324 Larkin commands a special place in San Francisco’s rich, storied history as a center for the LGBTQ community, which was enshrined in June 2019 when owner Veritas Investments rechristened the building as the Rainbow Flag Apartments at the behest of The Q Foundation.
In 1978, the rainbow flag – the now-iconic symbol of LGBTQ pride, created and sewed by activist Gilbert Baker – entered the public consciousness when it flew prominently in front of City Hall, replacing two of the usual flags. Legend has it that the covert operation, which took place under cover of darkness, was headquartered in the basement at nearby 324 Larkin.
In 1992, Bill Jones – the first single (and gay) man in California to adopt a child, in 1969, and an LGBTQ civil rights activist – purchased 324 Larkin from its previous owners. At the time, the area around City Hall was undergoing considerable change. Already a fixture in the news as the seat of San Francisco government, the neighborhood was receiving extra attention from media and tourists for construction at the Asian Art Museum and new main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.
Cognizant of heightened public awareness (and the resulting photo opportunities) and eager to represent the LGBTQ community, Jones decided to fly a large rainbow flag over the building. Jones soon installed brass letters over the front door proclaiming 324 Larkin as the “Rainbow Flag Apartments,” and an icon was born.
A chance meeting while searching for housing for his AIDS-afflicted partner connected Brian Basinger and Bill Jones. Soon after, Basinger had a dream where a booming voice told him “to organize housing for people with AIDS” – in a stroke of luck, he received a phone call the same day from 324 Larkin’s building manager offering two units to tenants suffering from AIDS. A lightbulb went off; Basinger quickly founded the AIDS Housing Alliance (now called the Q Foundation), with Bill Jones joining as its first board member.
324 Larkin became a vital source of safe housing for disabled people with HIV/AIDS.
The Q Foundation has since evolved into the largest housing provider to the LGBTQ community in the country; through its work, 324 Larkin became a vital source of safe housing for disabled people with HIV/AIDS. But somewhere along the way, a subsequent owner removed the rainbow flag and sign – the building had lost a part of its identity.
In 2019, in conjunction with Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a rainbow flag was once again raised above the building. A bronze plaque permanently commemorates 324 Larkin as the Gilbert Baker Rainbow Flag Apartments, reaffirming the historic building’s status as a haven for the LGBTQ community and reclaiming its rightful place in San Francisco history.
In 1978, when Gilbert was tasked with creating a flag at the request of Harvey Milk for a gay pride event, he had no idea that the rainbow flag he would create would become the worldwide symbol, forever cementing his place and importance in helping to define the modern LGBTQ movement. To read more, visit GilbertBaker.com.