On the Waterfront (NSFW)

April 2, 2012

They say New York is a watered down, commercialized version of what it used to be. No longer gritty or seedy, the city's been cleaned up and for some that means they've taken all our fun away. The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art has an exhibit opening this week, The Piers: Art and Sex Along the NY Waterfront, that harkens back to that overtly sexual time. As a youngin' who never got to experience "the real" New York City, these images make me wish I had been around back then. But then I'm reminded of the devastation caused by HIV/AIDS during that time period and consider myself lucky. Maybe in an ideal world where disease does not exist and time travel does could I enjoy the seemingly sexual freedom of those days.

Queerty has plenty more pics to flip through so head on over and take a look at the rest or visit the exhibit running April 4th - May 10th.

After reading Patti Smith's Just Kids, I'm fascinated by New York City during that time period. I'd love to hear more about the piers and NYC in general in the 1970s and 80s if anyone has stories to share in the comments below.

Photo: “Dockside Interview, 1977,” Arthur Tress

Tags: Photography, NY, 1970s, 1980s, Piers, Museums, Cruising
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Post written by RobHeartsDH (View Author Profile)
About this author: Rob lives in Manhattan with his black pug Riley. When he’s not thinking about daddies, he enjoys writing, eating burritos, watching copious amounts of television, and thinking about his next meal.
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Comments

Hi Rob. I had my first trip to New York as a 19 year old in 1978. It was a blast. For me, the time period of the late 70's and early 80's was a time of excitement, exploration and fun. I also recall in 1981/82 learning about a new disease that seemed to be attacking gay men and how scary that was. Your facts were clear enough for me. Thanks for the post.

i lived in nyc{bronx] in the mid 70's - didn't last long,about 6 mo.s. Didn't see alot of outwardly gay guys. I grew up in hawaii and saw alot more there. Of course was there alot longer. Had a good time in nyc but it was too expensive and fast paced for a boy from hawaii - I am pretty laid back. I wish I would have seen more of the gay side of the town.

Tava had to be in there! Wasn't part of that era, but his partner had a site of his pier murals up in the 90's.

I'd bus it to NY from Boston for weekends in the mid-1970s. I was 18, just out of high school and on my own. But while still a kid at home, I'd (quietly) read a little about "gay institutions" in throwaways like the "Boston Phoenix" and the "Real Paper" that my mother would bring back with her from jaunts to the city. I heard about the Continental Baths...the leather bars and culture, the Village...and the piers. In 1974-75, I went to see all of these.

Many of the bars had "dress codes" and so I was not allowed to enter. I did pay one visit to the Continental Baths and wandered about it, envisioning that this was where Bette Midler and Shirley Bassey had once entertained. Is good I took time to see these because soon they were done away with.

The waterfront area was another matter. You took your life in your hands to wander there and I wondered at the allure. I am a tall black guy, hold myself well, and don't look for trouble--yet even I had to keep my wits to avoid groups of toughs. Went just once--which was enough.

My old haunts- some good and scary memories! One hot summer night I was in the giant free parking lot that lined the waterfront and had my cock out on some hot guy's open car window. A bearded young guy in wire rimmed glasses - he looked like a seminarian - came up and started to punch me and call me a faggot (with a lisp I might add). Finally a car pulled up and three guys yelled 'jump in!" - I did and got both rescued and a BJ.

My favorites were the guys on their way to an early blue collar job on Sunday morning. Many garbage men and one car mechanic. He was Italian from Bay Ridge, but was light haired and bearded, and had grown up down South. He was very affectionate and tender while he fucked me. Still remember his car plates - BEARD2 .

A cleaner city is better for disease control for sure. Its also a good idea to have indoor areas be clean as well and don't let the mood swings from substances do all the talking. I'm sure we wouldn't want a naked straight couple doing it on the floor in the grocery store either so extreme public displays are not really that appropriate whether its straight or gay.

"Maybe in an ideal world where disease does not exist and time travel does could I enjoy the seemingly sexual freedom of those days."

I think (gay) people have far more sexual freedom, more (gay) expressive freedom in general now than in those times.

For a few years after the Stonewall incident, there was a real frenzy of open sexual expression. Bath houses, sex-clubs, pubs and "gay social" groups sprang up like mushrooms. In 1978, I recall joining a social group called "GSF", which started in 1968 and had chapters in L.A. and New York. "GSF" stood for "Gay Sexual Freedom". Those days were when the first "pride parades" happened and those who participated showed courage because they had A LOT to lose. Passersby yelled slurs, threw things, and sometimes started fights. Some participants got kicked out of their residences, lost jobs, or "outed" themselves in general and had to deal with the social fallout.

NOT like the present. There were no resources then...no social, political groups or allies.

I remember being introduced to the "bushes" on a muggy summer midnight in the Boston Fenway, in 1974. A huge garden filled with marauding guys quietly having wild sex. No scruples at all, which amazed me because of the chance of a police raid. It was the same at another place--the Esplanade. Large groups coming together, looking, groping sexily, but seldom ever speaking. Except for a signal when police were discovered.

Public (gay) sex had always been around, but was much more furtive in the "golden age" of the 70s and the "before-AIDS" period that some seem to want to romanticize. Comparatively, "gays" can NOW do pretty much as they please. I've seen "gay" men snuggling up, even kissing on public transport buses.

im a native New Yorker and during that period was living in the west village. Sex and cruising was completely evident and accessable and could happen spontaneously at any time. It was a periiod of time under John Lindsay then Koch where NY was an open and free wheeling town. Structurely the village offered lots of cruise areas and the docks/the trucks were there for the use of a quick pick up etc. Christopher St was a st of small INDEPENDANTLY owned shops of artisans,coffee roasters etc..things were completely gay friendly and you could even get a bj in a dressing room in some of these places...The trucks and docks on the lower west side were a cheap fast way to connect w/a hot guy ..to get off was a way of life then...though alot of us did want more of a relationship..but..it allowed both gay and straight men a venue to get off...and before AIDS there was no real worry about getting mortally ill. The Clubs and bars were more geared to be a pick up situation then it is today. W/o the fear of medical mortal consequences,guys did what they wanted to and as often as they wanted to. There were great spots such as the Anvil in the village and the Candle on the upper west side where there were back rooms going...and several other bars had that as well...The gay male community flourished in a new freedom that we had...gyms became real popular and the nite and the music was alluring beyond compare...the Discos blossomed ,,such as 12West, Flamingo, the Pradise Garage,Studio 54, the Palladium and later the Saint were among the many. It was a flamboyant gathering of men and mens desires..all glorified in music,lights,muscle and sex..It was a time that will never be replicated again....Then AIDS struck,,,and our friends and acquaintences began to fall ..and fall quickly..there were no real drugs to combat the plague in the beginning...and you went to memorial services one after the other...the baths were closed in response to the scourge. Death was close at hand and we wondered if we would be next..Luckily i survived unscathed by the disease and i dont know exactly how i did. The only thing i could think of was that i was a top then..never did get fucked,,,where you were way more suseptable to contacting the bug no one was using condoms then...I will always remember the sense of comraderie in the community and the sense of luscious joy of being on the dance floor in complete freedom to be who i was..........What a rich visual,sensual,and free time it was.................be safe!! thanks for reading...........Bob

so the disease did exactly what it was designed to do .. . . anyone who thinks otherwise is only feeling themselves

Designed to do? There was no design. Who exactly designed it? It was a bug that came along and had an easy way of transmission. Much like the flu. There will always be something..that is life.

Theres more population on the waterfront and everywhere in the cities these days and also more health issues in the downtown New York area so public behaviors have to be more "age appropriate" so that a new era of young people won't get led away from school studies where we need so many PHD's for the future of an intergalactic stock market system - LOL

As far as N.Y.C. and the piers,etc. is concerned I was too young with scant travel money but my older boyfriend went there and told me about it. A somewhat parallel experience was going on here in L.A., however, as I went to the park all the time. In fact, I recall leaving my workplace for lunch one day, going to the fairly nearby park, getting a BJ, and returning in time for a staff meeting. I remember one of the staff asking me why I looked so "florid-faced" lol. It was a time when you could go pick up your dry cleaning, and end up two hours later kicking back with a guy post-sex and listening to Donna Summer's latest album. 'Twill never be again....

I remember walking along Christopher St near the river-1977 or 78. It was a January weeknight and it probably was 15 degrees out. It was very crowded and late and there were very good looking guys walking around with tee shirts and short hair and tight jeans-they were called clones at the time. And they were acting like it was a hot summer night in August. I guess it was some good drugs. And I remember thinking how fascinating all this was but at the same time it felt like a balloon that was about to pop. Well we all know the rest of the story now. I was in my mid twenties and from a gritty industrial town in the flight path of Newark Airport. And I was a hopeless romantic in an age of unbridled promiscuity. And on top of that I hated disco. But I did a lot more observing than participating and perhaps that is why I am still here to tell the story-or maybe it was something else-who knows. But nonetheless there was a magic and energy in the air-not completely unlike the counterculture era of which I was so fond of that preceded it . All gone-but despite it's shortcomings I'm glad I was there to see this fascinating and spontaneous era. Now NY is cleaned up and way too expensive(so are SF & LA, etc.) and we play with our cyber toys. God I miss those times.

"I remember walking along Christopher St near the river-1977 or 78. It was a January weeknight and it probably was 15 degrees out. It was very crowded and late and there were very good looking guys walking around with tee shirts and short hair and tight jeans-they were...acting like it was a hot summer night in August. I guess it was some good drugs."

LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!

In 1971-72, I lived in The Village on Horatio, north of Christopher about 5 blocks, east about 2 in from the inglorious riverfront "truck scene"--the empty trailers that served--of all things--the wholesale meat market by day and the gay meat market by night. Any night down there, wandering around in the darkness, no matter the temperature, crawling up into any cavernous trailer, all you could hear was the slurping of cocks and and the snapping poppers. Never any conversations. It was the outdoor version of the baths.

The odd thing about it to me was when you met someone decent and attractive and invited them back to your nearby apartment, they would never accept the invitation. It was then or not: all about the gritty scene and instant gratification. Then, back into their NJ cars and off to wherever.

I wonder how long that could have lasted without amil-nitrates?

I was in NYC in 1967 & '68. I loved going to the trucks. You'd step up into the big empty trailer & hear all these slurping/slapping sounds -- total darkness. Whenever anyone would light a cigarette (we all smoked back then) everybody would give out a unison groan, but you could catch a glimpse of the action.

I remember this one guy pulled me out of there and took me up to a nearby roof. We had wild, uninhibited sex while the world went by down below.

I loved the trucks -- probably most of all because it was dangerous. But there were so many of us there all the time that I don't think we could have been bashed -- we'd have stood up for each other. There was a real air of camaraderie in the gay community back then. None of us were out in our other lives -- well, very few of us -- so we stuck together in our Christopher Street fantasy life. It was all about getting off -- together.

I love the fact that we can be open today about our sexuality and I wouldn't wish those repressive times on any young person today. Still, there was something irreplaceable in that feeling that we had a great secret and anyone who was in on the secret was our brother.

well have always sorta been on outskirts or normal gay life style ( if there is /was any normal). But I visit NYC in 1972 and went back and survive for a few months in 1974.
was more around the so call leather bars then heard about the peirs and trucks- never found any one around the trucks that wanted to play with me / but do remember cheking out the peirs one nite thought some one was feeling my ass then found my wallet gone/ shit all my ID gone money wasn't much to lose then/ still am poor working class. was getting felt up and trying to see if just fell out in the dark guess played some / went back next day to see if could find Id no luck . think i then seen how close the water was and one could of got push off the piers/ warehouses accidently/ I might of went again but kept I D and money in shoe when did cruise in bushes or parks . after that . was in centarl park one nite under a via duct playing with about five or six blk guys mught of gotten fucked if the cops car hadn't came along hit siren and chased us all away /
that was a different time then too in NYC once on way to look for work a guy cruised me He was on abicycle came back gave me his number call him later, was fun / gthen too the restrooms in subways were active too. bad news if you had to go bad . mostly sucking and playing /

To hear more about the piers and the "trucks" go to Netflix.com and watch "Gay Sex in the '70's"

When watching entertainment on Netflix about gay activity in New York or elsewhere in the 70's then be sure to not let a whole mood be painted by the way it is framed with Hollywood director assistance for maximum emotional response from the audience. Remember that ones tears and laughter can be triggered by good writing and directing where a predictable reaction occurs among an audience with the same precise timing as can be orchestrated at political conventions as well.

70`s new york is more horrible then today`s era. you had to live down to earth, wearing <a href=http://www.apparelnbags.com/anvil>anvil t shirts</a> all around and gasping in friend`s ear, making fun of gays:s