If you live anywhere long enough, you begin to see in layers, as if the present were a thin wash of pigment brushed over the past, or over several pasts. This is perhaps truer in Los Angeles than elsewhere, if only because we discard our histories so hungrily here. Look at the sign outside the Black Cat Tavern on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. The grinning cat face, bubble eyed, is there as it has been for nearly half a century. The sign beneath looks just like the one that hung there nearly 40 years ago. It’s new. Until a few months ago the space it filled was empty, a painted frame that you could see the sky through.
On New Year’s Eve of 1966, the Black Cat had been open for just two months. It joined a dozen or so gay bars huddled around a single square mile of Silver Lake.
At five minutes after midnight, plainclothes policemen began swinging clubs and pool cues, dragging patrons out the door and into the street...Sixteen people were arrested that night—six of them charged with lewd conduct, also known as kissing.