once an epicenter of gay culture in San Diego. Especially in the '50s and '60s, gay people pushed underground by the reigning mores of the time used the secluded area as a meeting place. Some folks, gay men mostly, used the dark pocket of the park to meet for anonymous sex. A few still do.
The area eventually earned itself a nickname: The Fruit Loop. And especially after the sun went down, the illicit activity cranked up. Things got so wild, city officials permanently closed the nearby public bathroom, and the two-way street leading to the Marston Point parking lot was made one-way to cut down on opportunities for drive-by eye contact.
The stories playing in the cars that cold Friday night were collected by artist Kate Clark and Lambda Archives, a nonprofit that collects and preserves the history of the local LGBT community. The event was part of the offbeat programming Clark produces through her public art series called Parkeology.
Clark embeds in urban parks and unearths long-buried stories, forgotten sites and other stuff kept out of public view. For the last two years, she’s been entrenched in Balboa Park.
In this episode of Culturecast, Voice of San Diego's podcast covering local arts and culture, I crawl in and out of the cars parked at Marston Point and take listeners along for a ride through the diverse stories Clark collected about The Fruit Loop and the gay culture that flourished in Balboa Park.
"You could think of that era of cruising as a negative but the fact of the matter is, people were coming here because it was a time when being gay was illegal," Clark said. "I think this history is actually really important because it speaks a lot about an era and the way people socialized and connected."